This week, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called on the Trump administration to impose sanctions on senior commanders of Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), which has reportedly killed more than 400 people extrajudicially since 2015.
>Other signers of the letter include U.S. Sens. Cory Booker, D-NJ, Ben Cardin, D-Mary., Chris Coons, D-Del., Cory Gardner, R-Col., Bob Menendez, D-NJ, Jeff Merkley, D-Oreg., Chris Murphy, D-Ct., Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, and Todd Young, R-Ind.
In a bipartisan letter addressed to U.S. Sec. of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Treasury Sec. Steven Mnuchin, the senators urged the administration to impose targeted sanctions on senior RAB commanders under applicable authorities, including the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act and Section 7031(c) of the FY 2020 Further Consolidated Appropriations Act. The senators also expressed concerns that the RAB has been credibly implicated in human rights abuses beyond these extrajudicial killings.
The full text of the letter is below.
Dear Secretary Pompeo and Secretary Mnuchin:
We write to express our serious concern about the ongoing human rights violations reportedly perpetrated by the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) of the Bangladesh Police. Since 2015, the RAB has reportedly extrajudicially killed more than 400 people, and the RAB has been credibly implicated in many cases of enforced disappearances and torture. These violations appear to be part of a broader crackdown on dissent by the ruling Awami League, and the RAB has not been held to account. We urge you to impose targeted sanctions on senior RAB commanders responsible for these gross human rights violations under all applicable authorities, including the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act and Section 7031(c) of the FY 2020 Further Consolidated Appropriations Act.
Extrajudicial killings by the RAB have reportedly spiked since the Government of Bangladesh began its ‘war on drugs’ in the months ahead of the December 2018 elections. In a June 2018 communication to the Government of Bangladesh, UN experts including the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary execution wrote that the ‘war on drugs’ “appears to be a deliberate policy of extrajudicial killings” and urged the Government to end it and respect the rule of law and human rights. However, the Government has failed to end these abuses and the RAB continues to commit extrajudicial killings with impunity.
In nearly all cases, the RAB claims that such extrajudicial killings result from “gunfights” or “crossfire,” but documentation from reputable human rights organizations demonstrates that victims were often in RAB custody when they were killed, and many of their bodies show signs of death by execution, rather than a “gunfight.” Amnesty International has also documented alleged witnesses to RAB “gunfights” saying they did not witness any such thing and that they were coerced into providing fabricated statements. In one well-known case, an audio recording of the killing of municipal councilor Ekramul Haque reveals RAB officers giving directions to stage a “gunfight” after they executed him. Directions from RAB officers included planting drugs and bullets in Mr. Haque’s pockets, untying his hands, scattering empty bullet shells around the scene, and shooting at a nearby vehicle.
In addition to extrajudicial killings, UN experts, journalists, and human rights groups have documented cases of the RAB committing enforced disappearances and widespread torture, including the 2019 abduction and suspected torture by the RAB of three men whose employer had a dispute with a high-ranking Government of Bangladesh official. One of those men is believed to have died of wounds incurred during the RAB torture. Many victims of extrajudicial killing are also forcibly disappeared for days or months prior to being extrajudicially killed in “gunfights.”
These cases illustrate a pattern of gross human rights violations for which the Rapid Action Battalion and its senior leadership have faced no consequences. U.S. law requires action in the face of gross violations of human rights. We urge you to respond strongly to the RAB’s ongoing violations by using all applicable authorities to impose targeted sanctions on senior RAB commanders, including Global Magnitsky and Section 7031(c) sanctions.
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