Extrajudicial killings in Bangladesh fell to 25 or fewer in 2022 from as many as 80 the previous year, the U.S. State Department said Monday as it released its annual report on human rights across the globe.
The drop followed the U.S. Treasury Department imposing financial sanctions on Bangladesh’s elite Rapid Action Battalion along with six current and former officers in December 2021 over what it identified as serious human rights abuses including extrajudicial killings.
The 2022 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices cited Bangladesh NGO Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) in reporting that 19 people died from extrajudicial shootings or while in custody – including four from “so-called crossfires with law enforcement agencies and eight due to physical torture.”
Another domestic human rights agency, which was not named, listed a higher number of alleged extrajudicial killings– 25 – during a period from January to September 2022.
By comparison, the 2021 State Department report stated that between 70 and 80 people were victims of alleged extrajudicial killings that year, citing ASK and another domestic rights group, Odhikar.
“Extrajudicial killings dramatically decreased from the previous year,” the 2022 State Department report said.
ASK had previously alleged more than 600 such killings took place between May 2018 and June 2021.
The Bangladesh government in June 2022 refused to renew Odhikar’s license to operate, stating that it had “tarnished the image of the state to the world” and published “misleading” information on alleged extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.
Odhikar was among local organizations documenting alleged human rights abuses by RAB members.
A March 2022 analysis by a Bangladeshi think tank, the Centre for Governance Studies, found that the Detective Branch of the Bangladesh police was involved in more than half of all extrajudicial killings between 2019 and 2021, far more than RAB.
The analysis also found that extrajudicial killings were far higher in Cox’s Bazar, in southeastern Bangladesh, than in the rest of the country, according to the State Department report.
The U.S. government took action against RAB in December 2021.
“Widespread allegations of serious human rights abuse in Bangladesh by the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) … threaten U.S. national security interests by undermining the rule of law and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the economic prosperity of the people of Bangladesh,” the U.S. Treasury Department said in a statement.
Those sanctions, which have yet to be lifted, bar U.S. citizens from conducting business with or making contributions to the sanctioned individuals and block access to any property they hold in the United States.
While visiting Washington in June 2022, Md. Shahriar Alam, Bangladesh’s state minister for foreign affairs, spoke positively about the elite police unit.
“RAB has never been used to suppress the opposition. There is no record of any senior leader or member of BNP or Jamaat being harassed by RAB or from being killed,” he said at the time, referring to the opposition Bangladesh National Party and the Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, a faith-based political party.
In January, Donald Lu, the United States assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian Affairs, offered praise for Bangladesh’s progress.
“If you have seen the statement this week by Human Rights Watch, they recognize, and we recognize, tremendous progress in the area of reducing extrajudicial killings by the RAB,” Lu told reporters in January.
“This is amazing work. It shows that the RAB is able to carry out its important counter terrorism and law enforcement function while respecting human rights.”