South Asia

Bangladesh must end killings by 'death squad' - report

A Bangladesh Rapid Action Battalion officer watches an opposition rally in Dhaka in July 2006
Image caption The Rapid Action Battalion was set up in 2004 to combat crime and terrorism

The Bangladeshi government has failed to end extra-judicial killings carried out by a paramilitary force, Human Rights Watch says.

In a new report it catalogues a series of human rights violations blamed on the elite Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) in the past few years.

The government has strongly denied the accusations.

In December British officials in Dhaka confirmed Wikileaks reports that the UK was training some RAB members.

The course, the British officials said, focused on improving interviewing techniques, investigations and the management of crime scenes.

The latest Human Rights Watch report says at least 200 people have allegedly been killed in RAB operations since the Awami League-led government took office in early 2009.

Despite various commitments by the government, the report says, no RAB officer or official has ever been prosecuted for any of the killings or other human rights abuses.

The government says the police force is only acting against criminals and most deaths occur during shoot-outs between law enforcers and criminals.

But Manzurul Alam, whose relative was killed in a shoot-out with the police unit in 2009, says his brother-in-law was innocent.

"No police station said he was a criminal, only the RAB personnel told us that he was a criminal. Until now they can't produce any evidence whatsoever... We are still waiting for justice. We are now hopeless," he said.

Dressed in black with bandannas tied around their heads, RAB officers are a familiar sight on Bangladesh's streets.

Over the years they have developed a fearsome reputation and are credited with reducing crime and acting against Islamist militancy.

But human rights groups allege that more than 700 people have been killed by the unit since its creation in 2004.

Human Rights Watch says the government should immediately reform the RAB and hold it accountable for the killings - or the force should be disbanded.

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