Twelve years have passed since the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) was established, and now it feels it should probe allegations of human rights violations against police independently.
It wants to amend the law to investigate such allegations independently against any policeman. To this end, it has proposed excluding police from the definition of "disciplinary force" in the NHRC Act 2009.
It sent the draft proposal to the law ministry in early February.
"Police are the first line of human rights defenders, but they face human rights violation allegations in many cases due to the nature of their duty. In fact, a large number of allegations the NHRC receives are against police," the draft proposal read.
"The image of the police force as well as the state will be better if those allegations could be dealt with promptly. Except Bangladesh, no country in the sub-continent has kept their human rights commission out of the jurisdiction to investigate such allegations against police. Keeping the rights commission out of this power contradicts with the Paris Agreement," it added.
After receiving the draft proposal, the law ministry scheduled a meeting for 23 February at a hotel in the capital to discuss the NHRC act amendment.
At the meeting, NHRC Chairman Nasima Begum said they had proposed amending the provisions related to disciplinary force to make the commission more effective and stronger.
Talking to The Business Standard on 2 March, she said the NHRC cannot independently investigate human rights violation allegations against police under the existing law.
"The national human rights commission of India can enquire into allegations against law enforcement agencies, excluding the armed forces. If they want to investigate allegations against the armed forces, they need a report from the government. So why cannot we independently investigate allegations against our police?"
She said the move would make the human rights watchdog more efficient and proactive in ensuring justice for the masses.
"The retired army major Sinha murder case was discussed widely and an independent commission was sought to deal with such cases of human rights violations. That is when we thought about the NHRC act amendment. We thought why we would need a new commission as we already have one. Our main objective is to empower the NHRC more," Nasima explained.
In 2019, the NHRC received 59 complaints against law enforcement agencies, including 11 of extrajudicial killings, eight of custodial deaths, eight of custodial torture, one of detention without trial, and 31 others, against police. Of those, it could only resolve 14.
Around 1,000 complaints had been lodged with the commission since 2009, most of those against policemen.
Requesting anonymity, a NHRC high official told The Business Standard most of the complaints received under the law enforcement category had been against police.
"When someone lodges a complaint against police, we can only seek a probe report from the home ministry. Then we wait for their response. Once we receive the probe report, we can only make some recommendations," he added.
But there had been many cases where the home ministry did not send any probe report.
For instance, Dhaka Metropolitan Sessions Judge's Court on 9 September last year jailed three police officers for life and two police informers for seven years for killing Urdu-speaking youth Ishtiaque Ahmed Jony in the custody of Pallabi Police Station on 8 February 2014.
The NHRC chairman then asked for a probe report from the home ministry in this regard.
"The irony is that the report has yet to reach us even though the verdict has been pronounced already," a NHRC source said.
NHRC Secretary Narayan Chandra Sarkar told The Business Standard the home ministry had responded more in the recent years than the past when the commission had asked for probe reports on allegations against police.
Usually, the NHRC waits for around six months for the home ministry probe report. If the NHRC act is amended, the commission can easily initiate an independent enquiry or investigation if the report is not satisfactory or does not reach it.
Narayan said a two-party meeting had already been held with the law ministry on the draft proposal.
"There will be a three-party dialogue among the NHRC, the law ministry, and the home ministry. Then we can say what the progress of the proposal is."
Law Minister Anisul Huq said they had received the NHRC proposal but had not made a decision on it yet.
"The proposal to further empower the NHRC and make it more effective is timely. But the proposal of excluding the police force from the definition of disciplinary force involves policymaking decisions of the government."
Nur Khan Liton, secretary general of Ain o Salish Kendra, told The Business Standard the NHRC had been a puppet body for many years.
"However, the commission's step to seek the power to independently investigation allegations against police is a commendable step. The government should consider this in a positive light and take further steps in this regard," he added.
Supreme Court lawyer Barrister Jyotirmoy Barua also welcomed the NHRC move.
"At least they have moved for something good. But they should not be complacent about the move only. They should try their best to have it implemented. Police officials who violate human rights should be brought to book," he added.
Bangladesh Police spokesperson Assistant Inspector General Shohel Rana refused to comment on the matter.