Rights group says India has failed to deliver justice for extrajudicial killings, torture and ill-treatment of residents
A Catholic Church official has joined a global rights watchdog to condemn India’s failure to deliver justice for scores of brutal killings by its forces along its border with Bangladesh.
New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has made a fresh call for the investigation of new allegations of law violations against the Indian Border Security Force (BSF).
HRW strongly criticized Indian authorities for failing to keep promises for justice more than 10 years after the rights group published a damning report, “Trigger Happy,” accusing India of turning the border into “South Asia’s killing fields.”
Following the report, the Indian government promised to order the BSF to use restraint and rubber bullets instead of more lethal ammunition against irregular border crossers.
In its latest statement on Feb. 9, citing data from NGOs in India and Bangladesh, HRW noted that the BSF has been carrying out extrajudicial killings, torture and ill-treatment of residents of Bangladesh and India at the border.
Bangladeshi rights group Odhikar alleged that the border forces have killed at least 334 Bangladeshis since 2011 and committed other instances of severe abuse, including 51 killings in 2020. It also claimed that 1,236 people had been killed, 1,145 injured, 1,408 abducted and 15 raped by BSF soldiers from 2000 to 2020.
“Indian government orders to border forces to exercise restraint and limit the use of live ammunition have not prevented new killings, torture and other serious abuses. The government’s failure to hold security personnel accountable has led to further abuses and the harassment of very poor and vulnerable populations,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, HRW’s South Asia director.
“The Indian government should demonstrate its promised zero tolerance for abuses at the Bangladesh border by ending the culture of impunity for its border soldiers.”
In August, Bangladesh’s Foreign Ministry raised concerns over the border killings.
“Bangladesh flagged that this is in violation of all bilateral agreements and that the Indian Border Security Force must be duly urged to exercise maximum restraint,” it said.
Father Anthony Sen, convener of the Justice and Peace Commission in Dinajpur Diocese, said thousands of Catholics live in fear in about 25 parishes in border zones.
“While people live in fear and danger in the border area, there has been no justice for killings of scores of people in the past decades, which is frustrating,” Father Sen, parish priest of Queen of Fatima Church in Thakurgaon district, told UCA News.
The priest said the Church upholds justice and human rights, strongly condemns border killings and calls on India to investigate and ensure justice for killings.
“India and Bangladesh had many meetings and discussions and India always promised to stop border killings, but sadly they did not keep their promises,” Father Sen added.
The Church plans to write an open letter to India’s government to call for an end to violence at the border and justice for killings, the priest said.
Bangladesh is bordered by giant neighbor India from the east, west and north. Both countries share 4,097 kilometers of border including about 1,116 kilometers that run through jointly shared rivers.
In 1947, present-day Bangladesh became part of Pakistan through British partition of India along religious lines. Bangladesh became a sovereign state after the 1971 war of independence against Pakistan with support from India.
The Bangladesh-India border was fenceless and peaceful until the 1980s. The situation changed after a mass movement in the Indian state of Assam from 1979-85 against alleged illegal immigrants from Bangladesh by the majority Assamese people.
India began building the fence to stop illegal immigration, smuggling and alleged infiltration by members of separatist and extremist outfits. BSF soldiers also adopted a shoot-to-kill policy toward anyone who tried to get close to the fence.