(New York) – 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 today.
Human rights organizations have documented widespread RAB abuses. UN human rights experts have also voiced concerns about allegations that members of the unit engaged in torture, enforced disappearances, and other human rights violations.
The Department of Peacekeeping Operations has yet to provide a formal response to the letter which was sent privately over two months ago on November 8, 2021.
“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,” said Kerry Kennedy, president of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “The evidence is clear; now it’s time for the UN to draw a line.”
On December 10, the United States government designated RAB as a “foreign entity that is responsible for or complicit in, or has directly or indirectly engaged in, serious human rights abuse,” under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.
Instead of taking steps toward reform, the Bangladesh government has responded to the announcement of US sanctions with denials and retaliation against human rights defenders and victims’ families. Families of victims of enforced disappearance report that officers are showing up at their homes, threatening them, and forcing them to sign false statements that their family member was not forcibly disappeared and that they had intentionally misled the police.
On December 5, the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances voiced concerns that “members of the RAB would be eligible to participate in UN peacekeeping operations, without any previous investigation into their alleged involvement in the commission of human rights abuses or a thorough vetting process.” The Working Group also said that officers involved in, or willing to tolerate, abuses “appear to be promoted and rewarded within the Bangladesh security and law enforcement forces.”
In March 2021, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said that “[a]llegations of torture and ill-treatment by the Rapid Action Battalion have been a long-standing concern.” In its concluding observations during Bangladesh’s 2019 review of its obligations under the Convention against Torture, the Committee against Torture stated that it is “concerned at reports that personnel that have served with the Rapid Action Battalion have frequently been deployed for service with United Nations peace missions.”
The UN Committee against Torture recommended that the Bangladesh government “establish an independent vetting procedure, with appropriate UN guidance, for all military and police personnel proposed for deployment in UN peace missions and ensure that no person or unit implicated in the commission of torture, extrajudicial killing, disappearances or other serious human rights violations is selected for service.”
The United States also sanctioned seven current or former officials of the Rapid Action Battalion, including the country’s police chief, Benazir Ahmed, who has a long history of employment with the UN. Ahmed served as director general of the RAB from 2015 to 2019 – a period when there were 136 reported extrajudicial executions and 10 enforced disappearances, allegedly by officers under his command. During this time, former UN Under-Secretary-General Herve Ladsous appointed him as an expert member of an independent review team for an “External Review of the Functions, Structure, and Capacity of the UN Police Division.”
In a television interview, Ahmed said the US sanctions were based on “false and fabricated lies” adding that people calling for a ban on RAB from UN peacekeeping are “trying to embarrass our government and our country.” In response to the announcement of US sanctions, RAB deputy chief KM Azad said, “If bringing down a criminal under the law is a violation of human rights, then we have no objection to violating this human rights in the interest of the country.”
“The deployment of members of the RAB in peacekeeping operations reinforces a message that grave human rights abuses will not preclude one from service under the UN flag and increases the chances of human rights abuses being committed in UN missions,” said Louis Charbonneau, United Nations director at Human Rights Watch. “The UN should send a clear signal to host and troop-contributing countries that abusive units will not be part of the UN.”
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)