Indemnity laws a black spot in Bangladesh's human rights record

Indemnity laws, formulated and reformulated under different governments in Bangladesh, to give cover to unconstitutional acts, have been a black spot on the human rights record of the country.

bdnews24.com
Published : 14 August 2009, 01:34 AM
Updated : 14 August 2009, 01:34 AM
Dhaka, Aug 15 (bdnews24.com)—Indemnity laws, formulated and reformulated under different governments in Bangladesh, to give cover to unconstitutional acts, have been a black spot on the human rights record of the country.
The first such black law was promulgated on Sep 26, 1975 following the killing of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, as an ordinance in parliament's absence, by Khandaker Mostaq Ahmad, a cabinet minister under Mujib, who agreed to take over the presidency following the independence leader's assassination.
Later it was incorporated into the constitution as the Fifth Amendment in 1979, after reconstitution of parliament during the rule of Ziaur Rahman. The Amendment also legalised all military rules and orders given during the period of Aug 15, 1975 to Apr 9, 1979.
The military regime of Gen HM Ershad subsequently passed another amendment to the Indemnity Act on Nov 10, 1986 that legalised all military rules, orders, ordinances and directives given during the period of Mar 24, 1982 to Nov 9, 1986.
When Mujib's daughter, Sheikh Hasina, came to power in 1996 a bill was placed before parliament seeking to terminate the Indemnity Ordinance of 1975, a move that aimed to give scope to try the killers of her father, mother and brothers, among other family members.
The bill was unanimously passed in parliament in November, 1996.
Operation Clean Heart'
The BNP-led alliance government took advantage of an indemnity law in a different way, in the name of the Joint Drive Indemnity Bill 2003, also known as Operation Clean Heart.
It attempted to indemnify security personnel from trial that were allegedly involved in different human rights violations between Oct 16, 2002 and Jan 9, 2003.
The bill has been widely criticised as giving cover to a range of human rights violations in Bangladesh.
The then law minister, Moudud Ahmed, said Operation Clean Heart allowed the army to help the civil authorities combat crime.
On the first day of the 'Joint Drive' around 500 individuals were detained by security forces.
Over the three-month drive, more than 11,000 people were arrested, although the joint forces said only 2,400 were known criminals. Most of the detainees were released shortly after being picked up.
Media reports from the period alleged the army had 'tortured' many of the detainees and had failed to bring legal charges.
Former prime minister Khaleda Zia defended the security agencies' actions at the time, saying they had acted "in line with the constitution and laws of the country."
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Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher