BANGLADESH: Radio Sweden report on extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and torture demands no-nonsense response

Radio Sweden has published the recording of a conversation with an officer of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB). In it, the officer confirms the widespread practice of extrajudicial killings practiced by the RAB, targeting those it considers a threat to national security and those regarded as opponents of the incumbent Bangladesh government.

The officer explains how persons are arrested, how they are killed, and how weapons are exhibited near corpses to create the impression that the killing took place in self-defence. The graphic details of cruelties inflicted include instances where bricks are hung from the testicles of suspects, causing excruciating pain and often death.

Radio Sweden has confirmed the recording has been verified, and is authentic.

In response to the reports, Swedish EU Parliamentarian Lars Adaktusson, has stated, in an unofficial English translation from the Swedish language:

“It is very shocking, particularly the cruelty and systemic nature of the torture and killing. I have, as an EU parliamentarian, raised the question with the EU Commission’s Vice-President Federica Mogherini. I want to know what the EU Commission intends to do in response to this report. I think it is important that the EU Commission on the highest level demands clarification/explanation directly from the government in Dhaka and the ruling party. These are extremely serious human rights violations and from the EU side we need to make clear that this is untenable and at the same time put pressure on the regime to put an end to these violations.”

Radio Sweden’s report quotes Amnesty International condemning the extrajudicial killings and disappearances taking place in Bangladesh and calling for immediate inquiries and prosecution of the perpetrators.

However, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), and those familiar with AHRC’s publications for the past decade, know well that no amount of calling for investigations and prosecutions of the perpetrators of such crimes are likely to lead to any kind of positive response from the Bangladesh government.

This is because the disappearances and extrajudicial killings taking place in Bangladesh, accompanied with the most brutal forms of torture, are being done with the complete knowledge and approval of the Bangladesh government. The very creation of the RAB was for the purpose of taking extra-legal actions against those whom the government identifies as its “enemies”.

Any sincere effort at understanding such large-scale State sanctioned brutality would require a scrutiny into why the Bangladesh Government has institutionalised extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and the practice of torture. A closer look at Bangladesh will reveal the complete breakdown of its policing system and the judicial system itself.

The country has reached a point where the idea of doing anything in the quest of justice by recourse to the law has been abandoned. Lawlessness has spread to all areas of life, spiralling from politics into all aspects of society. A series of political crises have created a situation wherein a government can exist, and continue to hold power without any legal basis or legitimacy.

The survival of such an illegitimate government has meant large-scale intimidation of people from all walks of life. The raison d’être of the RAB, and the practice of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and torture are so that an intense culture of fear is generated and sustained. This environment is the most fertile ground for lawless and corrupt elements in the country to thrive.

The revelation by Radio Sweden may lead, belatedly, to the EU and European governments taking serious note of the Bangladesh situation, wherein extreme forms of cruelties and loss of lives abound.

However, for any effective action, far more needs to be done – far more than the making of simple repeated calls directed at the Bangladesh government for investigations and prosecution of perpetrators. That is old hat, and doomed to fail, until the next “revelation” serves as another painful reminder.

Some form of direct action is needed if the government of Bangladesh is to respond to such calls in any serious manner. For example, it is understood that the Swedish Government provides foreign aid in various forms to the Bangladesh Government. This may also be so for other European countries, and indeed the European Union itself. Unless immediate steps are taken to make such aid conditional on the immediate stoppage of such extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and torture, or that such aid be stopped all together till such practices are abandoned, and legal due process restored, the Bangladesh government will continue behind the veil with its brutal business as usual.

The ultimate guardians of human rights in any country are the local people themselves. However, a culture of extreme violence and fear maintained through such cruelties has prevented the people intervening to safeguard their own rights. Any action on the part of the EU should, as its aim, enable Bangladesh citizens to recommence participation in their country’s affairs without fear.

There is no doubt that the RAB needs to be dismantled and the law-enforcement functions should be handed back to the normal legal authorities, such as the police and the judicial system of Bangladesh. However, for the short to medium term, it must also be realised that the police and the judicial system are currently part of the problem. They are themselves also entangled in the culture of violence and are unable to exercise normal functions of maintaining the rule of law and proper administration of justice.

The AHRC urges the Swedish Government, the Swedish people, as well as the EU and other European countries to take serious note of the report published by Radio Sweden and also to use all means available within the EU and otherwise to conduct investigations about the prevailing reality.

The people of Bangladesh subsist in a horrific situation wherein the very arms of the State meant to protect them are hunting them down with impunity. A carefully considered and calibrated response from Europe can make a big difference to the lives of the Bangladeshi people.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-021-2017
Countries : Bangladesh,
Issues : Arbitrary arrest & detention, Enforced disappearances and abductions, Extrajudicial killings, Torture,