Human rights organisations documenting abuses committed by the Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) have requested the United Nations to ban the unit’s members from its peace operations.
In a letter to Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix made public on Thursday, 12 human rights groups voiced concern “that individuals who have served with [RAB] are being sent on UN missions, despite consistent and credible evidence of abuses including extrajudicial killings, torture, and enforced disappearances by members of this unit since its creation in 2004″.
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Kerry Kennedy, president of the Robert F Kennedy Human Rights organization, said “the evidence is clear; now it’s time for the UN to draw a line.”
Kennedy, whose organisation is one of the letter’s signatories, called on the world body to apply the 2012 United Nations Policy on Human Rights Screening of United Nations Personnel.
“If Secretary-General Guterres is serious about ending human rights abuses by UN peacekeepers, he will ensure that units with proven records of abuse like the Rapid Action Battalion are excluded from deployment,” she said in a statement.
The Department of Peacekeeping Operations has yet to provide a formal response to the letter which was sent on November 8.
Allegations of human rights abuses
RAB was created in 2004 to combat extremism and serious crimes in the country of 169 million people, but has been accused by rights groups of gross human rights violations, including staging gunfights to kill alleged criminals.
Bangladesh is one of the top troop and police contributors to UN peacekeeping.
In 2020, it was the highest contributor, deploying 6,731 uniformed personnel to various missions.
RAB is legally accountable to the Home Ministry, but the military has significant influence and control over its activities, with military officers taking many of the most senior positions within it.
NGOs have alleged that RAB and other Bangladeshi law enforcement are responsible for nearly 600 extrajudicial killings since 2018.
Last month, RAB was designated by the United States as a “foreign entity that is responsible for or complicit in, or has directly or indirectly engaged in, serious human rights abuse” under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.
The Bangladesh government denied the allegations and called in the US ambassador to protest sanctions against its top security officers after seven people, including the country’s national police chief.
The UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances has voiced concerns that “members of the RAB would be eligible to participate in UN peacekeeping operations, without any previous investigation into their alleged involvement in the commission of human rights abuses or a thorough vetting process”.
The group also said that officers involved in or willing to tolerate abuses “appear to be promoted and rewarded within the Bangladesh security and law enforcement forces”.
In the letter, the organisations expressed concern that “systematic screening is being applied only at higher ranks” and called on the UN to ensure that all uniformed personnel are subject to systematic scrutiny of their individual human rights record through evaluations independent from the Bangladesh National Human Rights Commission.
“The NHRC cannot be objective and factual in the execution of their role in the screening process considering ongoing reports of its politicization,” the human rights groups, which include Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, wrote in the joint letter.
“The government has persisted in denying abuses and refuses to investigate allegations or hold perpetrators accountable.”
Bangladesh’s foreign secretary Masud Bin Momen has defended RAB, describing it as an “agency of the government that had been on the forefront of combating terrorism, drug trafficking and other heinous transnational crimes that were considered to be shared priorities with successive US administrations”.
“If bringing down a criminal under the law is a violation of human rights, then we have no objection to violating this human rights in the interest of the country,” he said.