Bangladesh police have charged dozens of people, including the owner of Rana Plaza complex, with murder, more than two years after the collapse of that building in Dhaka killed over 1,100 people, in the worst industrial disaster in the country’s history.
On Monday, police filed two charge sheets to the chief judicial magistrate’s court in Dhaka, in connection with two separate cases related to the April 24, 2013 collapse of Rana Plaza.
For the killing of at least 1,137 people - mostly workers at five garment factories housed in Rana Plaza - authorities charged 41 people, including plaza owner Sohel Rana, his parents, seven factory owners and more than a dozen government officials. And, in an illegal building construction case, the number of accused stands at 18.
Because 17 of those charged in the illegal construction case also stand accused in the murder case, the total number of people charged in the two cases numbers 42.
“All 41 charged in the murder case were collectively responsible for this killing of more than 1,100 innocent people. It was a case of mass killing,” lead investigator Bijoy Krishna Kar said Monday.
Many survivors said they refused to enter their factories in Rana Plaza after they noticed some cracks on the building hours before the collapse.
The investigation found that the cracks were noticed by some people one day before the building crashed. The investigators also found that the factory owners and Sohel Rana held a discussion about the cracks and decided to keep the factories running.
“The cracks were clearly ignored by Rana and the factory owners. They did not bother to close down the factories and keep the workers away from the building. They sent the workers to die there. So, we have pressed murder charges against those 41 people, including Sohel Rana and the factory owners,” Kar said.
Rana Plaza initially was approved as a six-story shopping mall. But officials say it was illegally extended to a nine-story factory complex, violating the code of construction.
“The illegal extensions on the building violating construction regulations triggered the massive tragedy,” Kar said.
Rana, three government engineers and the mayor are among the 18 charged in the illegal construction case.
The group of 41 people, including Rana and the factory owners, initially faced charges of culpable homicide. But following the investigation, police upgraded the charges to murder.
After the fatal collapse, Rana went into hiding but was arrested days after.
Among the 42 who have been charged, Rana and four others are in police custody now. While some others among the charged are out on bail, 26 have gone missing since the time of the collapse. Kar said police are seeking court warrants for those 26.
Iftekhar Zaman, executive director of Transparency International Bangladesh - the Bangladesh chapter of the global anti-corruption watchdog - said that it is “absolutely indispensable to bring to account” those responsible for the Rana Plaza tragedy, in order to ensure justice in the case as well as to prevent any such tragedy in the future.
“These two cases are much bigger than that of a case of typical violation of laws and rules. Therefore, they deserve speedier trials. The cases related to the Rana Plaza tragedy should therefore be tried in a special court to ensure that those found guilty in the due process face sufficiently deterrent punishment,” Zaman told VOA.
“Failure to do so will worsen the culture of impunity increasing the risk of other such violations of laws and rules to flourish, and thereby undermine the prospect of accountability and rule of law."