Right to truth to be exercised in the arson attack inquiry : a joint statement from the Asian Human Rights Commission and

The investigation into the attack upon minorities, its process and outcome, and subsequent handling of the event by the Government Bangladesh is highly questionable. The incident in question is the arson of properties of the minority communities, particularly of the Buddhists and Hindus in Cox’s Bazar and Chittagong districts that occurred on 29 September.

The Probe Committee headed by the Additional Divisional Commissioner of Chittagong and comprising of a civilian officer and two police officers, claims that the Committee has completed its investigation on 13 October. However, the government has suppressed the report. The members of the public are kept in dark regarding the Committee’s findings.

The investigation has generated more controversies than contributing to the victims’ pursuit for justice. The victims have challenged the Committee’s report, though what is available till date are some snippets of opinions made by the members of the Committee. The victims have also demanded for an independent judicial investigation, since they do not trust a government-sponsored committee and their intensions.

A number of Buddhist clergy have already objected the police action that implicates some political opponents of the ruling regime as responsible for the arson. For example, the President and the Secretary of the Pashchim Ratnashashon Teertha Sudarshan Bihar Management Committee have prepared notarised affidavits on 18 October suggesting that they are not satisfied with the government’s actions of the events. The affidavits allege that they received support from Mr. Mahmudul Haque Chowdhury and one Mr. Darbesh Ali, two prominent public figures from the locality to prevent the attacks upon the local Buddhist monastery. Both Mahmudul and Darbesh are however accused by the police for attacking and looting the monastery.

The media have quoted the Committee, when it reported that Mr. Tofail Ahmed, a leader of Jamaat-E-Islam and the Chairman of Naikkhongchhari Upazila Parishad of Bandarban district, were the mastermind behind the entire incident. The local leaders of the ethnic communities that were under attack challenged this version of the Committee. In a press conference held on 21 October at Cox’s Bazar the local leaders have challenged the Committee’s report.

Irrespective of the truth behind these statements made by the Buddhist and other ethnic community leaders, the government owes the responsibility to provide answers to the public. It is however a sad reality that what is now available in public space is mere rumours about the Committee’s findings.

By suppressing the investigation report the government has denied the people’s right to know the truth. It must not be for the government to decide what and who led the arson attacks. It is for a court to decide, since arson is a crime. Instead by hiding the probe report, the government is contributing immensely in generating public speculation and creating rifts between communities where relationships are already strained.

Apart from that the local police have detained some persons as suspects. These persons have already withdrawn their statements from the courts, alleging that state officers tortured them and forced them to confess to crimes they have not committed. The allegation of torture must also be a subject for investigation, since torture is also prohibited in Bangladesh. It is also reported that the persons currently in custody accused of the crime have been threatened by the state officers that they would be extra judicially executed in a cross-fire, if they refused to give statements as directed by the state officers.

The government kept all its forces as silent spectators when the devastating arson attack happened. It will hardly do anything better by suppressing the probe report, filed in by a committee that the government itself has formed to investigate into the crime.

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