Complicity of certain law enforcement units in extrajudicial killings
The murder of Major (retired) Sinha has brought to the fore the disturbingly high number of deaths due to "gunfights", "shootouts", and "crossfires" at the hands of the police in Teknaf upazila over the last two years. However, an investigation by the The Daily Star has revealed that this is not the only law enforcement unit in the country that has an alarming record of extrajudicial deaths; nor is it just the police who are implicated in "gunfights," "shootouts" or "crossfires." Based on analysis of data over the last two years—since the "war on drugs" was initiated in May 2018—the investigation found that an overwhelming majority of extrajudicial deaths happen at the hands of three agencies: the police, Rapid Action Battalion, and Border Guard Bangladesh. Moreover, some units of these agencies were found to be particularly "trigger-happy," recording a disproportionate number of deaths compared to their counterpart units.
For instance, of the 68 deaths due to so-called gunfights in Chattogram, Feni, Rangamati and Khagrachhari districts, 31 were by one unit alone, Rab-7, and most of the deaths took place in Banshkhali and Sitakunda. In Dhaka and surrounding areas, Rab-1 was responsible for 17 deaths due to "shootouts" in this two-year period, while Rab-2 was responsible for 18. The investigation also analysed the rhetoric or defence put forward by each unit following these deaths, and found that they used one particular narrative for almost all the cases under its jurisdiction and provided no specific details of the incidents or evidence of law enforcement officials being injured to journalists.
Despite repeated demands from different quarters nationally and internationally to end the impunity for extrajudicial deaths, including from the United Nations, the government has been consistent in its refusal to acknowledge the complicity of certain members of its law enforcement units in such deaths and take action against them. Our investigation clearly highlights how some units have been allowed to take the law into their own hands for far too long, and with complete impunity—in strict violation of the constitution. The stories offered by law enforcement as defence for these deaths are filled with so many holes and contradictions that our home ministry can no longer remain oblivious if it is to convince us of its commitment to upholding the rule of law, sanctity of the Bangladesh Constitution and basic principles of human rights. The ministry must initiate an in-depth and neutral investigation into each case of death at the hands of these "trigger-happy" units and take proper action to bring about systematic change in the way law enforcement approaches extrajudicial killings.