Twelve international human rights organisations have written a letter to the United Nations Department of Peace Operations seeking a ban on Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) from UN deployment for its alleged involvement in torture, enforced disappearances, and other human rights violations.
The letter was sent to UN Under-Secretary-General Jean-Pierre Lacroix, the US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) disclosed it on its website on Thursday.
“Human rights organisations have documented widespread RAB abuses. UN human rights experts have also voiced concerns about allegations that members of the unit engaged in torture, enforced disappearances, and other human rights violations,“ it said.
The Department of Peacekeeping Operations has yet to provide a formal response to the letter which was sent privately over two months ago on November 8, 2021.
“If Secretary General Guterres is serious about ending human rights abuses by UN peacekeepers, he will ensure that units with proven records of abuse like the Rapid Action Battalion are excluded from deployment,” said Kerry Kennedy, president of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “The evidence is clear; now it’s time for the UN to draw a line.”
On December 10, the United States government designated RAB as a “foreign entity that is responsible for or complicit in, or has directly or indirectly engaged in, serious human rights abuse,” under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, according to HRW.
On December 5, the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances voiced concerns that “members of RAB would be eligible to participate in UN peacekeeping operations, without any previous investigation into their alleged involvement in the commission of human rights abuses or a thorough vetting process.”
The Working Group also said that officers involved in, or willing to tolerate, abuses “appear to be promoted and rewarded within the Bangladesh security and law enforcement forces,” it said.
In March 2021, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said, “Allegations of torture and ill-treatment by the Rapid Action Battalion have been a long-standing concern.”
In its concluding observations during Bangladesh’s 2019 review of its obligations under the Convention against Torture, the Committee against Torture stated that it is “concerned at reports that personnel that have served with the Rapid Action Battalion have frequently been deployed for service with United Nations peace missions.”
“The deployment of members of the RAB in peacekeeping operations reinforces a message that grave human rights abuses will not preclude one from service under the UN flag and increases the chances of human rights abuses being committed in UN missions,” said Louis Charbonneau, United Nations director at Human Rights Watch.
“The UN should send a clear signal to host and troop-contributing countries that abusive units will not be part of the UN.”
The organizations that signed the letter are-Amnesty International, Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD),Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), Asian Human Rights Commission, Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL)Capital Punishment Justice Project, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Human Rights Watch, International Federation for Human Rights, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, The Advocates for Human Rights and World Organization Against Torture (OMCT).