Just weeks after Human Rights Watch released a report on India’s Border Security Force’s (BSF) use of excessive and frequently lethal force, the Indian government ordered that BSF guards be issued non-lethal weapons. More than 900 Bangladeshi and Indian nationals were killed in border areas in the last decade when troops used lethal force in an apparent effort to contain smuggling and other illegal activities.
Last year Human Rights Watch teams worked in Bangladesh and India to document a pattern of grave abuses involving unprovoked beatings, torture, and indiscriminate killings. We partnered with two local human rights organizations—Kolkata-based Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM) and Dhaka-based Odhikar—to interview more than 100 individuals including victims, witnesses, human rights defenders, journalists, law enforcement officials, members of the BSF, and members of the Bangladeshi security forces known as the Bangladesh Rifles.
These interviews revealed that virtually all of the abuses were committed by Indian personnel, whom local residents consider a menacing presence in the densely populated, acutely poor border region where land is cultivated right up to the international boundary. We found that many victims were killed while rustling cattle to supplement their meager incomes—a disproportionate extrajudicial sentence in stark violation of international law.
We launched our report on the BSF in press conferences in Dhaka and New Delhi and presented our findings to the Bangladeshi and Indian authorities. Indian authorities agreed with our findings on the cases we documented. Autopsy reports and the witness testimony featured in our report showed that many were killed while running away in an attempt to evade rather than attack border guards. The Bangladeshi government agreed to be more proactive in protecting its citizens.
On March 12, 2011, BSF Director General Raman Srivastava publicly confirmed that BSF personnel would be provided with non-lethal weapons. In addition, New Delhi said it will take disciplinary action against the perpetrators of abuses within the security forces.