UK training Bangladesh 'death squad'

A Bangladesh Rapid Action Battalion officer watches an opposition rally in Dhaka in July 2006 The Rapid Action Battalion was set up in 2004 to combat crime and terrorism

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British officials in Bangladesh have confirmed Wikileaks reports that the UK is training a police force in the country accused of being a death squad.

Rapid Action Battalion members have been taught "interviewing techniques" and "rules of engagement" by the UK authorities, said the leaked cables.

One message says the US would not offer tactical training to the RAB because of its alleged human rights violations.

UK officials told the BBC the focus of the training was on human rights.

Set up in 2004, the 9,000-strong RAB is accused of more than 550 killings.

The whistle-blowing website Wikileaks has obtained a cache of about 250,000 US diplomatic cables, which it has released to several newspapers, including the Guardian.

In a cable dating from May 2009 published by the Guardian, the US ambassador to Dhaka, James Moriarty, writes: "The US and UK representatives reviewed our ongoing training to make the RAB a more transparent, accountable and human-rights compliant paramilitary force.

"The British have been training RAB for 18 months in areas such as investigative interviewing techniques and rules of engagement."

In another cable, Mr Moriarty notes it would be illegal for the US to offer anything other than human rights training to the RAB because of the force's alleged crimes.


The British and US governments have been working closely with the Bangladeshi security forces, with a view to strengthening their abilities to combat Islamist militancy.

The RAB played a high-profile role in the arrest of the top leadership of the country's most notorious Islamist militant outfit, the Jumatul Mujahideen Bangladesh.

The RAB was formed for quick deployment to emergencies. But in effect it became a roving unit searching out all sorts of suspected criminals - from petty muggers to banned left-wing militants.

There are strong grounds to doubt RAB claims that the hundreds of suspects it has killed died in "encounters" or "cross-fire". No RAB personnel have been tried for any of these fatalities, creating the impression of impunity.

On the other hand, it is fair to point out that killings by the RAB have been declining since 2008, though they have not stopped completely.

He also notes that despite its record, the RAB had become Bangladesh's "most respected police unit".

However, Human Rights Watch says the force is a government death squad.

In a report last year, it said the paramilitary unit had an "operating culture" of extrajudicial killings, which its members perpetrated with impunity.

British High Commission officials in Dhaka told the BBC that the UK training programme for the RAB had begun in early 2008 and was due to finish in March 2011.

"The focus is on human rights. It concentrated on providing the RAB with the skill-set to conduct law enforcement duties in an ethical manner," said an official, who did not want to be named.

"The areas covered basically include basic human rights training, interview skills, investigation skills, basic scene of crime skills, inclusion on a range of legal and human rights focused events."

The official declined to comment on whether this training was part of any counter-terrorism effort in Bangladesh.

The Guardian reports that the UK's National Policing Improvement Agency provided training to the RAB on crime scene management and investigation, via officers from West Mercia Police and Humberside Police.

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