Amnesty International yesterday said the Bangladeshi authorities have allegedly killed 466 people last year under the guise of an anti-drugs campaign in what appears to be “a wave of extrajudicial executions”.
There are allegations of enforced disappearance and fabricating evidence by the law enforcement agencies in these suspected extrajudicial executions, the rights watchdog said in a report titled “Killed in ‘Crossfire’: Allegations of Extrajudicial Executions in Bangladesh in the Guise of a War on Drugs.”
The report revealed how the Bangladeshi authorities have failed to investigate deaths of people killed in alleged “gunfights”.
The 466 suspected extrajudicial executions last year alone marked a threefold increase from a year earlier and the highest in a single year in decades, according to the report.
Amnesty examined hundreds of cases of suspected extrajudicial executions carried out by the Bangladeshi law enforcement agencies in anti-narcotic operations and chose to document seven cases in detail by interviewing 40 people, including witnesses, relatives and family members of the victims, and local people. The interviews were carried out in November last year.
“The ‘war on drugs’ has led to the death of at least one person per day. Wherever there has been involvement of the Rapid Action Battalion, it appears they have acted outside of the law, the victims were not arrested, let alone put on trial. Some were forcibly disappeared from their homes and their relatives only saw them next as bullet-riddled corpses in the morgue,” said Dinushika Dissanayake, deputy South Asia director of Amnesty International.
“The Bangladeshi authorities must put an end to these killings immediately. The ‘anti-drugs’ operations have spread terror in some of the country’s poorest neighbourhoods, where people fear the slightest suspicion of being involved in drug abuse may lead to their loved ones being subjected to another alleged extrajudicial execution,” she said.
Instead of launching proper investigations into these killings, the authorities allegedly sought to fabricate evidence to support their “gunfights” or “crossfire” claims, the report says.
In interviews with Amnesty, supposed “witnesses” revealed that they had not seen the killings but were asked by the police to provide fabricated statements supporting the police version of the deaths as having taken place in alleged “gunfights” or “crossfire”.
In all the cases investigated by the graft watchdog, the victims were first subjected to apparent enforced disappearances, lasting anywhere from one day to a month and a half, before their bodies were eventually discovered.
In one case, relatives of one of the victims claimed to have bribed police in exchange for the victim’s release, but to no avail, the report said.
It said Bangladeshi officials have routinely claimed that the victims of apparent extrajudicial executions were caught up in a fire fight, where the suspects fired the first shot at the members of law enforcement agencies, forcing them to resort to lethal force.
Amnesty spoke to supposed “witnesses” who said that they were involuntarily taken to the crime scene only after the killings had taken place.
“We did not see anything,” one such “witness” told Amnesty. “They called and took me with them to the location around 5:30am and asked me to witness what they were taking from there. I only saw a motorbike and nothing else.”
At least five witnesses interviewed by the rights watchdog said they were involuntarily taken to the spot after the incident and they could not refuse police requests to act as witnesses fearing harsh consequences.
“Security forces have taken signatures, names, phone numbers and personal details of the witnesses,” referring a number of case studies.
All the victims of the supposed “gunfights” appear to have been forcibly disappeared by the police and the Rab prior to their deaths, the report said.
It said when relatives sought information of their whereabouts, the authorities either denied they were in their custody or refused to say where they are.
Amnesty called for the Bangladesh authorities to carry out a prompt, impartial, independent and effective investigation into the wave of apparent extrajudicial executions and other human rights violations committed by the police and Rab as part of its ongoing anti-drugs operations.
“These killings have taken place in the wider context of a blanket prohibition of drugs under which the government has deliberately punished and violently attacked people, particularly those from the most marginalised communities,” said Dissanayake.