UK Trained RAB
Wednesday, 22 December 2010


Officers of Rapid Action Battalion, the elite force of Bangladesh raised to fight crime and terrorism, were trained in the UK, according to a US embassy cable leaked by the WikiLeaks.

RAB is held responsible for hundreds of extra-judicial killings despite objections from different human rights organisations, both in home and abroad, The Guardian newspaper reported on Tuesday.

Even the High Court on several occasions expressed its worry over the growing number of killings by RAB, which the law enforcement agency always euphemistically claims to be deaths in 'crossfires' or 'encounters'.

Members of the RAB received training from Britain on "investigative interviewing techniques" and "rules of engagement", the leaked cable revealed.

But US ambassador to Bangladesh James F Moriarty made it clear that the US government would not offer any assistance other than human rights training to RAB in view of its alleged human rights violations with impunity.

RAB was formed in March 2004 and it started operations on April 14, the same year.

Since the force was raised, about a 1,000 people have been killed by members of the elite crime-busting unit of Bangladesh Police.

Details of the training were revealed in a number of cables, released by WikiLeaks, which address the counter-terrorism objectives of the US and UK governments in Bangladesh.

In addition of allegations of torture, officers from the paramilitary force are alleged to have been involved in kidnap and extortion, and are frequently accused of taking large bribes in return for carrying out crossfire killings.

However, the cables reveal that both the British and the Americans, in their determination to strengthen counter-terrorism operations in Bangladesh, are in favour of bolstering the force, arguing that the "RAB enjoys a great deal of respect and admiration from a population scarred by decreasing law and order over the last decade".

In one cable Moriarty, expresses the view that the RAB is the 'enforcement organisation best positioned to one day become a Bangladeshi version of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)'.

In another cable, Moriarty quotes British officials as saying they have been 'training RAB for 18 months in areas such as investigative interviewing techniques and rules of engagement'.

Asked about the training assistance for the RAB, the Foreign Office said the UK government 'provides a range of human rights assistance' in the country.

However, the RAB's head of training, Mejbah Uddin, told the influential Brtish newspaper that he was unaware of any human rights training since he was appointed last summer.

The cables make clear that British training for RAB officers began three years ago under the last Labour government.

However, RAB officials confirmed independently of the cables that they had taken part in a series of courses and workshops as recently as October, five months after the formation of the coalition government.

Asked whether ministers had approved the training programme, the Foreign Office said only that William Hague, the foreign secretary, and other ministers, had been briefed on counter-terrorism spending.

The US ambassador explains in the cables that the US government is 'constrained by RAB's alleged human rights violations, which have rendered the organisation ineligible to receive training or assistance' under laws which prohibit American funding or training for overseas military units which abuse human rights with impunity.

Human Rights Watch has repeatedly described the RAB as a government death squad.

Brad Adams, the organisation's Asia director, said: "RAB is a Latin American-style death squad dressed up as an anti-crime force. The British government has let its desire for a functional counter-terrorism partner in Bangladesh blind it to the risks of working with RAB, and the legitimacy that it gives to RAB inside Bangladesh.

"Furthermore, it is not clear that the British government has ever made it a priority at the highest levels to tell RAB that if it doesn't change, it will not co-operate with it," Adams added.

Amnesty International has also repeatedly condemned the RAB, while the Bangladeshi human rights organisation Odhikar has painstakingly documented the RAB's involvement in extra-judicial killings and torture since its creation.

Asked to comment on the rights groups' concern about the RAB, the Foreign Office said: "We do not discuss the detail of operational counter-terrorism cooperation. Counter-terrorism assistance is fully in line with our laws and values."

At least some of the British training has been conducted by serving British police officers, working under the auspices of the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA), which was established in 2007 to build policing capacity and standards. Recent courses for RAB have been provided by officers from West Mercia and Humberside Police.

Asked whether it believed it was appropriate for British officers to be training members of an organisation condemned as 'a government death squad', and whether courses in investigative interviewing techniques might not render torture more effective, an NPIA spokesman said the courses had been approved by the government and by the Association of Chief Police Officers.

"The NPIA has given limited support to the Bangladeshi Police and the RAB in technical areas of policing such as forensic awareness, management of crime scenes and recovery of evidence. Throughout the training we have emphasised the importance of respecting the human rights of witnesses, suspects and victims.

"The purpose of our sanctioned engagement is to support the development and improvement of professional policing that supports democratic, human rights-based practices linked to the rule of law in countries that may have different laws, faiths and policing practices from our own."

It is understood that there have been disagreements within the Foreign Office about the British government's involvement with the RAB. Some officials have argued that the partnership with the RAB is an essential component of the UK's counter-terrorism strategy in the region, while others have expressed concern that the relationship could prove damaging to Britain's reputation.

Successive Bangladeshi governments have promised to end the RAB's use of murder. The current government promised in its manifesto that it would end all extra-judicial killings, but they have continued following its election two years ago.

In October last year, the shipping minister, Shahjahan Khan, speaking in a discussion organised by the BBC, said: "There are incidents of trials that are not possible under the laws of the land. The government will need to continue with extra-judicial killings, commonly called crossfire, until terrorist activities and extortion are uprooted."

In December last year the high court in Dhaka ruled that such killings must be brought to a halt following litigation by victims' families and human rights groups, but they continue on an almost weekly basis.

In most of the cases, the stories remain the same. Most of the victims are young men, some are alleged to be petty criminals or are said to be activists of left-wing extremist political outfits, and the killings invariably take place in the early hours of night.


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