Human Rights Watch has urged Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to establish an independent body "to investigate evidence that the paramilitary Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) has been responsible for extrajudicial executions, disappearances, torture, and other serious abuses over many years".
“The prime minister must now broaden the probe and create an independent process to ensure accountability for all cases, not just Narayanganj,” said Brad Adams, Asia Director of the HRW, in an open letter yesterday.
The New York-based rights organisation also reiterated its longstanding call that the Rab be disbanded, and replaced with a fully accountable civilian law enforcement agency dedicated to fighting crime and terrorism.
"Following the abduction and apparent contract killings of seven people by members of Rapid Action Battalion and other security forces in Narayanganj, the state minister for home, Asaduzzaman Khan, announced that the prime minister had ordered to ensure that all those responsible are found and punished, regardless of their positions. The High Court, acting on its own motion, directed that any investigation into the killings be conducted by a specially constituted body independent of the security forces, and issued an arrest warrant against three Rab officers to be tried before civilian courts" the letter says.
“After years of refusing to investigate Rab, the government has changed course and reacted quickly to the Narayanganj murders,” said Adams.
“This is welcome and hopefully marks a shift away from years of impunity for the Rab and other security forces,” he added.
The rights organisation has long been documenting the Rab's responsibility for extrajudicial killings and torture, the HRW claims.
Most recently, the HRW documented the deaths of 11 opposition activists before, during, and after the January 5 national elections. The Bangladesh media reported several more. In six of the cases documented by the organisation, the authorities admitted security forces had initially detained the victims, and that the victims had been shot dead while in custody, the letter mentioned.
Disbanding the Rab is now being openly discussed in Bangladesh, the organisation said, adding that BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia, who established the Rab while in government, has now called for its elimination.
“This is a good opportunity for Bangladesh to deliver on its longstanding promise of zero-tolerance for human rights violations by security forces,” said Adams.
“Rab should be disbanded and replaced with a fully civilian force that operates under the rule of law and has external oversight. Death squads have no place in a democracy,” he concluded.