B'desh should end killings by anti-crime force: Rights group

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New York, Aug 13 (UNI) The military-backed interim government in Bangladesh should take prompt action to end a wave of unlawful killings by the country's elite crime-fighting force, Human Rights Watch has said.

Since June 1, 2008, officials from the elite Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and police have killed at least 50 people under circumstances viewed with suspicion, according to news reports.

''Despite overwhelming evidence of RAB and police responsibility for unlawful killings, the interim Bangladeshi government seems unwilling to address the problem,'' Asia director at Human Rights Watch, Brad Adams said yesterday, adding that the country's security forces continue to get away with murder.

After strong national and international criticism of the RAB for its poor human rights record, the killings decreased in 2007 and early 2008. However, this trend has been abruptly broken in recent months and the number of deaths has surged, the New York-based rights body said.

According to reports, on July 15 at about 1900 hrs, RAB officials in Dhaka arrested Moshiul Alam Sentu, an activist in the student wing of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party.

When Sentu's mother contacted an RAB official shortly afterwards, he assured her that her son would not be mistreated. However, at about 0400 hrs the following day, eyewitnesses observed RAB officers dumping Sentu's body in a paddy field in Barisal city, south of Dhaka.

''The officials responsible for killing Moshiul Alam Sentu and others should be prosecuted and punished to the full extent of the law,'' Mr Adams said. ''Unless those officers involved are held to account, regardless of rank, the RAB will continue to torture and murder.'' Established in 2004, the RAB immediately became known for its involvement in what the authorities often refer to as 'crossfire killings.' Over the past four years, the RAB members have killed over 540 people, the reports suggested.

Research by Human Rights Watch and others has shown that many of these 'crossfire killings' were in fact poorly disguised extrajudicial executed by torture. Since the declaration of emergency on January 11, 2007, the RAB and police have often operated together.

The interim government, in power for 19 months, has stated its commitment to establishing a 'healthy and stable democratic system' based on the rule of law, but Human Rights Watch said its failure to address impunity is undermining its own reform efforts.

''The rule of law can't become a reality in Bangladesh unless the very forces tasked with upholding the law are also bound by it,'' the director said.

Human Rights Watch urged governments not to work with or provide support to the RAB until it ends its pattern and practice of rights abuses and holds responsible officials accountable.

For a foreign government to provide assistance to the RAB at this point of time would be to condone the RAB's record of Human Rights abuses and raise serious questions about the donor's commitment to improving human rights in Bangladesh.

UNI XC SLD KN0854

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