Bangladeshi activists falling foul of ′crossfires′ | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 04.04.2017
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Bangladeshi activists falling foul of 'crossfires'

The United Nations has expressed concerns over the "high rate" of extrajudicial killings committed by security forces in Bangladesh. Experts say political motives are behind the recent surge in such killings.

It was the early morning of March 30, 2017, when some locals found a dead body on the banks of the river Karnaphuli in the Bangladeshi port city of Chittagong. The hands of the deceased were tied with ropes, eyes were blindfolded and there were several injury marks on the body.

It didn't take long to discover the identity of the person. He was Nurul Alam Nuru, a key leader of the country's main opposition outfit, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). Nuru had been picked up from his home by police just a few hours before his dead body was recovered from the river banks, according to his relatives. The 40-year-old was shot twice in the head.

Nuru is considered as one of the latest victims of the country's widely criticized practice of extrajudicial killings, committed by security forces. In the first three months of this year, at least 44 people were killed in "shootout" with police and the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), the nation's elite security force, according to a report published last week by Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), a renowned local human rights organization.


Attempt to silence opposition?

The figure mentioned in the report includes a number of opposition activists, says Nur Khan, who was until recently the executive director of ASK. The human rights activist stresses that the deaths of political activists in police encounters have spiked over the past year.

"What is alarming to me is that members of opposition parties are dying in the so-called 'crossfires.' Such deaths have increased rapidly in recent months," he said.

Olof Blomqvist, a Bangladesh expert at Amnesty International (AI), also noticed that many of those apparently targeted by security forces are members of opposition parties.

"We've also seen arrests of thousands of opposition supporters in recent years, and an intensified effort by the government to crackdown on critical voices, including the media," he told DW.

A longterm trend

Tasneem Khalil, an investigative journalist based in Sweden, says Bangladeshi security forces have long been accused of killing people under the guise of "crossfire."

"Journalists and human rights researchers have been documenting such cases for years now. These are cold-blooded murders, often preceded by brutal torture - words like 'crossfire' and 'shootout' are mere euphemisms used for sugarcoating the brutalities perpetrated by death squads like RAB," he told DW.

The ASK report, which was prepared based on media reports and other information collected by the organization, suggests that at least 195 extrajudicial killings took place in Bangladesh last year. There is a sharp increase in such killings compared to the previous year.

"In today's Bangladesh, the primary victims of abduction, torture and execution by the security forces are leaders and activists of the opposition parties - mostly from the BNP," Khalil said.

UN expresses concerns

The United Nations has also raised concerns over the "high rate" of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances in Bangladesh.

Bangladesch IS-Anschlag in Dhaka - Rapid Action Batallion (picture-alliance/dpa)

The UN has expressed concerns over the 'high rate' of extrajudicial killings by security forces in Bangladesh

The global body insists that the government of the South Asian nation must "investigate all cases of arbitrary killings, enforced disappearances and excessive use of force, prosecute and if convicted, punish the perpetrators with appropriate sanctions, and provide full reparation to the victims."

AI's Blomqvist points out that the lack of accountability for enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions is deeply troubling.

"It is extremely rare that security forces are ever brought to justice for these cases, or that they are even properly investigated," he told DW, adding: "This impunity is sending a dangerous signal that such crimes can be carried out without repercussions, and it must end immediately."

However, Tasneem Khalil says mere appeals by the international community to prevent unlawful killings in Bangladesh don't go far enough. He calls for stricter action.  

"As a first step, any military or police officer who serves or has served in RAB must be denied entry into the European Union and barred from taking part in UN peacekeeping missions," he said.

Government denies wrongdoing

Bangladesh's government, however, denies accusations that it has directed the country's security forces to commit extrajudicial killings. "Those who died during the gunfights with police and other security forces as well as during police raids are criminals. Their deaths can't be defined as extrajudicial killings," Hasanul Haq Inu, the country's information minister, told DW.

He also rejected claims by the rights groups that many victims of the recent crossfires and forced disappearances were supporters of opposition parties. Nevertheless, Inu said they were investigating the murder of BNP leader Nurul Alam Nuru in Chittagong and stressed that the "killers will be brought to justice."

"We haven't ordered the law enforcing agencies to abduct or kill any member of the opposition parties. It's a baseless complaint," he underlined.