UN human rights office: Allegations against RAB “relevant consideration” for peacekeeping deployment

UN Human Rights deputy spokesperson comments on RAB and peacekeeping.

UN human rights office: Allegations against RAB “relevant consideration” for peacekeeping deployment
RAB on patrol. Photo: Netra News

The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN Human Rights) has told Netra News that allegations of human rights violations by Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) would  have an impact on whether military or police officers, previously seconded to RAB,  will be allowed to take part in UN peacekeeping missions.

“The UN is expected to regularly review [specific] procedures to ensure that they are adequate to ensure that human rights concerns in relation to the conduct of security forces in troop and police contributing countries are reflected in decisions about deployment to UN peacekeeping operations,” Ravina Shamdasani, UN Human Rights deputy spokesperson, told Netra News. “Given the concerns that have been raised by different UN human rights mechanisms about allegations of violations by the RAB, this would be a relevant consideration.”

In her response to queries by Netra News, the UN Human Rights deputy spokesperson specifically referred to a 2019 report UN Committee Against Torture (CAT) which noted that it was “concerned at reports that personnel that have served with the Rapid Action Battalion have frequently been deployed for service with United Nations peace missions.”

Shamdasani also noted that the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) had written in September 2021  to the Bangladesh government of its concern that “members of the 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.”

Shamdasani’s response follows questions by Netra News about the implications of the recent decision by the United States government to sanction RAB and its senior officers for involvement in serious human rights violations. The response suggests that while the US sanctions will not in themselves have a direct impact upon the deployment of Bangladeshi peacekeepers, the UN’s own reports about RAB will do so.

The UN Human Rights deputy spokesperson  said that while member states, like Bangladesh, have the primary responsibility for screening individuals from their country before nominating them for service with the United Nations, the “UN has developed procedures to take into consideration, on a case by case basis, whether an allegation or other information establishing that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the individual has been involved, either directly by act or by omission (as a superior or commander), in the commission of a violation of international human rights or humanitarian law, precluding the individual from meeting the requisite highest standards of competence, efficiency and integrity and therefore meaning the individual should not be selected nor deployed for service.”

She added, “With regard to the UN Human Rights office’s role on screening, we provide information upon request to components of the UN Secretariat with responsibility for selecting, appointing, recruiting, deploying or contracting. Such components are expected to take into account information with respect to the human rights conduct of individuals or groups of prospective personnel.”

Shamdasani said that “of note” in relation to the allegations against RAB were the concluding observations of the 2019 CAT and the more recent allegation sent by the WGEID to the government of Bangladesh. 

In her statement to Netra News, the deputy spokesperson specifically quoted from the CAT report:

“The committee is gravely concerned at numerous reports received of cases in which members of [Bangladesh’s] Rapid Action Battalion, comprised of both members of the police and seconded military personnel, have been credibly alleged to have committed torture, arbitrary arrests, unacknowledged detention, disappearances and extrajudicial killings of persons in their custody. The committee is similarly concerned that with the singular exception of the Narayanganj case […] members of this force have not been held criminally accountable for such violations. The committee is concerned that section 13 of the Armed Police Battalion Act, which exculpates members of the force for actions ‘done or intended to be done in good faith’, has in practice given the impression that members of the force enjoy legal immunity from prosecution for torture or extrajudicial killing. The committee notes with regret that [Bangladesh] has not carried out an independent investigation into claims attributed to an anonymous senior official of the battalion in a 2017 broadcast by Swedish National Radio, claiming that members of the force regularly abducted, tortured and killed individuals selected by their superiors and disposed of their bodies without leaving evidence, or planted weapons to support claims that they were killed in self-defence.” 

Shamdasani also quoted from the recent WGEID report:

“… nearly 600 people have been forcibly disappeared by security forces since 2009. The majority were either released or eventually formally produced in court as arrests, but dozens were found dead. The sources refer to 86 documented cases in which the victims’ fate and whereabouts remain unknown. […] besides the Bangladesh police, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) — a counterterror paramilitary unit, under the Ministry of Home Affairs, also actively involved in the “war on drugs”, launched in May 2018 — would be admittedly involved in the majority of cases, by routinely picking up people, extra-judicially killing them and disposing the bodies. The working group was also informed that members of the 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. Similarly, there are allegations that officers involved in the commission of human rights violations or willing to oversee such abuses appear to be promoted and rewarded within the Bangladesh security and law enforcement forces.”

The Bangladesh government criticised the imposition of US government sanctions with the foreign minister claiming that, “The US decision appeared to have been based more on unverified or unsubstantiated allegations of command responsibility than on the facts.” The response from the UN human rights office, however, indicates that the US findings are similar to the conclusions held by United Nations human rights bodies.

Netra News has contacted Asaduzzaman Khan, the Bangladeshi home minister, for his response to the issues raised by the UN human rights office.●