‘Sheikh Hasina likely approved extrajudicial killings’

“Without the approval of the prime minister, it is very unlikely that the home minister would give an order like this,” said a former RAB commander to the recently broadcast documentary of Deutsche Welle and Netra News, while narrating how political targets are usually eliminated.

The jaw-dropping reportage titled Inside Bangladesh’s Death Squad is proof of what the BNP has been claiming for the last 15 years about the use of the state’s security apparatus against opposition men. While hundreds, if not thousands, of mid-level BNP leaders and elected local representatives, were gunned down in staged ‘cross-fires’ by RAB and other security forces, one former minister and at least two ex-parliament members from BNP fell victim to enforced disappearances in the last 15 years.

Audi Alteram Partem which can be translated as No man shall be condemned unheard is a basic principle of justice that has to be followed by a civilized state. The standards of natural justice have been regularly violated by Bangladeshi law enforcement forces in the name of so-called “crossfires” and in particular, RAB has staged more than 700 extrajudicial killings since 2009. The documentary proves that the decision was sponsored by the highest level of the government.

Extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances have been the hallmarks of Sheikh Hasina’s tyrannical tenure of fourteen years. Some of the worst cases of degradation of human rights and suppression of opposition in recent history during the state of peace were recorded during her rule. Now, according to the two RAB commanders’ testimonies, we have come to know that Bangladesh’s leadership authorizes extrajudicial executions in order to quell political opponents.

The brutality of the regime reached to an extent that in December 2021, the United States Department of the Treasury imposed sanctions against RAB for its involvement in extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances. However, Sheikh Hasina, and her son Sajeeb Wazed who lives in the U.S. with permanent residency, were not among the sanctioned individuals despite being supportive of these acts of brutality.

Even after the sanction, Sheikh Hasina and her government did almost nothing to hold the people responsible for these executions accountable. Instead, one of the sanctioned officials has been promoted as the Inspector General of Police while the former IGP and ex-RAB DG Benazir Ahmed, who is also among the sanctioned officials, has been gifted with special security arrangements after his retirement.

The DW-Netra News investigation also found that one of the murderers of Akramul Haque was later sent to a UN peacekeeping mission. This has been corroborated by one of the whistleblowers as well.

“As far as I have seen,” one of the two RAB commanders asserted, “everyone has gone to (UN) peacekeeping after serving in RAB.”

Extrajudicial executions soared drastically in 2018 when a “war on drugs” was announced in the run-up to the general election, according to data collected by human rights organizations and published by the Asian Human Rights Commission. In the year leading up to the election, 155 people were killed in reported gunfights. During the election year of 2018, the number of executions tripled, resulting in the deaths of 465 people. In 2019, the year immediately following the election, 391 people were slain extrajudicially. By 2020, the figure had dropped to 223.

Bangladesh’s administration has explicitly denied that any such incidence of human rights violation has ever occurred there. It has also harassed ‘Mayer Daak,’ a platform for the families of persons who were purportedly abducted by government agencies during the Awami League-led government’s control in Bangladesh from 2009 to the present; many of whom were taken by RAB itself.  An organization like RAB, according to one of the whistleblowers, would not detain someone for years. The chances of those abducted returning alive were “less than 1%.” 

A country’s prime minister has a responsibility to respect and preserve the human rights of all individuals under their control. Sheikh Hasina and her ministers, on the other hand, have been personally responsible for significant human rights violations such as extrajudicial executions, forced disappearances, torture, arbitrary arrest, and political rights suppression. These violations not only affect the victims and their families, but they also undermine the country’s rule of law, democracy, and peace.