United Nations To Evict Bangladesh Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) From Peacekeeping Mission For Human Rights Violation

This photograph taken on June 6, 2018, shows members of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) of the Bangladesh police baton-charging secular activists for protesting against alleged extrajudicial killings during the country's ongoing anti-drug drive, in Dhaka. - Rights groups say that if true, audio tapes purportedly indicating that a local councillor was murdered in May in a set-up, are proof that police have committed extrajudicial killings in the campaign that began on May 15 and has also seen 15,000 people arrested. (Photo credit should read -/AFP via Getty Images)

The United Nations Department of Peace Operations should ban Bangladesh’s notoriously abusive paramilitary Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) from UN deployment, 12 organizations said in a letter to Under-Secretary-General Jean-Pierre Lacroix, made public on last year.

The decision came after the US Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Bangladesh’s elite paramilitary force, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), as well as seven of its current and former officers due to serious human rights violations. This has created a stir in Bangladesh. The list of individuals includes current and former RAB chiefs, Chowdhury Abdullah Al-Mamun and Benazir Ahmed respectively, as well as four former Additional Director Generals of Operations, Khan Mohammad Azad, Tofayel Mustafa Sorwar, Mohammad Jahangir Alam, and Mohammad Anwar Latif Khan. Additionally, the State Department imposed sanctions on two individuals, Benazir Ahmed and Lt. Col. Miftah Uddin Ahmed, a former commanding officer of RAB Unit 7.

These actions came at the last day of the virtual Democracy Summit organized by the White House, to which Bangladesh was not invited. Both of these actions, and particularly the imposition of sanctions, have irked the government of Bangladesh. Dhaka summoned the US Ambassador to Bangladesh and expressed its discontent. Thought Bangladesh has had a tumultuous history, a punitive measure against it of this scale is unprecedented. 

The Rapid Action Battalion is an elite unit of the Bangladesh police. Founded in 2004 under the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) government led by Khaleda Zia, it also has officers seconded from the army, navy, and air force. The precursor to the RAB was a joint security operation between October 2002 and January 2003 of the army and other law enforcing agencies called Operation Clean Heart. During the operation, at least 44 people died in custody and hundreds were injured.Those who participated in the operation were provided indemnity by the parliament. The unit, initially comprised of 5,500 men in 2005, currently has at least 15,000 members, including officers, and is divided into 15 battalions. 

Ban from UN peacekeeping mission

Human rights organizations 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.

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, so called “cross fire” to kill alleged criminals.

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″.

This photograph taken on June 6, 2018, shows members of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) of the Bangladesh police baton-charging secular activists for protesting against alleged extrajudicial killings during the country’s ongoing anti-drug drive, in Dhaka. – Rights groups say that if true, audio tapes purportedly indicating that a local councillor was murdered in May in a set-up, are proof that police have committed extrajudicial killings in the campaign that began on May 15 and has also seen 15,000 people arrested. (Photo credit /AFP via Getty Images)

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 organization 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, 2021.

The organizations that signed the letter are:

1. Amnesty International

2. Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD)

3. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)

4. Asian Human Rights Commission

5. Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL)

6. Capital Punishment Justice Project

7. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation

8. Human Rights Watch

9. International Federation for Human Rights

10. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights

11. The Advocates for Human Rights

12. World Organization Against Torture (OMCT)

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