No Bangladesh ‘gunfight’ deaths in 100 days after US sanctions

By Azad Majumder

Dhaka, Mar 20 (EFE).- Bangladesh passed a rare 100 days on Sunday without any extrajudicial killing in the name of “gunfight” or “shootout” between law enforcers and suspected criminals.

The unexpected pause in the frequent “shootout” incidents came after the United States on Dec.10 imposed sanctions on the country’s elite security force Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and seven of its current and former officials, including police chief Benazir Ahmed for alleged human rights abuses.

Human rights defenders said the pause in killings in the so-called gunfights after the US sanctions showed law-enforcing enforcing agencies staged these incidents and provided false narratives.

A similar halt took place in 2020 after the killing of a retired army major in southern Cox’s Bazar district. The alleged murder sparked tension between the military force and police.

According to the Bangladeshi newspaper The Daily Star, except for one incident in northeast Sylhet, not a single “shootout” was reported in the country for over five months after the death of retired army officer Rashed Sinha in police firing.

The “shootout” or “gunfight” resumed slowly, causing the death of 51 people in 2021, said Bangladeshi rights group Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK).

The last such death was reported hours before the imposition of the US sanctions when a suspected “robber” was killed in a “gunfight” between RAB and “a gang of robbers” in southwest Barguna district.

“It has also proven that these incidents were neither spontaneous nor sporadic, instead it was a well-coordinated tactic of the law enforcement agencies, presumably backed by a policy decision,” Ali Riaz, a professor at Illinois State University and non-resident senior fellow of Atlantic Council, told EFE.

Riaz led a research project for the non-profit Center for Governance Studies in Bangladesh, which analyzed 591 incidents of extrajudicial killings in the country between 2019 to 2021.

The research, published on Mar.12, found “gunfights” constituted 86.63 percent of such killings.

At least 4,140 people were killed in Bangladesh between 2001 and 2021 in extrajudicial killings by security forces, said human rights group Odhikar.

Riaz said US sanctions had drawn international attention to the human rights records of Bangladesh.

But he feared the current pause was unlikely to sustain for long.

“There are three reasons that make it likely to resume. No punitive measures are attached to the sanctions, the US focus is likely to be shifted, and the institutional arrangements of impunity to the law enforcement agencies is not being addressed,” he said.

In the wake of UN sanctions on RAB, Bangladesh appointed a lobbyist firm in the US for a monthly fee of $20,000 with a target to remove the sanctions, deputy minister for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam told media in February.

Rights defenders criticized the move.

They said appointing a lobbyist or public relations firm for a rosy picture of the human rights situation was not the way.

“It is unfortunate that the government seems more focused on its reputation than to address the root problem robustly,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, told EFE.

“The government should be committed to the protection of the rights of Bangladeshis to not be arbitrarily detained, tortured, forcibly disappeared, or killed,” she said.

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