'There is no doubt that the trafficking and sale of illegal narcotics leads to tremendous suffering. But extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests, and the stigmatisation of people who use drugs cannot be the answer'
The UN rights chief on Wednesday condemned the recent killing of more than 100 alleged drug dealers in Bangladesh, insisting extrajudicial killings cannot be justified in the fight against narcotics.
Some 130 people have reportedly been shot dead by Bangladeshi law enforcement agencies since May 15 and another 15,000 arrested in the crackdown aimed at halting the spread of narcotics like yaba and other illegal drugs, reports AFP.
"I am gravely concerned that such a large number of people have been killed," UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said in a statement.
He also voiced concern about government reaction, which "has been to assure the public that none of these individuals were 'innocent'.”
"Such statements are dangerous and indicative of a total disregard for the rule of law," he said. "People do not lose their human rights because they use or sell drugs."
United Nations spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said Law Minister Anisul Huq had assured Ra'ad Al Hussein that there would be an investigation, reports Reuters.
"We are calling on the government to follow through with this commitment and to ensure that this is not just any investigation; it has to be an independent, transparent, meaningful investigation with the view to bring in to justice the perpetrators of these killings,” she said.
The UN rights commissioner stressed that "the presumption of innocence and the right to due process must be at the forefront of any efforts to tackle crime."
"Given the large number of people arrested, there is a high likelihood that many people may have been arbitrarily detained, without due regard for their rights."
Urging Bangladesh to investigate reports of extrajudicial killings and hold the perpetrators to account, Ra'ad Al Hussein also voiced concern that already vulnerable slum communities were particular targets and that the crackdown appeared to be hampering drug users from accessing health services.
Authorities last year seized a record 40 million yaba tablets, but said an estimated 250-300 million more entered the market, due in part to large quantities coming across the border from Myanmar, a major producer.
Nine million yaba tablets were seized in less than three months earlier this year, including nearly two million in a single haul.
"There is no doubt that the trafficking and sale of illegal narcotics leads to tremendous suffering," the UN rights chief added.
"But extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests, and the stigmatisation of people who use drugs cannot be the answer."
Responding to Ra'ad Al Hussein’s criticism, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan told Reuters: "We are not killing anyone. Our forces are compelled to fire back when they are fired at. We'll continue this drive to stamp out drugs to save our young generation. Our people are supporting this."