‘Man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst’

All on a sudden too many people are falling in the line of fire as the country's law enforcers have been ordered to 'go tough' against drug peddlers across Bangladesh. Country is witnessing a phenomenal surge in the so-called 'gunfight' deaths. Too many 'gunfights' in too short a period has raised many eyebrows. Opposition political parties dubbed it as 'a killing spree.' All the right-conscious people have been saddened by the fact that 40 lives were lost in questionable gunfights since first week of May. And the number was still on the rise in leaps and bound as this issue of dhakacourier went to press. Frequency of 'gunfights', involving 'criminals' and law enforcers, was alarmingly high in the month of May so far. As of this moment, May appears to be the cruelest of months this year for the families of the 'gunfight' victims.

If we subscribe to the accounts of the law enforcers, out of these 40 people (in last reckon up until May 22) as many as 33 were involved in drug peddling while several others were said to be murder accused. People who consider such incidents as 'extra-judicial killings' and demand thorough investigations of all these so-called 'gunfights' and surrounding circumstances - are no supporters of drug peddling or other crimes being committed in the society. Essentially they raise the voice to establish the conviction that criminals also have a right to fair justice. Those who are routinely being described as 'criminals' after each and every 'gunfight' deaths need to be brought to the court of justice, put on the dock and allowed to face the accusations being brought against them. Once proven guilty, obviously, they should be awarded with harshest of punishments as mandated by the law of the land. But if proven innocent by a court of justice, they do deserve the right to walk free. Neither case none of them deserve to get killed in increasingly frequent incidents of 'gunfights'. Aristotle famousely said, "At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst."

Law enforcers said that they've started a nationwide drive against illegal drugs since May 4. Over the past week nearly three dozens of people got killed in 'gunfights' during this Rapid Action Battalion (RAB)-led ongoing anti-drug drive across the country, in which of late police also joined. Media got reports published on people getting killed in Chattagram, Jashore, Chapainawabganj and many more districts and in each of these cases the 'drug peddlers' were said to have been fallen on the line-of-fire during almost identical incidents of 'gunfights' between criminals' cohorts and law enforcers. An unmoved Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan, however, has expressed his firm resolve to continue with the drive, which he said has the prime minister's sanction. He has a bigger cause to serve here as he told journalists a tough anti-drug drive is necessary to "save the youth of the society". While inaugurating an awareness campaign against illegal narcotics in the city on Sunday last the minister was flanked by police's inspector general and RAB's director general. In fact, the home minister was very right saying that illegal drugs have "appeared as a big challenge for us." Official statistics of the seizure of Yaba, one of the most dangerous drugs in vogue now, gives a sense of the enormity of the menace. According to the Department of Narcotics Control (DNC), the number of the crazy pills seized in the country increased phenomenally from 36,543 pieces in 2008 to 19.51 lakh in 2012 to four crore pieces last year.

It is generally guesstimated that only 10 percent of the Yaba consignments get seized while the 90 percent make it through to the marketing channel. If such guesstimate is something to go by then the youth that the home minister wants to save from the curse of drugs must have consumed over 35 crore pieces of the pink pills in 2017 alone. Mostly produced in Myanmar, the dangerous drug very easily crosses the border and reaches cities, towns and villages of Bangladesh through various channels - sometimes, allegedly, in full knowledge of law enforcers. It now seems unstoppable and is poised to cripple the country's biggest hope - the youth. There are thousands of people now got involved in the illegal trade of the crazy pill - Yaba and/or also got addicted to it. They take it as stimulant and end up with organ damage and mental derangement, thereby, affecting adversely the social fabric and cohesion.

Now most vital question comes into mind is - are we decidedly allowing such a gunfight spree. Have we exhausted everything else under our disposal in controlling drug menace in the society? The phenomenal rise of Yaba trade over the past one decade reflects that we did little in stopping the menace to thrive to this extent. It's apparently a common knowledge that how a section of law enforcing agency members and politically-blessed people took full liberty of spreading the Yaba network across the country in absence of appropriate countermeasures from the government. Yaba's rise absolutely caught the government napping. Over the past several years when media was in full-throttle reporting on the rise of Yaba menace, many in the administration thought media was crying wolf. Then came into surface the administration's very own intelligence reports showing how many ruling party men having blessings from a section of political high-ups were doing brisk business in Yaba and other illegal narcotics. In its diplomatic engagements with neighbouring Myanmar, the primary source country for Yaba, government couldn't make any inroads either. Illegally raised Yaba manufacturing units till date continued to thrive across our Cox's Bazar border in Myanmar. The least government, administration and the law enforcers including the paramilitary BGB could do was breaking the Cox's Bazar-based drug cartel that mange smuggle in the crazy pills and spread across the country. But we've never seen in the past any consorted efforts to nip the menace in the bud by putting in place a stringent screening along Bangladesh-Myanmar border. Neither have we seen, this far in the ongoing drive, any bigwigs of Yaba cartel getting caught.

Plato famousely said, "The worst form of injustice is pretended justice." By delivering 'gunfight' deaths of several dozen drug peddlers in the lowest rung on the ladder - can we really boast of delivering justice or guarantee an effective fight against the illegal drugs and the Yaba cartels. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." It is so very important to give the fallen drug peddlers a chance to face court so that the nation gets to know from their accounts and confessions that what political blessings they had been enjoying so long. It is publicly anticipated that if not got killed in 'gunfights' the low-key drug peddlers would have well offer the names of the drug lords. Ex-head of global rights body Amnesty International, Irene Khan used to hate in calling such killings as 'crossfire' (aka gunfight). She once said, "I hate to call it crossfire, what the rapid action battalion attributes for the custodial deaths, as there must be two parties in any such incident. But the reality is they just found body of the victim." Government would indeed do us a service if it takes up a programme to make our law enforcers capable of giving proper protection to people under their custody. Even in the current spate of 'gunfight spree' many people got killed just because the law enforcing agency members couldn't protect them from the 'firing and attack' of their ('criminals') cohorts. Typically these all happen when the law enforcers take the 'criminals' under their custody along to post-midnight drives to either recover arms and drugs or to catch the other accomplices. There must be a way to give the necessary to the 'criminals' under custody to stop such heavy toll of 'gunfight' deaths.

In today's world, the Philippines hold the hallmark of killing people in the name of war against drugs. In its World Report 2018, Human Rights Watch said in January this year that President Rodrigo Duterte's murderous "drug war" entered its second year in 2017, resulting in the killing of more than 12,000 drug suspects. Duterte has responded to increased criticism of his anti-drug campaign by impugning, harassing, and threatening critics of the government and human rights defenders. Since the "drug war" began on June 30, 2016, Duterte and his officials have publicly reviled, humiliated and, in one instance, jailed human rights advocates. Senator Leila de Lima, the president's chief critic, has been detained since February 2017 on politically motivated drug charges in apparent retaliation for leading a Senate inquiry into the drug war killings and, early on, opening an investigation of the Davao Death Squad in Davao City, where Duterte was mayor for more than 20 years.

In our case, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan categorically said, "No drug peddlers will be spared, no matter how powerful they are socially or politically. Law enforcement agencies will continue the drive against them to bring them to justice." He was candid in saying that the prime minister has instructed his ministry to take a 'zero-tolerance' policy against the drug trade and stop it at any cost. He refuted the claim of 'extrajudicial killings' or 'crossfires' in the name of anti-narcotics drive, saying the drug dealers have firearms. "Whenever law enforcers go to arrest them, they often open fire on them forcing them to retaliate in self-defence which resulted in one or two incidents of killings." He further claimed that gunfights take place in all the countries dealing with drugs. "We don't think it won't happen in Bangladesh. We witness drug dealers open fire first. So it's normal that police will fire back," he said describing it as an act of self-defence, rather than 'gunfight' or 'crossfire'. Even after the 'gunfight' death toll reached 33, the minister was indeed very naïve in saying - "Only one or two isolated incidents of drug dealers are getting killed which are hitting the headlines." Earlier, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has also expressed her firm stance against drugs and proclaimed said, "We've contained militancy. Now, we've taken an initiative to save the country from drug menace." She, indeed, mentioned of law enforcers taking "tough actions" against drug abuse.

Right bodies decried such deaths by 'gunfight' galore. Addressing a programme in the city last week, noted rights activist Sultana Kamal demanded a fair investigation into each of the killings and said, "We need to know whether firearms have been misused." She said, "There are laws in the country to try criminals ... However notorious the criminals are, the state will formulate some rules and justice has to be done as per those rules." Rights body Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) also expressed deep concerns over the deaths of the so many people in "shootouts" involving police and Rab. ASK said, "We welcome the strict stance of the government against serious maladies like narcotics, but a very careful watch has to be kept so that existing laws and principles of human rights are not violated during the actions. We want the law enforcement agencies be given directives accordingly."

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