Human Rights Watch stated today that the Bangladesh government should respond constructively to UN concerns over grave allegations of torture, enforced disappearances, and arbitrary killings in the nation.
The US has already sanctioned the country’s Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) for egregious human rights breaches under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, and it should be kept out of UN peacekeeping missions.
UN human rights experts urged Bangladesh’s government to “immediately cease reprisals against human rights advocates and relatives of forcibly disappeared persons for their advocacy and cooperation with international human rights groups and UN mechanisms” on March 14, 2022.
On March 3, 2022, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights encouraged the Bangladesh government to honor its promise to react to charges of torture reported during a 2019 review of its commitments under the Convention against Torture, which it had disregarded for more than two years. During a meeting with UN Secretary-General António Guterres on the same day, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen is said to have asked him to appoint more Bangladeshi citizens to high-level positions in UN peacekeeping missions, including the role of special representative of the secretary-general.
“The Bangladesh government is trying to gain more clout at the UN while ignoring UN investigations into human rights breaches by Bangladesh security forces,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “By dismissing charges of abuse and failing to clean up their act, Bangladeshi authorities are only damaging the country’s standing in UN peacekeeping missions.”
The UN Committee against Torture remarked in July 2019 that “in general, one received the impression that the police, as well as other law enforcement authorities, were allowed to operate with impunity and zero responsibility,” following its evaluation of Bangladesh’s record.
“Establish an independent vetting procedure, with appropriate UN guidance, for all military and police personnel proposed for deployment in UN peace missions, and ensure that no person or unit implicated in the commission of torture, extrajudicial killings, disappearances, or other serious human rights violations is selected for service,” the rights organization recommended. The committee is also “concerned about reports that personnel from the Rapid Action Battalion have been often sent for service with United Nations peace missions,” according to the report.
The government, on the other hand, has made little attempt to strengthen screening and is instead looking for more senior UN peacekeeping jobs for its police and soldiers.
On November 8, 2021, 12 human rights organizations expressed concern to UN Department of Peace Operations Under-Secretary-General Jean-Pierre Lacroix that the 2012 UN Policy on Human Rights Screening of UN Personnel is not being applied consistently, transparently, and independently in relation to Bangladeshi nationals, and that the vetting process should be made consistent, transparent, and independent. The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances expressed concern on December 6 that “members of the RAB would be eligible to participate in UN peacekeeping operations without any prior investigation into their alleged involvement in the commission of human rights abuses or a thorough vetting process,” according to the statement.
Officials from Bangladesh who have been accused of human rights violations have previously held positions of power at the United Nations. For example, the US government recently sanctioned Bangladesh’s police chief, Benazir Ahmed, for his role in grave human rights violations committed while he was director-general of RAB from 2015 to 2019, during which time there were 136 reported extrajudicial executions and 10 enforced disappearances allegedly committed by officers under his command. Ahmed was also a member of an independent assessment team for the UN Police Division during that time.
Bangladesh’s administration has a history of rejecting UN concerns about the country’s human rights record. The government has failed to reply to the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances’ repeated invitations to visit Bangladesh, which was initially sent on March 12, 2013, and most recently re-issued on April 23, 2020. The experts said in a December statement that the government’s lack of response, including to their request to visit the country, “is all the more troubling, given that all allegations received refer to the frequent and ongoing use of enforced disappearance as a tool by law enforcement agencies, security, and intelligence forces, especially to target political opponents or other dissidents.”
Since Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina entered office in 2009, approximately 600 persons have been forcefully disappeared by security personnel, according to Bangladeshi human rights organizations. While some victims were released or appeared in court after weeks or months of secret incarceration, others were victims of extrajudicial killings erroneously attributed to firefight deaths. 86 of these cases have been documented by Human Rights Watch, and the victims are still missing. The Bangladeshi government has disputed that security agents carry out enforced disappearances on a regular basis.
“By selecting officers to UN peacekeeping operations who have been credibly accused of human rights crimes, the Bangladesh government is jeopardizing the legitimacy of these vital missions,” Adams added. “Bangladesh sends more troops to UN peacekeeping than any other country in the world, but the UN’s dependence on Bangladeshi troops should not imply a casual approach to human rights vetting.”