Demand to bar Bangladeshi soldiers from peacekeeping role

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 August, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 August, 2006, 12:00am

Bangladesh has so far offered more troops than any other Muslim nation for a UN peacekeeping force for Lebanon, but a Hong Kong-based human rights group wants them barred because of the military's alleged poor record on home soil.

The Asian Human Rights Commission and its sister organisation, the Asian Legal Resource Centre, in a report released yesterday, claimed Bangladeshi soldiers and police routinely committed murder, torture and robbery.

They called on the UN to withdraw the more than 10,000 troops from Bangladesh already serving in peacekeeping operations, stop more being sent and eject the country from the new Human Rights Council until concerns have been dealt with. Bangladesh has offered to send 2,000 troops to Lebanon.

Bangladesh's consul-general to Hong Kong rejected the report as 'unfounded'.

The 140-page report, 'Lawless law enforcement and the parody of judiciary in Bangladesh', details 33 cases of killing, torture, rape, assault, robbery, intimidation and other abuses by police and members of the joint military-police Rapid Action Battalion, established in 2004.

Soldiers serving in the battalion, set up to tackle a series of bombings and other attacks by extremists, were said to be among frontrunners to serve as peacekeepers on foreign missions.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has praised Bangladesh's role in international peacekeeping. But report co-author and Asian Legal Resource Centre project officer Nick Cheesman said because the battalion operated 'completely outside the law', those moving from it to peacekeeping operations were a threat to civilians.

'Those in the battalion are operating with absolute impunity, with a licence to kill,' Mr Cheesman said. 'They're proud of the fact that they're killing people.'

The government says the force has already killed 289 alleged terrorists since it was formed, although the report claims many civilians are the victims and suggests the number is much higher.

'Our expectation is that the people responsible for these horrible abuses are then being sent to other countries,' Mr Cheesman said. 'The UN should be paying attention to what is happening in Bangladesh, especially as they are getting so many peacekeepers from there.'

Consul-general A.F.M. Gousal Azam Sarker said his country faced a serious threat from terrorists, who were trying to destabilise Bangladesh through a campaign of bombings, murder and threats to public security, safety and human rights. The government was tackling the threat through a series of military and police operations that had the overwhelming support of Bangladeshis, he said.

Central to Bangladesh's foreign policy was a clear desire for international peace and stability, and peacekeepers were being contributed to the UN for that reason.

'Our soldiers are fighting and dying for the cause of world peace,' Mr Sarker said.

'More than 50 have died on foreign soil for that peace. We are the No1 contributor to the UN peacekeeping operations and Mr Annan has praised Bangladesh as a model UN member.'

He described the report's call for Bangladesh to be removed from the Human Rights Council as 'unfortunate and regrettable'.