Rights group slams Bangladesh anti-crime agency

AP News
Posted: May 10, 2011 7:19 AM
Rights group slams Bangladesh anti-crime agency

An international human rights group urged Bangladesh on Tuesday to disband a special anti-crime force accused of torture and extra-judicial killings if it is not reformed within six months.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said the Rapid Action Battalion has killed about 200 suspects since January 2009, when Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina took power.

About 732 suspects have been killed since the battalion was formed in 2004 by the government of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, the group said in a report.

The special force, which has led operations against Islamic militants, usually describes such killings as the result of shootouts triggered by suspects who opened fire on battalion members.

Rights groups dispute such claims and accuse the force of extra-judicial killings.

"After two years in office, the government has had more than enough time to take action to stop the RAB's murderous practices," Human Rights Watch's Asia director, Brad Adams, said in a statement.

"The government should either make major steps towards RAB accountability and reform in the next six months or disband it," he said.

The report documented several alleged cases of killings and abuses by the battalion. It quoted family members as saying some victims had no criminal records but were killed in such shootouts because of mistaken identities.

The rights group urged foreign governments, including the United States and Britain, to refuse to work with the battalion in law enforcement or counterterrorism until it ceases use of torture and extra-judicial executions.

According to May 2009 cables provided by WikiLeaks, Britain has trained battalion members in human rights issues, interrogation techniques and other skills. The U.S. has provided human rights training in accordance with a U.S. law that makes other assistance illegal because of the battalion's past human rights violations.

Human Rights Watch said donor countries should insist that the government ensure there are "prompt, impartial and independent" investigations into all deaths of suspects in the battalion's custody.

The Muslim-majority nation of 150 million people has struggled with terrorism in recent years after the Jumatul Mujahedeen Bangladesh group, which wants to establish strict Islamic law, bombed government offices and courts. The battalion captured the group's top leaders, who were later hanged.