Instead of launching proper investigations into these killings, the authorities allegedly sought to fabricate evidence to support their ‘gunfights’ or ‘crossfire’ claims
Amnesty International said Bangladeshi authorities have allegedly killed 466 people under the guise of an anti-drugs campaign in 2018, in what appears to be a wave of extrajudicial executions.
There are allegations of enforced disappearances, and fabricating evidence by the law enforcement agencies in these suspected extrajudicial executions, a new Amnesty International report reveals.
The report, “Killed in ‘Crossfire’: Allegations of Extrajudicial Executions in Bangladesh in the Guise of a War on Drugs,” reveals how the Bangladeshi authorities have failed to investigate deaths of people allegedly killed in “gunfights.” The 466 suspected extrajudicial executions in 2018 alone marked a threefold increase from 2017, and the highest in a single year in decades.
“The ‘war on drugs’ has led to the death of at least one person per day. Wherever there has been involvement of the Rapid Action Battalion [RAB], it appears they have acted outside of the law; the victims were not arrested, let alone put on trial. Some were forcibly disappeared from their homes, and their relatives only saw them next as bullet-riddled corpses in the morgue,” said Dinushika Dissanayake, deputy director South Asia at Amnesty International.
“The Bangladeshi authorities must put an end to these killings immediately. The ‘anti-drugs’ operations have spread terror in some of the country’s poorest neighbourhoods, where people fear the slightest suspicion of being involved in drug abuse may lead to their loved ones being subjected to another alleged extrajudicial execution,” she added.
Instead of launching proper investigations into these killings, the authorities reportedly sought to fabricate evidence to support their ‘gunfights’ or ‘crossfire’ claims, as per the report.
In interviews with Amnesty International, supposed “witnesses” revealed that they had not seen the killings, but were asked by the police to provide fabricated statements supporting their version of how the deaths have taken place in alleged “gunfights” or “cross fire.”
In all the cases investigated by Amnesty, the victims were first subjected to apparent enforced disappearances, lasting anywhere from one day to a month and a half, before their dead bodies were eventually discovered. In one case, the victim's relatives claimed to have bribed police in exchange for the victim’s release, but to no avail.
Claims of ‘crossfire’ and fabricated evidence
Bangladeshi officials have routinely claimed that the victims of apparent extrajudicial executions were caught up in a fire exchange, where the suspects fired the first shot at the members of law enforcement agencies, forcing them to resort to lethal force.
Amnesty International spoke to supposed “witnesses” who said that they were involuntarily taken to the crime scene only after the killings had taken place.
“We did not see anything,” one such “witness” told Amnesty International, seeking anonymity. “They called, and took me with them to the location around 5:30am, and asked me to witness what they were taking from there. I only saw a motorbike, and nothing else.”
At least five witnesses interviewed by Amnesty International said that they were involuntarily taken to the spot after the incident. They said they could not refuse police requests to act as witnesses fearing harsh consequences. Security forces have taken signatures, names, phone numbers, and personal details of the witnesses.
Demands of bribes
Suleman, (not his real name) was a 35-year-old who lived with his eight-year-old daughter in a thatched hut. Struggling to make ends meet, according to his family, Suleman would rely on his siblings for food, and other expenses.
His family members told Amnesty that before he was killed in a reported “gunfight,” Suleman called a relative, and said that the police demanded Tk20,000 for his release, and requested him to arrange the money. One of Suleman’s family members confirmed to Amnesty that after he had paid the sum, police demanded an additional Tk50,000 – “or else they will kill me,” Suleman told the relative.
Desperate to locate Suleman, the relatives went to the police station where they were told he had been transferred. Three or four days after the phone call, they were told that Suleman had died in a “gunfight.”
All the victims of the supposed “gunfights” appear to have been forcibly disappeared by the police, and RAB prior to their deaths. When relatives sought information of their whereabouts, the authorities either denied they were in their custody, or refused to say where they are.
“Rahim” (not his real name) was forcibly disappeared from the home of his in-laws. Eight days later, Rahim’s corpse was discovered. RAB claimed he died during a “gunfight.”
“Bablu Mia” (not his real name) was forcibly disappeared from the highway by two RAB officers dressed in plainclothes, according to his brother, who filed a police complaint detailing the disappearance. A month and a half later, RAB said that Bablu Mia was killed in a “gunfight”.
Amnesty International is calling on the Bangladesh authorities to carry out a prompt, impartial, independent and effective investigation into the wave of apparent extrajudicial executions, and other human rights violations committed by the police, and RAB as part of its ongoing anti-drugs operations.
“These killings have taken place in the wider context of a blanket prohibition on drugs, under which the government has deliberately punished, and violently attacked people, particularly those from the most marginalized communities. The Bangladesh government must carry out prompt and effective investigations, and hold the perpetrators accountable. It must urgently shift its drug control strategy to ensure it protects people, not harm them,” said Dinushika Dissanayake.
Amnesty International documented a total of seven cases of alleged extrajudicial executions by visiting the locations of the incidents, as well as interviewing 40 people, including families of the victims, “witnesses” whose statements were coerced by law enforcement agencies, people in the neighbourhood where the incidents happened, and human rights activists in Bangladesh.
The interviews were carried out in November 2018, followed by desk research, and triangulation of information thereafter.