(New York) – The Bangladeshi government should order an independent investigation and prosecute members of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) responsible for a 2011 attack on a child (16) that caused him to lose a leg, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities finally dropped politically motivated charges against the child, Limon Hossain, but have not taken action against his attackers.
Hossain was shot by RAB members in a bungled security operation. Hossain, a college student at the time, was in the fields near his village in Jhalakati in southern Bangladesh on March 23, 2011, when members of RAB, a paramilitary security force, accused him of being a criminal and shot him at point-blank range. Four days later, Limon’s leg was amputated to save his life. For medical reasons he was not able to return home for more than six months.
“It is good that Bangladeshi authorities have finally dropped the spurious charges against Limon, but he never should have been charged in the first place,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The Bangladeshi government needs to take action against the RAB officer who shot Limon, which led to a permanent disability, as well as those who perverted the course of justice by bringing phony charges against him.”
The then-director general of RAB said in the immediate aftermath of the shooting that Hossain was an accidental victim of a shootout between RAB and criminal gangs. However, the police took no action against his attackers and instead filed several criminal charges against Hossain in an attempt to shelter RAB from accountability.
In June 2011, following local and international outcry over the incident, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina ordered an investigation into the RAB officers involved in the incident. She also said that ongoing investigations had produced no evidence to show that Hossain had any involvement with criminal activities. Although the prime minister’s statement vindicating Hossain and announcing an investigation into his shooting was extensively reported by Bangladeshi media, the government withdrew the statement within four hours, without any clarification.
The official police investigation into complaints filed on April 10, 2011, by Hossain’s family against six RAB members has still not been completed and no charges have been filed against those who shot him. In a disturbing development, on August 14, 2012, the police issued a report finding no evidence of RAB involvement in Hossain’s shooting.
Human Rights Watch and others have long documented RAB’s responsibility for hundreds of extrajudicial killings and other serious human rights violations. In spite of compelling evidence, no RAB member has ever been successfully prosecuted for these crimes.
Human Rights Watch urged the authorities to break the cycle of impunity by successfully prosecuting those RAB officers responsible for the May 2014 execution of seven people in Narayanganj. At least three RAB officers were arrested after massive media coverage and, it seems, because one of the victims came from a well-connected political family.
RAB was established in 2004 as an elite anti-crime and counterterror unit consisting of both the military and police, thereby involving the army in civilian law enforcement. Over the last decade, successive governments led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party; the subsequent military-backed caretaker regime; and since 2009, the Awami League, have allowed the force to operate with impunity, leading to serious and systematic abuses.
In opposition the Awami League called for the disbandment of RAB and for the prosecution of those responsible for “crossfire” and other killings, but it has failed to take serious action despite hundreds of killings since it came to power.
Human Rights Watch reiterated its call for the Bangladesh government to disband RAB. The government should withdraw all military officers and soldiers from RAB and replace it with an entirely civilian force. On September 18, members of the European Union Parliament expressed serious concern over disappearances, killings, and other ongoing violations by RAB.
“RAB is a death squad that cannot be reformed,” Adams said. “Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s promise of zero tolerance for abuses by RAB will continue to ring hollow unless she takes the bold step to disband RAB altogether.”