RAB TRAINING:UK govt faces legal challenge
- RAB TRAINING
UK govt faces legal challenge
Dhaka, Dec 24 (bdnews24.com) — The UK government faces a legal
challenge to its support for Bangladesh's anti-crime elite force Rapid
Action Battalion (Rab).
Lawyers are to seek a judicial review of the legality of training
assistance provided to Rab, arguing that it places the UK in breach of
its obligations under international law.
The legal challenge is being mounted by Phil Shiner of Public Interest
Lawyers, which represents the family of Baha Mousa, the Iraqi hotel
receptionist tortured to death by British troops in 2003, according to
a report run by The Guardian.
Members of Rab have been held responsible for hundreds of
extrajudicial killings since the unit was established in 2004. The
unit itself admits to being responsible for more than 600 deaths,
which it euphemistically attributes to 'crossfire'.
Dhaka has resisted pressure to disband the unit, as influential
British newspaper The Guardian reported, with one government minister
declaring last year: "The government will need to continue with
extrajudicial killings, commonly 'called crossfire'."
Details of British support for Rab were revealed in US embassy cables
released by WikiLeaks and reported by the Guardian on Wednesday.
bdnews24.com was the first to run the news in Bangladesh.
They show that the government has been providing training in
'investigative interviewing techniques' and 'rules of engagement'.
At least some of the training has been provided by serving police
officers who travelled to Bangladesh under the auspices of the
National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA), a body established three
years ago to promote good practice in UK policing and share it with
In a letter to the Foreign Office and Home Office, Phil Shiner of
Public Interest Lawyers alleged that the UK had 'aided and assisted
Bangladesh in breaching peremptory norms of customary international
law'. The UK must withdraw its support for Rab, conduct a prompt
investigation and possibly pay compensation to the unit's victims.
Shiner said: "The British public by now should be sick of our
governments' hypocritical approach to torture and unlawful killings.
It pretends to condemn both, but in practice it aids and assists
states that they know are violating these basic rights. This
represents a serious violation of international law."
The British Foreign Office has defended the training as 'fully in line
with our laws and our values'. A spokesman sought to suggest it was
providing only 'human rights training' for Rab, although NPIA says
other training has been given, and Rab's head of training told the
Guardian he was unaware of any human rights training since he was
appointed last June.
NPIA asked whether it was appropriate for British police to be
training members of "a government death squad", and whether courses in
investigative interviewing techniques might not render torture more
effective, and said the support had been approved by the government
and the Association of Chief Police Officers.
Rab officers say they received British assistance as recently as last
October, five months into the coalition government.
The leaked cables make clear that the United States believed Rab would
be an ideal partner in counter-terrorism operations, but was unable to
offer the sort of assistance the British have been providing because
of the US law, which prohibits training or financial support to
overseas military units responsible for gross human rights abuses.
Complaints about British support for Rab are to be raised at a human
rights advice group established last month by William Hague, the
foreign secretary. Sapna Malik, a lawyer and member of the group,
said: "The reports make for very disturbing reading and I intend to
raise this issue at the foreign secretary's advisory group on human
Human Rights Watch, the New York-based NGO that has been condemning
Rab as a death squad for more than four years, said the UK should
withdraw its support immediately.
Meenakshi Ganguly, the group's South Asia director, told the
Associated Press: "Criminals should be arrested, prosecuted and
punished, not randomly picked up and killed in an effort to put an end
to the activities of which they are suspected. The UK and the US
should stop their co-operation unless there are immediate and visible
efforts to reform Rab, and hold those responsible for human rights
violations to account."
Human rights activists say they were particularly dismayed to learn of
the British support for Rab, as the unit enjoys a degree of popular
support in Bangladesh, and is likely to be disbanded only as a result
of pressure from other governments. They argue that British support
lends a degree of legitimacy to Rab and to the methods it employs.