Archive for the ‘Extra-judicial Killings’ Category

Elite Bangladeshi force accused of killings

December 28, 2008

Al Jazeera‘s Tony Birtley reports from Dhaka.

Accusations have been occurring of extrajudicial killings by an elite security force in Bangladesh. Human rights groups inside and outside the country are increasingly questioning the tactics of RAB (Rapid Action Battalion).


Human Rights Watch letter to Bangladesh: Stop Denying Killings and Torture, Address Rights Abuses and Hold Security Forces to Account

October 7, 2008

Human Rights Watch (HRW), New York, October 6, 2008 – The Bangladesh interim government should use its last months in office to seriously address persistent rights abuses rather than deny that they are happening, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to the government. Human Rights Watch remains deeply concerned about continuing reports of torture and extrajudicial killings by state security forces and the government’s failure to hold those responsible to account.

On August 8, 2008, the Bangladesh government sent Human Rights Watch a three-page response by the Ministry of Home Affairs to Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2008. The ministry denied all allegations that torture has been carried out by the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), the country’s most important military intelligence agency, and claimed that the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), its elite law enforcement agency, has not committed extrajudicial executions but only killed armed criminals in self defense and to protect government property.  
“The Bangladesh government is well aware that the security forces have killed and tortured people in custody,” said Brad Adams, Asia Director at Human Rights Watch. “It is a tragedy for Bangladesh that the government is burying its head in the sand rather than taking action to protect its citizens.”  
Human Rights Watch said it is also critically important for the political parties to begin to think about how to address these issues, with Parliamentary elections scheduled for December 18.  
Since the release of a Human Rights Watch report describing the arbitrary detention and torture of a journalist and human rights worker, Tasneem Khalil, by the DGFI in May 2007, Human Rights Watch has collected detailed and consistent independent accounts from witnesses of the torture of businesspeople, politicians and others at the DGFI offices in the military cantonment in Dhaka, the capital.  
RAB’s involvement in extrajudicial executions, since the agency was established in 2004, has been well documented by Human Rights Watch, other human rights groups and journalists. The Ministry of Home Affairs’ claim that all of the 93 killings by RAB during 2007 that the ministry acknowledges were carried out in self defense or to protect government property is contradicted by the accounts of witnesses, evidence of torture on the victims’ bodies and the fact that many victims were killed after being taken into RAB custody.  
In January 2008, the Home Affairs Adviser, Major General (ret.) MA Matin, acknowledged the problem of deaths in custody and instructed the security forces to ensure that such incidents would stop. While reported cases of RAB killings initially decreased, the numbers have recently increased, and the government has not acted to hold any members of RAB or any other security force criminally responsible.  
“The government’s offhand rejection of documented reports of abuse is not only a slap in the face to those whose lives have been shattered by the actions of the security forces, but it also shows that its talk about restoring the rule of law is little more than empty rhetoric,” said Adams.  
In its response to Human Rights Watch, the Ministry of Home Affairs also stated that “the government and its law enforcing agencies and security forces are always respectful to the Court’s verdicts and orders.…” Human Rights Watch’s research has found, to the contrary, that in many instances when the courts ordered that an inmate be released on bail, the release was delayed because prison authorities had not been granted the “required“ DGFI permission.  
Human Rights Watch said that there are also numerous due process violations reported from the special anti-corruption courts, and several lawyers representing high-profile prisoners have been harassed by DGFI. Human Rights Watch has also interviewed businesspeople who say that members of the armed forces extorted substantial sums of money from them, threatening them with arrest or imprisonment.  
“The government and DGFI have engaged in rampant interference in judicial processes,” said Adams. “Even in anti-corruption cases, extortion has been common and violations of due process appear to have been the norm.”  
Regarding the media, the Ministry of Home Affairs said that they are “free and working without hindrance,” but Human Rights Watch said that assessment is not shared by many in the media. On several occasions, newspaper editors and senior journalists have publicly expressed concern about the interference of the security forces in their work. Journalists have also spoken about a climate of fear and self censorship, particularly if they consider taking on the powerful military and its agencies.  
“Bangladesh needs a government that acknowledges that serious human rights problems exist and is ready to act to address them,” said Adams. “As elections loom, it is important for the major political parties, which had poor human rights records when in office, to show that they are prepared to take on this challenge by developing and presenting their own human rights action plans.”

Extrajudicial killings being carried out with absolute impunity: Odhikar report

October 5, 2008

Staff Correspondent, NewAge, October 5, 2008

A human rights watchdog has recorded 116 ‘extrajudicial killings’ by law enforcers in the first nine months of this year.
   The rights coalition, Odhikar, in a report on Saturday said the extrajudicial killings were carried out ‘with absolute impunity’.
 In its nine months’ human rights report, Odhikar also noted with concern that the government continued to curtail freedom of expression by means of pressure and intimidation of journalists.

The report said in January 2008 eight people were reported killed, while in September, the last month of the period surveyed, the number was 19.
 In total, 116 people were killed reportedly by law enforcement agencies like RAB, police, BDR, joint forces and coast guards in crossfire, or encounter, or shootout while ten people were allegedly tortured to death in custody during the period.

‘Agencies responsible for protecting the law and only carrying out lawful orders, committed extrajudicial killings with absolute impunity. In the period under review, there was no report of any person involved in such crimes brought to book’, it said.

‘Extrajudicial killings are not only a flagrant violation of the right to life, liberty and security of a person, granted under international laws but equally, the rights guaranteed under the constitution of Bangladesh and other laws’, the report observed.

Odhikar called for an immediate end to the culture of crossfire, absolute impunity and extrajudicial killings. ‘Odhikar further demands that every incident of ‘crossfire’ or similar incidents must be investigated independently and those found responsible should be brought before the law to account for their actions. Commanders and superiors, if involved in either approving or allowing such killings, should also face the law. Officials who failed to stop the practice must also be held responsible.’

The report observed that the fundamental right of freedom of expression had been severely curtailed since the imposition of the state of emergency on January 11, 2007.

 It recorded 90 incidents of violence against journalists and pressure on the media in the last nine months. During the period 35 journalists were injured, 15 assaulted, three arrested, 28 journalists were threatened and two cases were filed against journalists, the report said.

Citing different incidents of intimidation on print and electronic media like bar on television channels hold talk shows, it said, ‘the incidents of covert restrictions and harassment on print and electronic media much higher than reported’.

It demanded that the government must respect and ensure freedom of expression and refrain from interfering in the people’s right to know and stop harassing or intimidating members of the press.

On violation of workers rights, the report said, ‘In the face of the rise in the food prices and other subsistence needs and denial of the right of association under emergency – the cumulative effects of human rights violations of the workers are alarming.’

It demanded that the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association should cancel the membership of those business houses who failed to comply with good practice in respecting workers’ rights and their legal contractual obligations as employers.

The report said at least 385 women and girls became victims of rape in the last nine months. Of the victims 164 were women and 221 children aged below 16. A total of 219 women reportedly became victims of dowry demands and of them 154 were killed while a total of 113 persons became victims of acid violence.

The report said that Indian Border Security Force reportedly killed 49 Bangladeshis, injured 29 and 53 were abducted in the last nine months. In some cases, according to reports, BSF intruded into Bangladesh territory and killed Bangladeshi nationals without provocation.

279 fall victim to extrajudicial killing in 20 months: Says Odikhar report

September 13, 2008
Staff Correspondent, The Daily Star, September 13, 2008
At least 279 people fell victim to extrajudicial killing by the law enforcement agencies across the country during the state of emergency between January 2007 and September 2008, revealed a study report yesterday.

The report published by Odhikar, a human rights organisation, covers 20 months of the present government. 

The government has set up National Human Rights Commission in the country only to shore up their credibility before the international community rather than safeguarding the rights of the people, it added.

The report mentioned that the National Human Rights Commission Ordinance 2007 provided for establishment of an independent body to safeguard the people’s rights, but it left the power to select the chairman and members of the commission to a committee controlled by the government officials, which is an impediment to establishing an independent body.

The ordinance stated that the commission would resolve the human rights violations through arbitration or mediation, but Odhikar said the violators should be tried in a court of law, which will ensure exemplary punishment of the perpetrators.

Besides, Right to Information Ordinance will curb the freedom of the press and people’s right to know rather than extending it, the report said, adding that if the ordinance is promulgated, a person even a journalist will need to apply in a prescribed form for information and the authority will have the power to reject the application or provide the information sought.

It also expressed concern that the draft ordinance was prepared by a committee dominated by bureaucrats who ignored submissions made by key stakeholders like Federal Union of Journalists, National Press Club and South Asian Free Media Association.

Odhikar observed that the tele-tapping by the state is a direct contravention of Article 43 (b) of the constitution that ensure a person’s right to the privacy of his correspondence and other means of communication.

The report said Truth and Accountability Communication (Tac) has not only failed to attain its desired objective, but it is also contrary to the constitutional provisions and the spirit of law.

Tac’s aim to re-energise the country’s economy has failed. Corrupt businessmen and bureaucrats are allowed to continue their businesses and services while politicians are barred from contesting in the elections after being bestowed with mercy from the commission, it added.

The report further said the government should allow trade unionism in all sectors to ensure a sustainable and healthy growth of the economy.


Extra-judicial killings must be stopped: speakers

September 5, 2008

Staff Correspondent, NewAge, September 5, 2008

The politicians, academics and lawyers at an exchange of views on Thursday said that the extra-judicial killings in the name of crossfire should be stopped and the perpetrators should be brought to book.

They proposed formation of a mass enquiry commission and a human rights protection committee for the trial of the perpetrators of the ‘crossfire’ incidents.

The Democratic Left Alliance, a combine of the left leaning political parties, organised the programme tilled ‘The extra-judicial killings under crossfire and future of the law’ at the National Press Club.

The alliance coordinator, Abdus Samad, read out the keynote paper at the programme.
   ‘We want the trial of all the killers under the existing law of the land,’ the keynote paper said.

The mass enquiry commission might be formed with the law experts, human rights leaders and politicians, the keynote paper suggested.

The convener of the National Committee to Protect, Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Port, Sheikh Md Shahidullah said in a civilised country every killing should come under trail. Getting trail is the basic democratic right of the people, he added.

The member secretary of the national committee and Jahangirnagar University professor Anu Muhammad said of late the killings under crossfire had increased.
 Even some left political leaders like Mizanur Rahman Tutul fell victim to crossfire recently, Anu Muhammad added.
 He also criticised the two major parties the Awmi League and BNP for patronising the killings under crossfire.

The BRAC University professor, Pias Karim said it was unfortunate that the state was patronising the crossfire killings.

Dhaka University professor, Meghna Guhakhakurata favoured formation of the mass enquiry commission for holding the trial of the killings under crossfire.

Lawyer Ruhul Quddus Babu said the political parties especially the left leaning parties should wage the movement against the crossfire killings by the Rapid Action Battalion or other law enforcers.

Family members of some crossfire victims took part in the discussion moderated by DLA leader Zonayed Saki.

UNDP feels more should be done to stop extra-judicial killings

September 2, 2008

Staff Correspondent, NewAge, September 2, 2008

The UNDP’s resident representative, Renata Lok-Dessallien, felt that though the number of extra-judicial killings has decreased significantly, more remains to be done for improving the situation.

She made the comment when she called on the foreign affairs adviser, Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury, at the foreign ministry on Monday morning.
 Renata praised the interim government for establishment of the Human Rights Commission that will begin functioning from September 1.

‘Many governments in the past have failed to do this,’ she said.
   Renata also said there has been a marked improvement in the law and order situation and the number of extra-judicial killings has shrunk significantly, ‘though more remains to be done.’

Among other issues, Iftekhar and Renata discussed the wide range of Bangladesh-UNDP cooperation for development.

The adviser underscored the importance of the setting up of the Human Rights Commission.

‘Not only will it benefit the people of Bangladesh, it will also vastly improve the image of the country abroad,’ he asserted.

Iftekhar expressed the hope that the UN would send observers to cover the parliamentary elections in December.

Commission needed to probe extrajudicial killings

August 15, 2008

Editorial, NewAge, August 15, 2008. Dhaka, Bangladesh

THE rally that academics, writers, artistes and human rights activists staged on the Dhaka University campus on Wednesday in protest against extrajudicial killings by the law-enforcement agencies could not have come at a more opportune time. As the number of deaths in ‘crossfire’ or ‘encounter’ – two terms that the law enforcers conveniently use apparently as pretexts for their extrajudicial actions – steadily surges, it appears that the state and its managers, the government in other words, have very little or no qualms about employing extrajudicial killings as a tool in their so-called anti-crime activism. Extrajudicial killings, as has been pointed out by the politically-conscious and democratically-oriented sections of society over and over, undermine the rule of law, which presupposes that even the vilest of criminals reserves the right to be defended in a competent and credible court of law and is entitled to be treated as innocent until proven guilty. Worryingly still, given the identity of some of the victims in recent years, there are reasons to fear that extrajudicial killings have of late been used as a tool to systematically silence the voices that do not conform to the mainstream political thinking.

It is in such a context that we commented in these columns recently that the thinking sections of society, whose political orientation is moulded by the concept of the rule of law and democratic justice, have to raise their voices against extrajudicial killings. Wednesday’s rally is, we believe, a significant first step in that direction. We support the call for an immediate stop to extrajudicial killings and institution of an independent commission to probe each alleged instance of extrajudicial killing. We also feel the political parties must demonstrate their commitment to the rule of law by taking a firm position against extrajudicial killings and by not using it as a law and order tool ever again.

Stop “crossfire” deaths: HR watch report reflects what local media has been saying all along

August 13, 2008

Editorial, The Daily Star, August 14, 2008

THE condemnation of Rab by the US-based Human Rights Watch comes as no surprise to us. We warned the government, time and again, that the crossfire deaths were undermining the edifice of the whole judicial process and whatever Rab had achieved in its anti- terrorism drive. The introduction of the crack force had a positive impact on the crime situation as proliferation of terrorist organisations was threatening law and order. The Rab’s efficiency in containing the threat was commendable, but nothing could justify the deaths in crossfire, the accounts of which invariably followed the same pattern. 

The anti-crime drive was expected to receive a fresh impetus when the present caretaker government took over and people also hoped that all excesses in the name of enforcing law would be eliminated. The crossfire deaths drew sharp criticism from human rights advocates both at home and abroad and the year 2007 saw a welcome decline in such deaths. But in recent months quite a few suspected criminals were reported to have been killed in crossfire, which has again raised serious concern regarding abuse of human rights by Rab. 

The government can ill afford to ignore the issue, which has already sullied our image abroad. And to tell the truth, taking human lives in an unlawful manner should be viewed from not only the legal point of view or the image crisis that it might create, but also the moral perspective. It could be interpreted as a sure sign of the nation being not sensitive enough to the most fundamental right of its citizensthe right to live. We have always opposed the scheme of liquidating suspected criminals unlawfully, while pointing out that such criminals, whatever be the charges against them, have the right to defend themselves in a court.

The Human Rights Watch Report has exposed the ruthlessness of Rab’s way of handling suspected criminals, which has been repeatedly exposed in the local media including The Star. The government’s response should be clear and loud. Such killing must be stopped at once.

End Wave of Killings by Elite Forces: Donors Should Not Fund Rapid Action Battalion

August 12, 2008

Human Rights Watch, New York, August 11, 2008

The military-backed interim government should take prompt action to end a wave of unlawful killings by Bangladesh’s elite crime-fighting force, Human Rights Watch said today. Since June 1, 2008, officials from the elite Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and the police have killed at least 50 individuals under suspect circumstances.

“Despite overwhelming evidence of RAB and police responsibility for unlawful killings, the interim Bangladeshi government seems unwilling to address the problem,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Instead, Bangladesh’s security forces continue to get away with murder.”  
After strong national and international criticism of the Rapid Action Battalion for its poor human rights record, RAB killings decreased in 2007 and early 2008. However, this trend has been abruptly broken in recent months and the number of killings has surged, Human Rights Watch said.  
For example, around 7 p.m. on July 15, RAB officers in Dhaka arrested Moshiul Alam Sentu, an activist in the student wing of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party. When Sentu’s mother contacted a RAB officer shortly afterwards, he assured her that her son would not be mistreated. Around 4 a.m. the following day, eyewitnesses observed RAB officers dumping Sentu’s body in a paddy field in Barisal city, south of Dhaka. The body had two bullet wounds in the chest and another in the leg. Sentu’s neck was severely bruised and possibly broken, as was his left hand, indicating possible torture. The RAB later stated that it took Sentu to Barisal to recover a cache of hidden arms and that he was killed in crossfire as the RAB team was attacked by his associates.  
“The officials responsible for killing Moshiul Alam Sentu and others should be prosecuted and punished to the full extent of the law,” said Adams. “Unless those officers involved are held to account, regardless of rank, the RAB will continue to torture and murder.”  
Established in 2004, the RAB immediately became known for its involvement in what the authorities often refer to as “crossfire killings.” Over the past four years, RAB members have killed more than 540 people. Research by Human Rights Watch and others has shown that many of these “crossfire killings” are in fact poorly disguised extrajudicial executions, often preceded by torture.  
Tragically, the Bangladeshi police have copied the actions of the RAB, killing several hundred people over the past few years. Since a state of emergency was declared on January 11, 2007, the RAB and the police have often operated together.  
On July 26, the mother of Dr. Mizanur Rahman Tutul, the head of the outlawed Purbo Banglar Communist Party (Red Flag faction), informed the media that RAB officers had arrested her son in Dhaka. She urged the government to save her son from “crossfire.” According to the police, Tutul was killed in a shootout between his criminal group and the police on July 27, the day after his mother talked to the press.  
The interim government, in power for 19 months, has stated its commitment to establishing a “healthy and stable democratic system” based on the rule of law, but Human Rights Watch said its failure to address impunity is undermining its own reform efforts.  
“The rule of law can’t become a reality in Bangladesh unless the very forces tasked with upholding the law are also bound by it,” Adams said.  
While the RAB’s human rights record has been so poor that the United States and United Kingdom had refused to work with them officially as partners in counterterror operations, some international agencies and foreign governments have recently initiated or are now considering cooperation with the force. According to reports in Bangladesh’s Daily Star and New Age newspapers, a delegation of US officials from the departments of state, defense and justice visited Bangladesh in mid-July and met with the RAB to explore possibilities for future cooperation. Among other things, the RAB reportedly proposed that the US provide them with equipment and counterterrorism training.  
Human Rights Watch urged governments not to work with or provide support to the RAB until it ends its pattern and practice of human rights abuses and holds responsible officials accountable. For a foreign government to provide assistance to the RAB at this point in time would be to condone the RAB’s record of human rights abuses and would raise serious questions about the donor’s commitment to improving human rights in Bangladesh, Human Rights Watch said.  
As a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and several other human rights treaties, Bangladesh is obliged to thoroughly and promptly investigate serious violations of human rights, prosecute the perpetrators, and in accordance with international fair trial standards punish them if their guilt is established. As far as Human Rights Watch is aware, no RAB officers have ever been held criminally responsible for taking the life of another person or for torture.

Read the December 2006 Human Rights Watch report, “Judge, Jury and Executioner: Torture and Extrajudicial Killings by Bangladesh’s Elite Security Force,” 

For more of Human Rights Watch’s work on Bangladesh

For more information, please contact:

In London, Brad Adams: +44-20-7713-2767; or +44-790-872-8333 (mobile)

In New York, Elaine Pearson: +1-212-216-1213

In Washington, DC, Sophie Richardson: +1-202-612-4341; or +1-917-721-7473 (mobile)

Contextualising the popularity of ‘crossfire’

August 4, 2008


NewAge, August 4, 2008. Dhaka, Bangladesh

In reality, the Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh left the people of Baghmara in a double-bind: they wanted relief from the Sarbahara reign of terror, but eventually found that they had unwittingly sanctioned the creation of another monster whose tactics were the same, though convened under a different banner, writes Mahtab Haider

SHOULD it matter that Mizanur Rahman Tutul was a doctor? Can a man be arrested and killed by the state without a trial? Is it possible to ignore that his alleged killers are the recipients of the highest state honour in Bangladesh, Swadhinata Padak, which they received in March 2006 despite allegedly killing more than 200 people? And now that the number of such killings has crossed the 500 mark, is it time to give them another Swadhinata Padak? Do we wish away that the common torture methods used by these ‘law enforcers’ includes boring holes into victim’s bodies with electric drills or applying electric shocks? Is it easy to ignore the fact that the man who once headed this ‘judge, jury and executioner’ agency is now an adviser to the military-controlled interim government? And can a state agency murder more than 400 citizens, even if they are accused of crimes, and still avoid accountability or punishment?

These are some of the questions that we as a society need to ask ourselves in the wake of the custodial death of Dr Mizanur Rahman Tutul on the night of July 26, within hours of a press conference in which Tutul’s mother told reporters that the Rapid Action Battalion had arrested her son, begging the government to ensure that he was not killed in a ‘crossfire’. Sensitive to the mother’s plea, the government’s handout explaining Tutul’s death the next day avoided the word’s ‘RAB’ and ‘crossfire’, claiming that he had died in police custody, in a ‘shootout incident’. Tutul’s mother had predicted her son’s death, but her semantics were off the mark.

Perhaps former law minister Moudud Ahmed, who was instrumental in setting up RAB, could have instructed her on how she should word such allegations. During his stint as law minister, Moudud told reporters in 2006: ‘Although technically you may call it extrajudicial—I will not say killing—but extrajudicial deaths. But these are not killings. According to RAB, they say all those who have been killed so far have been killed or dead on encounter or whatever crossfire, whatever you call it—people are happy.’

Since its creation in March 2004, the Rapid Action Battalion’s notorious ‘crossfire’ — the word commonly used to explain custodial killings — has come to be one of the most feared aspects of public life in Bangladesh, intimidating criminals and ordinary citizens alike. RAB was created by the alliance government led by Khaleda Zia’s BNP, and while the initially announced goal of the agency which seconded personnel from the police, army and navy, was to crack down on organised crime, the trend borne out by the agency’s work over the past four years is disturbing, to say the least.

The rule of law demands that the justice delivery system examine charges or accusations brought against individuals before punishment is awarded by courts of law, as per guidelines set by the parliament. Inherent in this system of trial and punishment are innumerable checks and balances which should prevent abuses of power. What RAB’s record of extrajudicial killings — carried out in the name of crime fighting — has done is make a mockery of the justice delivery system, and essentially provide a state equivalent of vigilantism. There can be little objection to an elite crime fighting force that is equipped with the latest technology in surveillance, tasked to combat types of crime which the traditional state police force have failed to. But if this agency is conceived as an alternative to a police force that is beyond reform, and if it kills detainees because the justice delivery system is failing to deliver justice, the entire internal security superstructure of the state is in risk of collapse. In effect, the state is admitting its failure to protect its citizens by and large, and further destroying public confidence in the rule of law by advocating extrajudicial or vigilante killings as a solution.
 No example illustrates this point better than that of the ‘Bangla Bhai phenomenon’.

It was in April 2004 that the notorious Bangla Bhai and his Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh started their reign of terror in the Baghmara upazila of Rajshahi. In the span of the few months before the JMB had to go underground because of media coverage and public pressure, Bangla Bhai and his militia had executed scores of men publicly, often beating them to death with blunt instruments while making all the residents of a village — sometimes also the victim’s family — watch the spectacle. It has since emerged that the JMB and its sister organisation Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh were largely a creation of the BNP-led alliance government which allegedly provided this militia with the protection it needed from the police and other law enforcers while it carried out its cleansing operations. And who were they cleansing? As has become abundantly clear, Bangla Bhai and his militia were tasked with killing members of the radical left-group Purba Banglar Communist Party, better known across the country as the ‘Sarbahara’.
   Having clearly abandoned the final vestiges of any kind of ideology — left or right — sections of the PBCP have terrorised residents of the country’s eastern belt for much of the past decade, carrying out public executions, gruesome murders and kidnappings for ransom, mostly for financial gain. In areas where the Sarbahara have grown increasingly stronger, the state has often had to beat a retreat, its police force and local administration fearing the leftist ultras as much as the residents do. This terrorisation of public life still continues in many parts of the country, and the local administration and the police often find that they have no choice but to be complicit in their crimes, if they want to live.

The BNP-led alliance evidently bred and nurtured the JMB and Bangla Bhai as a sort of party-sanctioned private militia nourished on an Islamist ideology radical enough that it could counter the Sarbahara on their own terrain using their tactics. Initially, the people of Baghmara, at least, were ecstatic with the JMB’s Sarbahara cleansing campaign. After years, the Sarbahara could no longer kill and maim at will. Far from it, Sarbahara operatives were being picked up in the dead of night by Bangla Bhai and his men, and when they were found the day after, their bodies had been dismembered or their throats slit after relentless beatings. These detainees were often transported in police jeeps to Bangla Bhai’s torture camps, and the district police top brass were often present at public executions. Make no mistake, the local people of Baghmara were initially happy with the JMB and the work they were doing.

As one old man said to me when I visited Baghmara in the wake of the JMB killings, ‘Bangla’s cruelty may have made many forget how cruel the Sarbahara were, killing, raping, setting houses on fire…I won’t forget.’ But in reality, it also left the people of Baghmara in a double-bind: they wanted relief from the Sarbahara reign of terror and eventually found that they had unwittingly sanctioned the creation of another monster whose tactics were the same, though convened under a different banner. Within months, with the Sarbahara beaten back in Baghmara, Bangla Bhai and his militia were also settling private or political disputes for profit and influence. Awami League activists were picked up and tortured. Those locals who failed to pay toll to the JMB were tortured. If a man failed to show up for prayers, or failed to grow an ‘Islamic beard’, his enemies could report him for being a left-radical, and he would be picked up and tortured. This came as a disillusionment for the residents of Baghmara.
   One of the biggest reasons why the JMB’s political masters — the BNP and its allies — had to pull their cover was the spate of media reports that revealed the pogrom they were carrying out, and the extent to which the local administration had aided them. Eventually, the alliance government made a media spectacle of the arrest of Bangla Bhai and Shaikh Abdur Rahman, the chief ideologue, before their trial and execution in 2006.

With a handful of prominent PBCP leaders and numerous more Sarbahara operatives killed in such ‘encounters’ in the four years since the creation of RAB, the battalion is evidently the JMB’s state-sanctioned doppelganger. It is not an insignificant line that separates them. RAB was created legally, with parliamentary approval; the JMB was a private militia. But that makes the battalion’s human rights record all the more terrifying, because the country’s constitution binds every citizen, every government agency, with some fundamental codes of conduct that must stay inviolable. Allowing one security agency to run roughshod on constitutional guarantees cannot make our streets and lives safer; it will eventually have the opposite effect by undermining the rule of law and consequently democracy. Contrasting the JMB killings against those of the RAB contextualises why we cannot allow the latter to carry on its ‘crossfire’.

There is no denying that RAB and ‘crossfire’ both command a great deal of popular support in the country. There are often stories of neighbourhood celebrations after the local ‘mastaan’ falls victim to a RAB arrest and subsequent crossfire. But as with the JMB, these celebrations will likely be short-lived, because as time goes by, governments will almost certainly use this same agency to liquidate political opponents, dissenters, and free thinkers.

In April 2006, Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury, adviser to then prime minister Khaleda Zia on parliamentary affairs, mockingly warned opposition members to follow the ‘right path’ (siratul mustakim) because they are on RAB’s ‘crossfire’ list. This ‘joke’ might have been funny if it weren’t true for street-level activists of the League. And if the League were to come to power, there is no reason to suspect that they would behave differently. ‘Many people think if the Awami League comes to power again, it will abolish RAB,’ Sheikh Hasina said in March 2006. ‘But we will not do so. Rather, RAB will be given a special assignment to capture corrupt people.’ A report filed by the wire agency AFP in 2005 quotes former foreign minister and BNP top brass Morshed Khan defending the RAB ‘crossfire’ phenomenon with the words, ‘I don’t know of any country in the world where some criminals have not been killed in crossfires’.

When Dr Fakhruddin Ahmed’s military-controlled interim government came to power in 2007, he promised a government that practised accountability, transparency, and decency. Since then a total of 200 persons were killed in various incidents such as crossfire, shootout or gunfight by RAB, the national police and other law enforcement agencies, according to the human rights coalition Odhikar. Against the backdrop of the human rights record displayed by our governments, past and present, the question that we, as citizens, need to ask ourselves is: While it may be in the interests of our repressive governments to kill detainees without charges or trial, is it really in ours to allow it to go on?