Monday, January 21, 2008

Are politicians immune to pain?

Are politicians immune to pain?
January 21, 2008
Source: UPI Asia Online

"I was kept blindfolded for 18 hours of the 24 hours of remand on Dec. 31. I was not taken to a police station from the Dhaka Central Jail, but somewhere else. I was tied up and suspended from the ceiling and tortured physically there while being kept blindfolded."
Most of the newspapers in Bangladesh published reports quoting Tarique Rahman, the elder son of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, describing his torture in detention during a court hearing on Jan. 9. Rahman, like his mother, is a powerful figure, although he holds no official government position.

Politicians who support the Bangladesh Nationalist Party responded critically to these allegations of torture by their party's heir apparent. Politicians from other backgrounds also commented on the issue.

"When a politician like me is tortured inhumanly in remand, what can happen to the common people?" Rahman asked court officials during the hearing.

It is good to hear such a question from Rahman. Yet it would have been appreciated much more if he had asked the same question when his party was in power. He should not forget that the government of his party adopted the policy of extrajudicial killings referred to as "crossfire" by creating the Rapid Action Battalion, which was rewarded with an Independence Day Medal instead of being punished for its crimes and violations of human rights.

A number of officers from law-enforcement agencies were promoted for carrying out the directions of ruling party leaders, including torture in custody, in which Rahman allegedly played a key role behind the scenes.

Torture had been endemic for decades as a technique of law enforcement, but new records of brutality were set under Operation Clean Heart, initiated when Rahman's mother was prime minister in 2001. However, none of the ruling party politicians admitted that custodial torture was a problem. Instead, inhumanity and impunity were institutionalized at the state level.

In Bangla language there is a saying, "Whoever goes to Lanka becomes the Raban," implying that the ruling party always becomes the tyrant. This has been literally true of the governments of Bangladesh ever since the country gained independence in 1971.

He who wears a shoe knows how it pinches. Thousands of victims, who suffered torture at the hands of various law enforcement agencies, are eager to ask what exactly it contributes to the nation. They know how it works, how it paralyzes, ruins and destroys people's thoughts, creativity, capabilities and socio-economic life. Many of them have been permanently disabled, or even lost their lives, forever leaving inexpressible shock and grief behind for their families.

However, very few politicians have had the chance, like Tareque Rahman, to experience the taste of torture in custody. Rahman is fortunate that he has not yet had the taste of "crossfire," which was his party's creation and is still in use. This would put an end to his life in the custody of the so-called elite forces of society.

Are politicians immune to pain? Have they no painful consciences? They must have realized that using torture as part of the law enforcement system is a crime against humanity. Torture contributes nothing to the nation except causing distrust, disrespect and a psychosis of fear. Rahman says he has been feeling insecure these days. Now perhaps he understands the result of torture.

It is time to determine the impact on the nation of the institutionalization of torture. Everyone related to making and implementing policy should understand that torture is the antithesis of civilization.

If politicians can suffer from torture, if they know how painful it is, they must come to a national consensus on changing the tradition of torture. It should be criminalized, in compliance with international norms and standards.

(Rater Zonaki is the pseudonym of a human rights defender based in Hong Kong and working at the Asian Human Rights Commission. He is a Bangladeshi national who worked as a grassroots human rights activist in his country for more than a decade.)

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