Criminal excesses overshadow RAB successStaff Correspondent
Any successes that the Rapid Action Battalion might have achieved in its eight years of existence have been wholly overshadowed by the hundreds of extra-judicial killings that it has carried out and the suspicion that it has been involved in the recent disappearances of dozens of people.
The battalion, which started operation in July 2004 after its formation in March of that year, has till today killed at least 711 people, according to rights organisations.
It has also been involved in the killing of 70 more people in joint operations it has conducted with the police, coast guard and forest guards.
Although the public outrage following the battalion’s shooting of college student Limon Hossain in 2011 has resulted in a decrease in the number of killings in the past year, this has been more than made up by a sharp increase in the numbers of disappearances many of which are attributed to the battalion.
The extrajudicial deaths, which the battalion has routinely attributed to ‘crossfire,’ ‘gunfight’ and ‘encounter,’ has drawn intense criticism at home and abroad.
After each extrajudicial killing, the battalion in press statements have claimed that the victims were shot and killed in ‘crossfire’ after their accomplices had fired on the force.
In most of the cases, relatives and neighbours of the victims have, however, alleged that the killings were intentional and that influential people had used the battalion to further their own interest.
‘Investigations by human rights organisations regularly find that victims were executed while in the battalion custody,’ said the US-based Human Rights Watch in its annual report of 2011.
On March 20, 2011 Mostafizur Rahman alias Mustak, said to be an ultra left leader and also a marriage registrar, was according to the battalion killed in a ‘crossfire’ with its officers at Baghmara in Rajshahi.
Mustak’s mother Monju Ara, however, alleged that the battalion members had picked her son up on March 18 afternoon from their village.
On March 16, five men, said to be pirates including Jihad Bahini chief Jihad Sheikh, 33, were killed in a ‘gunfight’ with the battalion at Marabhala under Sarankhola in Bagerhat.
Jihad’s widow Tahmina Begum, however, told New Age that he had been picked by the battalion members from the Gabtali inter-district bus terminal about 6:30am on March 5 soon after his arrival in Dhaka.
And on March 8, the battalion members shot dead a man, Mintu, aged 30, near the BCIC Housing Complex at Mirpur in the capital, with witnesses claiming that the law enforcers shot him when he was unarmed.
According to a survey carried out in 2011 titled ‘Perceptions, Attitudes and Understanding: a Baseline Survey on Human Rights in Bangladesh’ by the National Human Rights Commission along with other organisations, more than 80 per cent of the people opposed extrajudicial killing by the law enforcement agencies.
The elite security force first came to the limelight when it arrested Picchi Hannan, one of the 23 crime suspects listed ‘most wanted’ by the police, on June 26, 2004. Hannan was killed by the battalion on August 6, 2004 in an alleged incident of ‘crossfire.’
Rights activists said that extrajudicial killings along with more recent allegations of disappearances overshadowed the battalion’s crime prevention over the years.
‘Extrajudicial killings should be stopped by any means,’ said Adilur Rahman Khan, the secretary of the rights watchdog Odhikar.
The Awami League in its election manifesto had promised that ‘extrajudicial killings will be stopped... Human rights will be strictly enforced.’
Despite this, in January 2011, the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, handed over a gallantry award to the battalion’s director general, Mukhlesur Rahman, for his ‘bravery.’
The description of the Bangladesh Police Medal given to Mukhlesur says: ‘His skilful guidance has led to the arrest of 13 top extremist leaders in RAB operations in 2011 as well as the recovery of large amounts of arms and explosives. Nine other extremists have also been killed in gunfights with RAB.’
Twelve of Mukhlesur’s colleagues were also rewarded for similar ‘bravery,’ according to the police headquarters.
The government also gave an award to the RAB 8 commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Md Monirul Haque, who earned huge criticism after his troop had shot college student Limon Hossain, 16, at Chhaturia in Jhalakathi on March 23, 2011.
Although the ‘crossfire’ incidents have sharply decreased amid protests following the Limon incident, there has been an alarmingly high number of enforced disappearance, rights activists said.
Ain o Shalish Kendra said that 51 people ‘disappeared’ in 2011 and only 15 of the bodies were recovered.
ASK executive director Sultana Kamal on January 1 said, ‘In many of the instances, the law enforcement agencies, especially RAB, were allegedly responsible for these secret killings.’
The battalion officials said that they had investigated some of the incidents but had not found anyone guilty of the disappearance.
RAB spokesperson Commander M Sohail repeatedly claimed that the battalion was not involved in extrajudicial killing and it was rather ‘engaged in upholding the human rights.’
The battalion arrested 1,17,009 crime suspects, including 862 Islamist militants, and seized 9,458 firearms as of March 18, 2012, the officials said.
In November 2011, the NHRC chairman, Mizanur Rahman, announced that the commission would investigate the incidents of extrajudicial killing and disappearances.
The High Court issued a rule suo moto calling on the government to explain why action should not be taken against the RAB officers responsible for the ‘crossfire’ killing of Lutfar and Khairul Khalashi in November 2009.
However, the relevant judicial bench was reorganised before the rearing on the ruling and the case has not since been heard by the court.
The battalion continues with extrajudicial killings in violation of the High Court order, which asked the authorities on December 14, 2009 not to kill any more people in ‘crossfire’ or ‘encounters’ until it heard a rule it had issued suo moto on the government in connection with extrajudicial killings.
There remain a number of undisposed cases before the High Court regarding extrajudicial killings.
Legal action has also been instituted against members of the elite force who were alleged to have been involved in the looting in November 2011 of over Tk 20 million from a shrine in Chittagong in the name of a raid.
In January this year, following a training of RAB officers, the US ambassador to Bangladesh, Dan W Mozena, said, ‘Today, the government of Bangladesh and senior leaders of RAB declare to the citizens of this wonderful country and to Bangladesh’s friends around the world that RAB is committed to the ideals of Bangladesh and to abiding by the nation’s laws and conducting itself in accordance with the principles of human rights and dignity, the very principles this nation fought for forty years ago.’
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