Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Bangladesh: Government must act now to stop police unlawful killings

24 August 2011 Amnesty International

The Bangladesh authorities must honour their pledge to stop extrajudicial
executions by a special police force accused of involvement in hundreds of
killings, Amnesty International said today in a new report.

Crimes unseen: Extrajudicial executions in Bangladesh also documents how
the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) justify these killings as accidental or
as a result of officers acting in self-defence, although in reality many
victims are killed following their arrest.

“Hardly a week goes by in Bangladesh without someone being shot by RAB
with the authorities saying they were killed or injured in ‘crossfire’ or
a ‘gun-fight’. However the authorities choose to describe such incidents,
the fact remains that they are suspected unlawful killings,” said Abbas
Faiz, Amnesty International’s Bangladesh Researcher.

The RAB has been implicated in the killing of at least 700 people since
its inception in 2004. Any investigations that have been carried out into
those killed have either been handled by RAB or by a government-appointed
judicial body but the details of their methodology or findings have
remained secret. They have never resulted in judicial prosecution. RAB has
consistently denied responsibility for unlawful killings and the
authorities have accepted RAB claims.

“It is appalling that virtually all alleged instances of illegal RAB
killings have gone unchallenged or unpunished. There can be no justice if
the force is the chief investigator of its own wrong-doings. Such
investigations cannot be impartial. There is nothing to stop the RAB from
destroying the evidence and engineering the outcome,” said Abbas Faiz.

Former detainees also told Amnesty International how they were routinely
tortured in custody, suffering beatings, food and sleep deprivation, and
electric shocks.

At least 200 alleged RAB killings have occurred since January 2009 when
the current Awami League government came to power, despite the Prime
Minister’s pledge to end extrajudicial executions and claims by the
authorities that no extrajudicial executions were carried out in the
country in this period.

In addition, at least 30 people have been killed in other police
operations since early 2010, with the police also portraying them as
deaths in “shoot-outs” or “gun-fights”.

“By failing to take proper judicial action against RAB, successive
Bangladeshi governments have effectively endorsed the force’s claims and
conduct and given it carte blanche to act with impunity. All we have seen
from the current government are broken promises or worse, outright
denial,” said Abbas Faiz.

In many cases the investigations blamed the victims, calling them
criminals and portraying their deaths as justified even though available
public evidence refuted that.

“The Bangladesh authorities must act now and take concrete steps to
protect people from the alleged unlawful killings by their security forces
.The government must ensure independent and impartial investigations into
all suspected cases of extrajudicial executions and bring those
responsible to justice.”

Bangladesh’s police and RAB continue to receive a wide range of military
and police equipment from overseas, including from Austria, Belgium,
China, Czech Republic, Italy, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Turkey and USA. In
addition, diplomatic cables from the US Embassy in Dhaka, obtained and
released by Wikileaks in December 2010 alleged that UK police had been
training RAB officers.

Amnesty International calls upon these countries to refrain from supplying
arms to Bangladesh that will be used by RAB and other security forces to
commit extrajudicial executions and other human rights violations. Any
country that knowingly sends arms or other supplies to equip a force which
systematically violates human rights may itself bear some responsibility
for those violations.

RAB was created in March 2004, to much public acclaim, as the government’s
response to a breakdown in law and order, particularly in western and
central Bangladesh.

In Rajshahi, Khulna and Dhaka districts, armed criminal groups or powerful
mercenary gangs colluded with local politicians to run smuggling rings or
extort money from local people. Within months of its creation, RAB’s
operations were characterized by a pattern of killings portrayed by the
authorities as ‘deaths in crossfire’, many of which had the hallmarks of
extrajudicial executions.

They usually occurred in deserted locations after a suspect’s arrest. In
some cases, there were witnesses to the arrests, but RAB authorities
maintained that victims had been killed by ‘crossfire’, or in ‘shoot-outs’
or ‘gunfights’.

Bangladesh’s two main political parties – the Bangladesh Nationalist Party
and the Awami League – have shown no commitment to limiting the powers of

In the first couple of months of coming to office, the Prime Minister
spoke of a “zero tolerance” policy toward extrajudicial executions. Other
government authorities repeated her pledge. These hopes were dashed in
late 2009 when the authorities, including the Home Minister, began to
claim that there were no extrajudicial executions in the country.

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