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Bangladesh: Halt extrajudicial execution of alleged drug offenders and ensure right to life and fair trial

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(Bangkok/Kathmandu – 8 June 2018) – The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) condemns the extrajudicial killings of more than 130 suspected drug offenders, carried out in May 2018 in Bangladesh. These killings were carried out without conforming to basic international human rights norms and constitutional obligations of the Government of Bangladesh. FORUM-ASIA is gravely concerned about the continuous blatant violation of human rights by the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), a paramilitary wing of Bangladesh Police, which has a record of alleged extrajudicial executions, and demands an immediate halt to the executions.

On 3 May, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina approved for the RAB to continue armed operations against drug abusers, reportedly to combat the spread of Yaba, a mixture of methamphetamine and caffeine, widely known in Asia.[1] Since then, around 130 people have been killed in alleged gun fights and 13,000 people have been arrested.[2] Bangladesh has an estimated seven million drug addicts, with up to four-fifths addicted to Yaba which comes into the country from Myanmar[3].

The Government forces claim that the killings took place during fire exchanges, popularly called ‘gun fights’, with the suspected drug offenders. However, information shared by family members of the victims with media reveals planned custodial killings.[4] Modus operandi in most of the killings is similar, and most took place at night.

One case raised a widespread public outcry. Akramul Haque, 46 year old, was allegedly killed during a gun fight, by members of RAB. Four days later, his wife released audio recordings of phone conversations with her husband.[5] In one of those recordings, gunshots can be heard, which allegedly resulted in his death. Those recordings indicate a planned custodial killing.[6]  Kazi Reazul Hoque, the chairman of the National Human Rights Commission of Bangladesh, expressed deep concern[7] over this incident of arbitrary deprivation of rights guaranteed by the Constitution, and called for a magistrate’s inquiry.[8]

Multiple cases have been reported in the last month that counter RAB’s narrative. Azim Sheikh, the brother of a deceased, informed media that his brother, Habibur Rahman Sheikh, was detained in his home on 17 May, by the security forces. His body was later discovered on 19 May.[9] In another case, Rezaul Islam Rony was murdered by RAB under dubious circumstances.[10]

International and national human rights organisations[11] have condemned and urged for an investigation into the killings. have condemned the killings and urged for an investigation. On 6 June, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein expressed concern, and urged fundamental criminal justice principles like presumption of innocence and the right to due process must be at the forefront of any efforts to tackle crimes.[12] Some say that the drug war is used to hide political assassinations[13] given the upcoming General Elections later this year.

These extrajudicial killings are in clear violation of Bangladesh’s international legal obligations and the Constitutional parameters that guarantee a fair trial and the right to life. FORUM-ASIA emphasises that the rights to a fair trial and to life are supreme human rights, and must be protected by the State at all times. Despite this, the Government of Bangladesh continues to exhibit a pattern of wrongful killings and arrests.[14]

Drug abuse is a serious issue and the Government of Bangladesh must first frame rules and regulations to combat that without compromising the right to life and constitutional guarantees. FORUM-ASIA urges the Government of Bangladesh to immediately halt the executions, establish an independent body or committee to investigate the extrajudicial killings, and to assure accountability.


For a PDF version of this statement, click here.