Human Rights Watch in a letter to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has reiterated its call for disbanding Rapid Action Battalion as it believed the elite force is “beyond reform.”
Until it is disbanded, Rab should be made into an entirely civilian force by withdrawing all military officers and soldiers from its membership, the New York-based rights organisation said.
The government, however, rejected outright the call of HRW, while National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) saw “politics” in the demand of the global watchdog and questioned its jurisdiction over raising such a demand as a foreign organisation.
“The Bangladeshi government has promised to reform Rab and hold it accountable, but it has utterly failed,” said HRW Asia Director Brad Adams in a press release yesterday.
“The lack of accountability has allowed the Rapid Action Battalion to run amok. Rab is beyond reform and should swiftly be abolished,” it added.
The rights body made the call for the second time within a little over two months. On May 14, it urged that Rab be disbanded and called on Sheikh Hasina to establish an independent body to investigate the allegations of crimes allegedly committed by Rab.
After the formation of Rab in 2004 during the BNP-led four-party government, HRW first raised question over the activities of Rab in December 2006.
In May, 2009, it recommended dissolving Rab and Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), terming them “symbols of abuse and impunity.”
In May 2011, HRW urged Bangladesh government to reform Rab within the next six months or disband it altogether.
The elite force came under serious criticism from different quarters after three of its officers were sent on retirement for their alleged involvement with the abduction and murder of seven people in Narayanganj in April.
BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia, whose government had formed the force, also called for disbanding Rab, but Sheikh Hasina on May 31 said it was not possible.
The HRW yesterday said evidence that Rab officers were responsible for the contract killings of seven men in April allegedly on behalf of a ruling party member, has provoked outrage in Bangladesh and is yet another example of how the unit has operated as a death squad.
Over the last decade, successive governments led by the BNP, the subsequent military-backed caretaker regime, and since 2009, the Awami League, have allowed the force to operate with impunity, leading to serious and systematic abuses, read the release.
The Rab, claimed the HRW, has been responsible for numerous acts of torture and other ill-treatment, arbitrary arrests, and approximately 800 killings over the last 10 years.
GOVT, NHRC REACTIONS
The government will take no steps regarding Rapid Action Battalion based on the observation of foreign rights bodies, Industries Minister Amir Hossain Amu said yesterday.
Asked whether the government would dissolve Rab, he said, “It is our internal affair. Nothing will be done based on their [HRW] letter.”
He was talking to reporters after attending a cabinet committee meeting on law and order at the home ministry in the capital.
Meanwhile, NHRC Chairman Prof Mizanur Rahman said the demand of HRW “appears to be politically motivated.”
“Recently Rab has become controversial because of some of its members' complicity in serious human rights violations. Their accountability is very much in question now,” he mentioned.
The HRW, he added, cannot conclude that Rab is beyond reform. “On what basis have they drawn such a conclusion?” questioned Mizanur.
He called for a thorough reform in the force to deal with the issue.