Bangladesh’s government is failing to stop extrajudicial killings by an elite paramilitary force known as the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), Human Rights Watch said in a report released yesterday.
About 200 people have been killed in so-called “crossfire” deaths by the RAB since the current Awami League government — which promised in opposition to end the killings — took power in January 2009, the report said.
The government should either immediately reform the paramilitary group and hold it accountable for the killings or the force should be disbanded, said the report, Crossfire: Continued Human Rights Abuses by Bangladesh’s RAB.
“Bangladesh is starting to get a reputation as a country that has a very powerful paramilitary force that is engaging in death squad-like activities,” New York-based Human Rights Watch’s Asia director Brad Adams said.
“There is complete impunity ... every RAB officer knows that if they go out and crossfire someone then they will not face prosecution,” Adams said, adding there was “no visible sign” the government was addressing the issue.
The report calls on the British, US and Australian governments, which have in the past provided training and assistance to the RAB, to immediately withdraw their support.
“[The training] has clearly made no impact and that is because there’s no appetite to change behavior inside RAB,” Adams said.
“At the senior level it is clear that they don’t think there is a -problem that needs to be solved, so you can’t train people to stop [crossfire deaths] where they’re either ordered to or permitted to,” he added.
Over the last two years, no RAB officers have been prosecuted for either human rights abuses or extrajudicial killings, the report said.
The Rapid Action Battalion was set up in 2004 and admits about 600 people have died in what it calls “encounter/shootout” incidents over the past six years.