US Senate body demands sanctions against RAB officials in Bangladesh

Diplomatic Correspondent | Published: 00:10, Oct 29,2020 | Updated: 19:01, Oct 29,2020


US Senate’s foreign relations committee on Tuesday demanded that the administration of president Donald Trump should impose targeted sanctions on senior officials of the Rapid Action Battalion of Bangladesh on allegations of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearance and torture.

Ten US senators led by Democrat Bob Menendez and Republican Todd Young placed the demand in a letter addressed to the US secretary of state Mike Pompeo and secretary of the treasury  Steven Mnuchin. ‘Extrajudicial killings by the RAB have reportedly spiked since the Government of Bangladesh began its “war on drugs” in the months ahead of the December 2018 elections,’ the senators wrote.

They referred to the statements of the UN experts on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary execution who alleged that ‘war on drugs’ ‘appears to be a deliberate policy of extrajudicial killings’ and urged the Bangladesh government to end it and respect the rule of law and human rights.

However, the government has failed to end these abuses and the RAB continues to commit extrajudicial killings with impunity, they alleged that the force reportedly killed more than 400 people extrajudicially since 2015.

The senators also expressed concerns over the fact that the RAB had been credibly implicated in gross human rights violations for which the force and its senior leadership faced no consequences.

In nearly all cases, the RAB claims that such extrajudicial killings result from ‘gunfights’ or ‘crossfire,’ but documentation from reputable human rights organisations, including Amnesty International,  demonstrates that victims were often in RAB custody when they were killed, and many of their bodies show signs of death by execution, rather than a ‘gunfight.’

In one well-known case, an audio recording of the killing of municipal councillor Ekramul Haque revealed RAB officers giving directions to stage a ‘gunfight’ after they executed him.

Directions from RAB officers included planting drugs and bullets in Haque’s pockets, untying his hands, scattering empty bullet shells around the scene, and shooting at a nearby vehicle.

‘In addition to extrajudicial killings, UN experts, journalists, and human rights groups have documented cases of the RAB committing enforced disappearances and widespread torture, including the 2019 abduction and suspected torture by the RAB of three men whose employer had a dispute with a high-ranking Government of Bangladesh official,’ the Senators added.

Democrat senators Ben Cardin, Jeanne Shaheen, Chris Murphy, Chris Coons, Jeff Merkley, Cory Booker and Republican senators Cory Gardner and Marco Rubio also signed the letter with senators Menendez and Young.

When contacted, RAB legal and media wing director Ashique Billah told New Age that it was their (senators’) jurisdiction to make comments on the issue, but the elite force is not involved in any extrajudicial killings.

The RAB conducts raids within a legal frame and there are some unwanted incidents of exchanges of fire with ‘armed criminals’ during operations.

The force was not involved in any extrajudicial killings, Ashique added.

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