“I want punishment if investigation finds me guilty. If not, I want punishment for those who held me by the collar of my shirt before shooting me holding the gun against my leg.”
On 23 March 2011, in Jhalakathi, Limon Hossain, a 16-year-old student, was bringing the family cattle back from the fields when officers from the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) shot him in the leg. They ignored his mother’s plea and refused to take him to hospital immediately. Four days later, he had to be amputated.
Hardly a week goes by in Bangladesh without someone being shot by RAB, a special police force created in 2004 to fight criminal gangs, with the authorities saying they were killed or injured in “crossfire” or a “gun-fight”. In reality many victims are killed following their arrest. At least 700 people have died in such circumstances, more than 200 of them since January 2009, when the Awami League came to power. However, this party’s Prime Minister had pledged to end extrajudicial executions and the government, including the Home Minister, categorically denied in late 2009 that such abuses had persisted since they had come to power.
Virtually all alleged instances of such killings have gone unchallenged and unpunished. Any investigations that have been carried out have either been handled by RAB or by a government-appointed judicial body. They have never resulted in judicial prosecution. In many cases the investigations blamed the victims, calling them criminals and portraying their deaths as justified even when available evidence refuted such claims.
RAB continues to receive military and police equipment from overseas, including from Austria, Belgium, Italy, Poland, and other European countries. It was revealed in December 2010, according to diplomatic cables obtained by Wikileaks, that UK police had been training RAB officers.