Nazrul Islam, NewAge, July 15, 2008
A six-member inter-departmental delegation from the United States has started assessing the strength and activities of Bangladesh’s elite anti-crime force, the Rapid Action Battalion, to find fresh areas of cooperation in the coming days, said officials.
But the US wants a first-hand evaluation on the reported human rights violations by the RAB before striking any fresh deal with it.
‘First, we need to assess the alleged human rights violations by the force,’ Jessica R Mazzone, global issue coordinator of the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs of the State Department and one of the members of the delegation, told New Age on Sunday when asked about the areas of cooperation the US was looking for.
The six-member delegation — also including representatives of the US Justice Department, US Navy, Office of the Secretary of Defence, Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, Bureau of Democracy and Human Rights and Labour — is scheduled to meet human rights defenders, media personalities and officials concerned to look into the alleged human rights violations.
The team members say the US administration needs to be sure that the RAB is not involved in any activity against internationally acclaimed norms and conventions on human rights and dignity before going for cooperation in any area.
The success of the elite force, which came into being in 2004, was marred by a good number of reported extrajudicial killings and disregard for human dignity.
Human rights defenders have keep track of rights violations by the RAB. According to the available statistics, the RAB has killed as many as 536 people in the last four years, in circumstances euphemistically known as ‘encounters’ or ‘crossfire’. The over 8000-strong RAB members are drawn from the army, navy, air force and police department and is being supervised by the home ministry.
Although the number of so-called ‘crossfire’ incidents decreased in the initial period of the assumption of power by the army-backed interim administration of Fakhruddin Ahmed in January last year, the recent trend shows that the number of extrajudicial killings is rising.
The delegation discussed the possible areas of cooperation, including the human rights issues, with the senior RAB officials on Monday in their headquarters.
The delegation proposed training and capacity-building of the RAB, its director-general, Hasan Mahmud Khandakar, told New Age after the meeting. He said the authorities want the RAB to be a three-dimensional force in order to tackle crimes effectively.
Training on counter-terrorism, investigation, establishment of a modern forensic laboratory, tackling religion-based militants and left-extremists were the areas of cooperation, among others, proposed by the RAB during the discussion.
When he was asked whether any timeframe for training and cooperation was fixed in the discussion, the RAB chief replied in the negative, saying that the talks were at the initial stage. He said that the US team appreciated the RAB’s activities, especially in tackling militancy in Bangladesh. He, however, remained silent about the issue of human rights violations.