RAB under fire
The Rapid Action Battalion has come under the scrutiny of the international organisations - and perhaps for good reasons. The government's prime law and order agency had been under the media focus for a long time and we, in particular, have been stressing upon the need for the government to prevail upon the unit to stop circumventing the legal process in dealing with criminals. The unit has been accused of a large number of extrajudicial deaths, and itself admits to 600 such deaths between 2004, when it was established, and now. And all these are explained away as "crossfire" or "encounter" deaths.
Regrettably crossfire, or encounter deaths, has become an accepted norm of operation of RAB, which, we assume, has the blessings of the government too. Had that not been so, such an abhorrent practice would have stopped long ago when the media started spotlighting the extrajudicial killings. One minister has gone so far as to suggest that such method of operation, that involves encounter killings, may have to continue to maintain law and order. This only helps to enhance public apprehension.
Of late the unit has come under international scrutiny through exposure by a website of the fact that, while the US had refused to impart training to the unit, for its poor HR record, it was nonetheless trained by the UK; for this the UK government faces legal challenges. A damning indictment has been made, both of the battalion and the government of Bangladesh, by the international human right organisations who have termed the unit as "government death squad."
The accusation against RAB that it is violating the law in the name of maintaining law and order has been established once again through the findings of two enquiry committees set up by the government to look into the circumstances of three specific cases of extra judicial killings by RAB. The committees, set up at the recommendation of the Bangladesh Human Rights Commission, have held RAB responsible for the deaths and have stood by the claims of the victims' families as well as the media reports.
RAB has termed these allegations as baseless and has expressed their reservations since it was not represented in the committees. Such a position is untenable, not least because the committees were set up by the Home Ministry of which it is a part.
It is time for the government to react decisively. We cannot have a situation where methods used to combat criminals and criminality replicate exactly the behaviour of the criminals. That bodes very badly for a society that claims to be civilized. If the government is really serious about human rights and the rule of law it must stop the extrajudicial killings must stop forthwith.