Bangladesh Border Guards at the Fulbari-Banglabandha checkpoint on the India-Bangladesh border, on the outskirts of Siliguri. Photo: AFP/Diptendu Dutta

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Bangladesh Minister for Foreign affairs AK Momen on Sunday said both Dhaka and New Delhi want “zero deaths” along the two countries’ borders.

“Unfortunately this is not happening,” said Momen while talking to reporters at his office in the foreign ministry. He was flanked by foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen and Secretary Maritime Affairs Unit Rear Admiral (retd) Md Khurshed Alam.

Journalists present at the press conference asked Momen about the “sharp rise in border killings,” pointing to a recent incident when a youth was killed by Indian border guard forces near the border district of Lalmonirhaat last Friday.

With the latest incident, three Bangladeshis have been killed by India’s Border Security Force (BSF) in less than one week. The issue is extremely sensitive right now as India’s religion-based citizenship law has upset Bangladesh.

The law excludes Muslims as immigrants for a new fast-track procedure, which has sparked off widespread protests across India.

Top officials in the Indian government have pledged on several occasions to bring border killings down to zero and introduce non-lethal weapons at the borders. But the spike in the border death toll indicates that those promises have not been kept.

Momen said Dhaka was “concerned” about India’s broken promises and the deaths along the border and hoped New Delhi would comply with their “zero death” position.

“We’re concerned, like you,” said the foreign minister, addressing the journalists. “We would relay the message to India so that they comply with their position what they’ve told us already – no deaths along the border.”

Alarming rise in killings

Bangladesh is surrounded by India in three corners and the two countries share the world’s fifth-longest border at 4,156 kilometers.

According to a report by rights watchdog Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK), at least 43 Bangladeshi citizens were killed by the BSF in 2019, a threefold increase from 14 the previous year.

India’s border violence, in fact, has reached such a proportion that many international media and rights organizations have termed the Bangladesh-India border as the deadliest.

An ASK report said a total of 455 Bangladeshi citizens were killed by the BSF in 2009-2019, while 657 were injured and 518 allegedly abducted during this period. Besides killing, widespread allegations of torture have also been reported.

Bangladesh Minister of Home Affairs Asaduzzaman Khan, however, presented a different set of statistics. In July last year, he told the national parliament that the Indian BSF had killed a total of 294 Bangladeshi nationals in the last 10 years since 2009.

According to data placed by the minister, at least 66 Bangladeshi nationals were killed on the Bangladesh-India border in 2009, while there were 55 in 2010, 24 each in 2011 and 2012, 18 in 2013, 24 in 2014, 38 in 2015, 25 in 2016, 17 in 2017 and three in 2018.

 Factors behind rising deaths

Security experts have long said that cattle and drug smuggling, and the lack of non-lethal weapons, are the main cause of border killings, and if the smuggling could be stopped and people living around the border could be made aware of the dangers of trespassing, it would be possible to have a completely non-violent border.

Bangladeshi human rights activist Nur Khan Liton told Asia Times that no internationally accepted border protocols allow the shoot-to-kill policy that India has been pursuing, for a long time disregarding border protocols and human rights.

“Border protocols everywhere in the world stipulate that any person, who illegally crosses an international border, would be considered as a trespasser and would be handed over to civilian authorities keeping to the law,” he said.

But the BSF, Liton said, despite repeated assurances from the Indian government to bring border killings to zero and to not use lethal weapon at the borders, has always preferred lethal options against any type of offenders.

A report from the US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said: “Some Indian officials endorse shooting people who attempt to cross the border illegally, even if they are unarmed.

“Almost as shocking is the lack of interest in these killings by foreign governments who claim to be concerned with human rights. A single killing by US law enforcement along the Mexican border makes headlines. The killing of large numbers of villagers by Indian forces has been almost entirely ignored,” the HRW report said.

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