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(New York) - The Bangladeshi government should promptly and thoroughly investigate last week's "crossfire killing" involving Bangladesh's notorious anti-crime force, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), Human Rights Watch said today.

The RAB announced on April 10, 2009, that it had arrested Nasiruddin Suman, an alleged criminal, on April 9 and claimed that in the middle of the night he was taken to recover hidden arms in Dhaka's Dakkhin Keraniganj district. There, the RAB claimed, he was killed in a shootout between the anti-crime unit and his accomplices.

"RAB's own announcement makes it clear that this case fits the pattern of execution-style killings that the unit has carried out since its inception," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "This is a challenge to the government's promise to end these killings, and the government needs to make clear they will not be tolerated."

Since RAB was established in mid-2004, its members have killed more than 550 people in what it usually refers to as "crossfire" or "encounter" killings or "shootouts." Numerous investigations by Human Rights Watch and others have shown that the accounts offered by the unit for the deaths bear no relation to the circumstances and that the killings are almost invariably extrajudicial executions, often preceded by torture. No RAB officer has ever been prosecuted for any of these killings or related torture.

The killing of Suman comes after a reduction in reported RAB violence since the December 2008 national elections. The new Awami League government has made commitments to end these illegal killings and torture. It has declared a "zero-tolerance" policy with regard to killings in government custody, and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has stated that those responsible for such acts will be punished.

"Now is the time for the government to begin the process of holding RAB accountable," said Adams. "It should immediately investigate this killing and prosecute and bring to justice those responsible. This is a big test for the government. Will it be able to control RAB?"

As a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other human rights treaties, Bangladesh is obliged to investigate thoroughly and promptly serious violations of human rights, prosecute the perpetrators in accordance with international fair-trial standards, and appropriately punish them if their guilt is established.

The United Kingdom and the United States have over the past year provided training to RAB in the stated hope that the force will improve its human rights record and eventually become a more effective counterterrorism outfit.

"If the US and UK governments are truly concerned with RAB's human rights record, they should make clear that future assistance to the force is dependent on successful prosecutions when members commit abuses," Adams said. "They should not kid themselves that training alone will have a significant impact on a force so deeply entrenched in violence."

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