Bangladesh-India locked in a seemingly endless cycle of raising concerns and making promises about stopping border killings
Bangladesh received pledges after pledges from the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) that there will be no more killings at the Bangladesh-India border. But these pledges remained only on the papers. The number of border killings increased twelve times in 2019 in comparison to 2018, according to Bangladesh government estimates.
AK Abdul Momen, the foreign minister of Bangladesh, said in a press briefing on Sunday that Bangladesh is concerned about the "unfortunate" border killings. "Our policy is that no one will die at the border. The Indian government has agreed that no one will die there. But it's happening."
Momen's concern came after the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) and the BSF's director general conference in Delhi, held during December 25-30, in 2019.
Following the conference, the BGB Director General Md Safinul Islam told the press, "We have stated our concern. The BSF director general has assured me that they will be more careful and alert to avoid these unwarranted killings at the border."
Such assurances from the BSF, however, are not new. In a bilateral border conference held in Dhaka in April 2018, both Bangladesh and India pledged not to use lethal weapons at border.
About that meeting, human rights activist Sultana Kamal – who was working for the human rights organisation Ain o Shalish Kendra at the time – told The Business Standard (TBS): "It was agreed that the border guards of both the countries would use rubber bullets instead of lethal weapons to control smugglings and illegal border crossings, putting no life at risk. But those promises were not kept."
According to government estimates, in 2018, three Bangladeshis were killed in Bangladesh-India border. But in 2019, 35 Bangladeshis were killed – almost twelve times more than that of 2018.
However, the numbers of killings, according to unofficial counts, are much higher. According to Ain o Salish Kendra, 43 Bangladeshis were killed at the border in 2019 while 48 others were injured.
The rights group said that 14 Bangladeshis in 2018 and 24 in 2017 were killed at the Bangladesh-India border.
"We will inform India of our concern. I will ask them to fulfil their commitment to stop killings at the border," said Momen.
But Bangladesh stated such concerns many a time to India and in return, the neighbouring country had pledged to stop border killings, multiple times.
Following the Felani murder at the border in 2011, a picture of her upside-down body hanging from the barbed wire fence on the border created an outcry in Bangladesh.
India's BSF, back then, claimed that children were being used in smuggling that resulted in Felani murder. And they promised to work on reducing border killings in the face of the outcry.
When asked why such repeated pledges and Bangladesh's concern has not been translated into actions, Sultana Kamal said: "Why are we allowing such killings to continue? Why we are not standing strong against such killings?"
She suggested that the Bangladesh government analyse "what is holding the country back to make India keep its promises.
"The state should handle the situation very strongly."
Sheepa Hafiza, executive director of Ain o Shalish Kendra, said: "Both India and Bangladesh, have laws and regulations. If these countries abide by the laws, such killings cannot happen. We can prevent such deaths by effective implementation of the rule of law."
Sheepa emphasised having a friendly border inspired by the model of the European Union. "It is in the very nature of human beings to communicate beyond the borders. If you visit France or Switzerland, you will barely find the border issues that we have in Bangladesh-India borders."
"Civilised countries do not fight at the border."
While Sultana Kamal said: "This is a question of life and death. Nobody has the right to endanger others' lives like this."
"It is tough even to demarcate the border of Bangladesh and India. In many places, some people have their home in Bangladesh and kitchen in India. When the border realities are like this, both the countries must resolve the border issues very sincerely."