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Bangladeshis hold photos of missing relatives during a press meeting in Dhaka on December 4, 2018.  Hundreds joined in the protest demanding justice for the victims.  © 2018 Munir UZ ZAMAN / AFP/ Getty Images

In Bangladesh, people who question the government’s increasingly authoritarian rule fear they may be next in line to be killed or forcibly disappeared by security forces. When Human Rights Watch raises this with the Bangladeshi authorities, they are quick to dismiss the reports as lies made up by the political opposition.

Yet extrajudicial killings have become so established in Bangladesh that some legislators openly recommended them as a way of dealing with the country’s high levels of rape when protesters mobilized over the recent rape of a 21-year-old student. For instance, according to media reports, one legislator told parliament that “the only remedy is killing rapists ‘in crossfire’ after their confession.” 

“Crossfire” incidents, a common euphemism to describe what authorities claim to be shootouts, are in reality often extrajudicial executions. There were more than 300 “crossfire” killings in 2019 and not one member of the security forces was held accountable.

Instead of suggesting unlawful killings, the authorities should be tackling rampant levels of sexual assault in Bangladesh. For over a decade now, activists have been calling on the government to reform laws and practices that contribute to Bangladesh’s pitiful conviction rate in rape cases of below one percent.

“It’s true we need a tougher law,” one lawmaker reportedly said. “But if we can take instant actions through ‘crossfire’ on drug-related issues, then why can’t we follow the same in case of rapists?” 

These statements are an insult to the hundreds of families who have lost loved ones at the hands of security forces without justice or redress. They are also an insult to those campaigning for reform of the government’s response to sexual assault. And they are an insult to victims of sexual assault, like the woman who was kidnapped and raped last Sunday, who deserve justice in the courts.

Lawmakers should be protecting the rule of law and holding security forces accountable for lethal use of force, not advocating for it. And they should do their jobs by passing and implementing legislation to protect against sexual assault.

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