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BANGLADESH: Operation Clean Heart


Paper 674                             01.05.2003

by Jyoti M Pathania 

Operation Clean Heart is one of the most controversial anti-crime operations in the South Asian subcontinent.  It involved about 40,000 members of the armed forces deployed in the country’s largest cities and shopping malls.   After completion of the operation the troops were called back. Just after two weeks there was a fresh surge in violent crime activities, which had left more than 200 people dead.   The current operation resumed in February 2003 was on a smaller scale than the previous one.

Why It Started? 

Operation Clean Heart was started on the 17th October 2002 as a drive against growing crime; continuing deterioration in law and order, rise in criminal activity, murder, rape and acid throwing. The Army was called upon to work jointly with the police, Bangladesh rifles and ANSAR for restoring law and order in the country.  The army took the lead along with others under the banner of “Operation Clean Heart” to cleanse the cities of Bangladesh of rampant corruption and crime. 


*Arrest of the listed criminals

* Recovering illegal arms

* Generally improve the law and order situation in the country 

Legal Aspects 

* Though the legal status of the army’s involvement in this operation still remains wishy-washy, the government has left no stone unturned in telling the international community that this operation is legal and justified.  

* The government’s justification is that army has been called under section 129 and 130 of the code of criminal procedure which says the army can arrest anyone to disperse any illegal gathering on permission of police commissioner or magistrate. 

* Foreign Minister M Morshed Khan said the Army’s involvement against crime is very much within its legal and constitutional jurisdiction. He said “there is nothing illegal or unconstitutional in calling the army in aid of civil administration, especially when the Awami League govt. in its last 5 years in power called upon the army seven times”. 

* Prime minister Khalida Zia in explaining the legality of the army drive said “the army was called in view of the lack of logistics strength of the police and in aid of civil administration to curb crimes and would be withdrawn as soon as possible.  The country will be run according to the constitution and the existing laws of the land”. 

* The legal status is still unclear, because some of the detainees have been arrested under section 54 of the code of civil procedure, which allows the police and not the army to detain people on the suspicion of involvement in criminal activity.  Law minister Moudud Ahmed confirmed that the army was not given any magisterial or police power. 

Domestic response 

Many Bangladeshis fed up with the daily threat of crime welcomed the army’s involvement, suggesting that public backing was there.  Most people were relieved that at least something has finally been done to combat the breakdown of law and order.  The Army still holds some reputation out of all the other organizations and people have faith in this honest broker. 

Opposition critique 

* The Awami League President stated that the govt. should quit if the army is needed to rule the country. Opposition (AL) and (CPB) Bangladesh communist party has accused the govt. of trying to cover up its own failure they termed it as “ Operation Dirty Heart”.  The govt.’s main objective is repression of opposition groups rather than the proclaimed reduction of crime. 

* Under the roundtable talks under the umbrella of “ Aggrieved Citizens Society”, various academics stated  that the alliance govt. has created a situation for military rule. 

* Some analysts believe that the Army must be kept above politics since persecution of the opposition leaders by the Army can also be done under instructions from the govt.

 * The Zia government came under heavy criticism when “indemnity ordinance” was passed by the parliament. This ordinance gave immunity from prosecution to armed forces for their involvement in any casualty, damage to life and property, violation of right, physical or mental damage. The ordinance held that no army personnel would be investigated or brought to justice for these deaths, thus violating the obligations under the convention against torture and the international covenant on civil and political rights. 

International response 

Denmark lauded the anticrime drive by the Bangladesh govt. for maintaining peace that is imperative for productive activities.( The Daily Star 10 December 2002)

US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher conveyed that US hopes the troops would continue in the mission only as long as necessary and the suggested that the army needs to maintain Human Rights norms and deployment should not be used to harass the governments political opponents.( The Independent 1st November 2002)

The international secretariat of the world organization against torture (OMCT), the world’s largest coalition of non-governmental organization (NGO’s) engaged in the fight against torture called upon the Bangladesh govt. to immediately halt this operation and to release all persons detained, in the absence of valid legal charges, guarantees of personal integrity, access to legal council and family visits of all detainees in accordance with its obligations under the international law.

Asian Human rights Commission (AHRC) criticized the govt. that no official public announcement as been made as to the circumstances under which the govt. felt compelled to involve army in this operation. AHRC in the light of rights guaranteed by the constitution voiced following concerns:

* If such an operation has been launched under the premise of the failure of civil administration, has the govt made enough efforts in reforming the police?

* Who determines the criminality of people arrested, tortured and killed during the course of so called Law and order restoration? 

* This operation is a serious breach of international human rights law and international standards of administration of justice.

Breach Of Article (11) Of The Constitution Of The People’s Republic Of Bangladesh which states that “ the republic shall be a democracy in which fundamental human rights and freedoms and respect for the dignity and worth of human person shall be guaranteed and in which effective participation by the people through their elected representative in the administration at all levels shall be ensured”.

Other Major Reasons For Human Rights Violations

* Involvement of non-civilian institutions in civil administration in a democratically governed country.

* Civil administration itself is the handwork of legitimizing the crimes such as extra judicial killings, deaths in custody resulted by torture and human rights violations committed during Operation. 

* Such actions have serious consequences on the democratic institutions and posses a severe threat to democracy in Bangladesh.

* Use of state institutions in eliminating political rivalry

Amnesty International 

* The government must bring to justice any army or police personnel involved in the torture of detainees and clarify the legal status of the army involved.

* It fears people might be detained solely for their peaceful opposition to the govt.

* Law and order maintenance is govt. duty, but this cannot be imposed at the expense of the basic rights of the people.

 Euro Parliament 

Resolution was jointly raised by Johan Van Hecke human rights reporters of parliament from Belgium and Van den Bos from Netherlands.

It adopted a resolution on serious human rights violation in Bangladesh strongly criticizing the operation by Bangladesh armed forces and expressed serious concerns over 25 deaths in the first 25 days of the anticrime drive.

Furthermore the resolution expressed concern at what is called the growing Islamic radicalization since the BNP-led party alliance came to power. 

Justification Of The Operation By The Government 

* PM Khaleda Zia informed the Jatiya Sangsad (Parliament) the inability of the police alone to ensure public security because of limited manpower had compelled her govt. to call upon the army to assist the govt. in its clean up drive against corruption and crime which had become the part of the Bangladesh city life style. This operation would uproot crimes from society.

* In her first statement in parliament on anti-crime drive, she claimed that the drive had already drawn massive public support, the people have heaved a assign of relief as peace has returned.

* Home Ministry stated that the political interference in police administration and indifference to decriminalizing political parties necessitated the ongoing army drive.

 * The joint operation was launched to uproot terrorism and ensure peace and security of public life, in fact the previous govt. had issued arms licenses to criminals as a result terrorism has taken a serious shape. Justification by the govt. was also made on the ground that in keeping with the election pledge/promise to curb and contain terrorism, the govt. justifies its move. 

Tasks Done By The Army 

In Dhaka troops recovered 1920 rounds of ammunition from a drain near banani rial gate In Chittagong and Cox bazaar army arrested 2 criminals and seized 24 firearms in raid. 196 people were rounded up by the army including 21 listed criminals across the country. (The Daily Star  21 November 2002)

* List of firearms including sophisticated AK-47 and M-16 rifles, pistols, revolvers and guns, 276 rounds of ammunitions discovered. (The Independent 25 Nov, 2002)

A total of 6892 persons including 1651 terrorist were also arrested The army seized 8 sophisticated weapons including an AK-47 and an M-16 assault rifles from the border areas in the hilly district of Khagracchari in Chittagong. (The Daily Star 1st Nov 2002 )

* Khandaker Monirul alom Press information Officer at a press briefing informed that about 17,576 army and 401 navy personnel had been deployed in the ongoing joint operation in aid of civil administration across the country. ( The Independent  1st November 2002)


 Use of the Army for maintenance of Law and order is fraught with danger.  The biggest danger perhaps is the politicization of the Army and going by the animosity between the two major political leaders Khalida Zia and Sheik Hasina - the army could be used to settle personal scores.  After intermittent rule by the Army, Bangladesh is moving towards a democratic order and avoidable use of Army could encourage some power hungry ambitious Generals to seize power once again.  Was it worth,  when the results of the operation have not so far yielded good results?