(New York) – The United Nations Department of Peace Operations should ban the deployment of Bangladesh’s notoriously abusive paramilitary Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), 12 organizations said in a letter to Under-Secretary-General Jean-Pierre Lacroix, released public today.
Human rights organizations have documented widespread abuses of the RAB. UN human rights experts have also expressed concern over allegations that members of the unit have engaged in torture, enforced disappearances and other human rights abuses. man.
The Department of Peacekeeping Operations has yet to provide an official 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 a proven history of abuses like the Rapid Action Battalion be excluded from deployment,” said Kerry Kennedy, president of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “The evidence is clear; now is the time for the UN to draw a line.
On December 10, the United States government designated RAB as a “foreign entity responsible for, complicit in or directly or indirectly engaged in gross human rights abuses” under the Magnitsky Act on accountability for human rights.
Instead of taking steps to reform, the Bangladeshi government responded to the announcement of US sanctions with denials and reprisals against human rights defenders and families of victims. Families of victims of enforced disappearance report that officers come to their homes, threaten them and force them to sign false statements stating that their family member was not forcibly disappeared and that they intentionally misled the police.
On December 5, the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances expressed concern that “RAB members would be eligible to participate in UN peacekeeping operations, without prior investigation into their involvement. alleged in the commission of human rights violations or in-depth examination. deal with.” The task force also said that officers involved in or willing to condone abuses “appear to be promoted and rewarded within Bangladesh’s law enforcement and security forces.”
In March 2021, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said that “[a]allegations of torture and ill-treatment by the Rapid Action Battalion are 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 said it was “concerned by reports that personnel who served in the Rapid Action Battalion have frequently been deployed to serve in United Nations peacekeeping missions. .”
The UN Committee against Torture has recommended that the government of Bangladesh “put in place an independent vetting process, with appropriate UN guidelines, for all military and police personnel proposed for deployment in peacekeeping missions. of the United Nations and ensures that no person or unit implicated in the commission of acts of torture, extrajudicial acts of murder, disappearances or other serious violations of human rights 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 worked for the UN for a long time. Ahmed served as the RAB’s director general from 2015 to 2019 – a period during which 136 extrajudicial executions and 10 enforced disappearances were reported, allegedly by officers under his command. Meanwhile, former UN Under-Secretary-General Hervé Ladsous has appointed him an expert member of an independent review team for an “external review of the functions, structure and capacity of the United Nations Police Division”.
In a television interview, Ahmed said the US sanctions were based on “false and fabricated lies”, adding that those calling for the banning of the RAB from UN peacekeeping operations were “trying to embarrass our government and our country. Responding to the US sanctions announcement, 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 violate these human rights in the interests of the country”.
“The deployment of RAB personnel in peacekeeping operations reinforces the message that serious human rights violations will not preclude serving under the UN flag and increases the risk of human rights are committed in UN missions,” said Louis Charbonneau of the United Nations. director of Human Rights Watch. “The UN should send a clear signal to host and troop-contributing nations that abusive units will not be part of the UN.”
The organizations that signed the letter are:
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: Global Alliance for Citizen Participation
8. Human Rights Observatory
9. International Federation for Human Rights
10. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
11. Human rights defenders
12. World Organization Against Torture (OMCT)