Unabated border killings dismay church, activists

September 29, 2016 by  
Filed under newsletter-asia

Dhaka, September 28, 2016: A Catholic bishop has joined rights activists in condemning what they say are the unabated killings of Bangladeshi civilians by Indian border guards on the Bangladesh-India border.

Despite repeated promises by Indian authorities for “zero casualties” some 28 Bangladeshis have been shot dead so far this year by the Indian Border Security Force, according to Ain-O-Salish Kendra, a Dhaka-based rights group.

Over the last three years the casualties have numbered 26, 33 and 46 respectively the group, said.

In the latest incident, Baharul Islam, 25, a villager from northern Kurigram district was gunned down by Indian soldiers on Sept. 25.

“The indiscriminate killing of civilians is a sin, a crime against humanity. Even if these people illegally trespassed into Indian territory or committed crimes, nothing can justify the killings,” Bishop Gervas Rozario of Rajshahi told ucanews.

Both countries should work together to raise awareness about illegal activities along the border. India needs to be more “tolerant and restrained” in dealing with border issues, the chairman of Catholic bishops’ Justice and Peace Commission said.

“Killings and abuses at the border create bitterness and enmity. As neighbors and friendly nations we must find ways to stop the killings for sake of keeping good relations,” Bishop Rozario said.

Bangladesh and India share a 4,096-kilometer land border, the world’s fifth longest.

In 2006, the Indian Border Security Force started constructing a barbed wire fence along a 3,200-km stretch of the border, in an attempt to keep out illegal migrants, smugglers and anti-government insurgents and militants.

Although, the two countries have relatively warm relations, about 1,000 civilians, mostly Bangladeshi villagers including children have been killed by Indian soldiers in the past 10 years, according a report from New York-based Human Rights Watch.

In many cases, victims were cattle smugglers — poor farmers and laborers hoping to supplement their meager livelihood through illegal cattle trading that until a year ago was rampant along the border.

Hindus who make up most of India’s population consider cows sacred while in neighboring Muslim-majority Bangladesh cows are slaughtered for food, and beef is considered a delicacy. Cows in Bangladesh can fetch up to five times more money than they do in India.

India does not allow the export of cows and hence any cross-border cattle trading is illegal. Moreover, the pro-Hindu Indian government is presently pushing for a nationwide ban on cow slaughter and has asked its border troops to put a complete halt to the smuggling of cattle to Bangladesh.

Amid diplomatic and international pressure, Indian authorities have ordered the Border Security Force to refrain from its previously adopted “shoot-to-kill” policy and use “non-lethal” weapons at the border.

However, continued border killings despite high level talks is “saddening and worrisome,” says Nur Khan, executive director of the Ain-O-Salish Kendra rights group.

“The Indian government promised zero casualties at the border, but the killing has yet to stop,” Khan told ucanews.com.

“It seems there is a lack of effort in developing relations. Since border situation has not improved as expected, global intervention, maybe from the United Nations, could be helpful in solving the problem,” he added.

Major General Aziz Ahmed, director-general of Border Guard Bangladesh told the Bengali daily Prothom Alo on Sept. 25 that Bangladesh protests the border killings in the strongest terms.

“In the past, the Indian Border Security Force used to say they fired at Bangladeshis in self-defense, but it’s not true,” he said.

“We will strongly press for an end to the killing of Bangladeshis at the border during a meeting between the two countries’ border guard agencies in Delhi,” Ahmed was quoted as saying.

– ucan

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