Death Squad

Recent sanctions by the US on Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion force suggest that the human rights record in Bangladesh needs reforms.

By Aneeza Maham | May 2022

The United States has recently imposed sanctions against Bangladesh’s paramilitary force Rapid Action Battalion (RAB). An elite anti-terrorism and anti-crime unit of the Bangladesh Police, the RAB has been accused of gross human rights violations and abuse of power several times in the past. Washington sanctioned the force for extrajudicial killings, human rights abductions and abuses. Human rights groups in Bangladesh have been campaigning against the RAB for a long period of time.

Though the human rights activists and NGOs welcomed the sanctions and termed the force a ‘death squad’, Bangladesh’s government has denounced the move. Dhaka’s Foreign Secretary Masud bin Momen, said that the United States has sanctioned an agency which has remained on the forefront to fight transnational crimes, drugs trafficking, and terrorism and described these sanctions as ‘unilateral’ and an outcome of ‘exaggerated stories’. Bangladesh’s government also summoned the US ambassador to protest the sanctions.

Comprising over 12,000 troops and officers from Bangladesh armed forces and police, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) was formed in 2004 to fight terrorism and other crimes across the country. It was established during the government of former Prime Minister, Khaleda Zia. Though the elite body enjoyed strong support from the public during its initial days as it launched operations on criminals, the unit has been accused of severe human rights violations and abuse of power.

Soon after its formation, allegations of committing heinous crimes such as extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, politically motivated arrests, and other gross human rights violations became widespread. According to the Human Rights Watch, RAB was accused of unlawful killings of people in custody and the alleged killings of many more.

The Bangladesh government justified the RAB’s killings, which were reportedly the result of crossfire and not deliberate execution. The Human Rights Watch also reported the severe physical abuse methods adopted by the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) to torture prisoners. The methods include applying electric shock, beatings with batons on the body and feet, and drilling holes on human bodies.

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