Legal impunity: Inside Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion
It’s an allegation that the Home Ministry, in an email to DW, strongly denied as “fictitious (sic), fabricated and politically motivated,” adding that “on receipt of any such allegation the Ministry duly investigate (sic) each incident by an independent Magistrate.
WASHINGTON: Each operation is carefully planned, sometimes for months, the target’s every move analyzed and monitored by one of 15 units inside Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion (RAB). Victims are usually picked up late at night and whisked away to the special police force’s facilities.
For months, DW’s investigative unit, in collaboration with the Sweden-based Netra News, investigated the elite force comprising military and police personnel. For the first time since its creation nearly two decades ago, two insiders-turned-whistleblowers speak out about the inner workings of the “death squad.” Both men are former military officers who were nominated to serve as commanders in different RAB units in recent years. DW and Netra News verified both men’s identities and deployment history in the force, but to ensure their security, agreed to withhold any identifiable information.
Together with Netra News, DW’s investigative unit crosschecked and corroborated their confessions with the help of experts, human rights activists, and other sources, such as police and post-mortem reports, a database of confirmed cases, and an audio recording of one of the extrajudicial killings. Along with DW and Netra News’ findings, their testimonies paint a damning picture of systematic human rights violations, encompassing a range of abuses from abductions to torture and extrajudicial killings, covered up with near total impunity.
It’s an allegation that the Home Ministry, in an email to DW, strongly denied as “fictitious (sic), fabricated and politically motivated,” adding that “on receipt of any such allegation the Ministry duly investigate (sic) each incident by an independent Magistrate. According to the investigation reports, the allegation made appears not to be authentic.” But allegations made by both insiders go further, suggesting that key figures in the ruling government may be harnessing the elite force for political gain, with tacit approval, at the very least, from the highest offices in Bangladesh.
If targets are political in nature, the operation only goes ahead when explicitly sanctioned from above, in which case the decision “would come at least from the Ministry of Home Affairs, or the Home Minister would give that order,” one of the whistleblowers says. “Without the approval of the Prime Minister, it is very unlikely that the Home Minister would give an order like this,” the other whistleblower said.
He is referring to Sheikh Hasina, the current prime minister who heads the Awami League and has been in power since 2009, following a prior term in the late 1990s.
Targets specified “by the Homes Minister or from someone who stays even higher, like the Prime Minister of Bangladesh” were given “priority,” one of the whistleblowers notes.
It’s an allegation that could not be independently verified. But institutionally, RAB falls under the authority of the Ministry of Home Affairs, and its highest official is responsible to the prime minister. DW and Netra News confronted the Ministry of Home Affairs and Prime Minister’s Office with the allegations. The Ministry of Home Affairs denied any involvement, claiming the allegations are “politically motivated” and “malafide”, a legal term for something undertaken in bad faith. It warned DW against “circulating any partisan views.” The Prime Minister’s Office did not respond. Created in 2004, the elite force took members of Bangladesh’s military and police and brought them together to fight terror and organized crime.
This article was provided by Deutsche Welle