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Drop Charges Against Child Victim of Paramilitary Force

Human Rights Watch

The authorities should withdraw criminal charges against Limon Hossain, who was shot last year by the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) in a bungled operation, Human Rights Watch said yesterday. The government has previously admitted that Limon, who was 16 at the time of the shooting and had to have a leg amputated, was an accidental victim.

On July 1, charges of obstructing RAB operations and attempting to injure and kill RAB personnel were filed by the police against Limon, although the charges were not made known, even to the defence, until July 8. The charges were filed despite the government previously stating that there was no evidence of Limon’s involvement in the terrorist activities as RAB claims. The National Human Rights Commission Chairman, Mizanur Rahman, has publicly called on the government to withdraw the charges against Limon.

The investigation into charges filed on April 10, 2011, by Limon’s family against six RAB members has still not been completed and no charges have been brought.

“It is perverse and just plain mean to charge a boy who had his leg amputated with a crime just to cover up the wrongdoing of the Rapid Action Battalion,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities are apparently more interested in protecting RAB from allegations of abuse than protecting the health and well-being of its citizens – even children.”

Limon was in the fields near his village in Jhalakati in southern Bangladesh on March 23, 2011, when members of RAB appeared, accused him of being a criminal, and shot him point blank in his leg. Four days later, Limon’s leg had to be amputated in order to save his life. Limon was a college student at the time of the shooting. For medical reasons he was not able to return home for more than six months.

Initially, the Director-General of RAB, Mokhlesur Rahman, said that Limon was an accidental victim of a shootout between RAB and a criminal gang. However, that statement was quickly replaced by another, stating that Limon was a “lackey” of known terrorists and was caught in “crossfire” during an operation against the group.

In June, 2011, following a local and international outcry over the incident, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina ordered an investigation into the RAB officers involved in the incident. She also said that ongoing investigations had produced no evidence to show that Limon had any involvement with terrorist activities. This news item was extensively reported by television and other news agencies, and was widely applauded. However, the news item was withdrawn within four hours of its publication.

No clarification has ever been given as to what happened to Sheikh Hasina’s orders, or why the news item mysteriously disappeared, leading to widespread speculation that no one, not even the Prime Minister, can criticize or discipline RAB. As Shahriar Kabir, a well known civil society activist, said at the time: “We want to know if there is anyone in government more powerful than the Prime Minister… Is there another government inside the government?”

Limon now faces two sets of charges. The first was filed by the police on April 24, 2011 under Section 19(A) of the Arms Act 1878, and the second charge was filed by the police on July 1, 2012 under section 353 of the Penal Code 1860 for obstructing RAB in their duties.

Limon, who is now sitting for the Higher Secondary Certificate Examination from Kathalia Panchagram Shommilito Bohumukhi Karigori School and College has responded to the latest charges by saying: “I appeal to the government to withdraw the cases so that I can lead a normal life without appearing before the court regularly, bearing heavy cost and suffering.”

“The Prime Minister’s initial reaction to the shooting was positive and appropriate,” said Adams. “She should be asking for these charges to be dropped and insist that the investigation into RAB members for shooting Limon finish forthwith, or it will be hard not to conclude that she has lost control of RAB and it is a law unto itself.”

RAB was formed in March 2004 as a composite force comprising members from the military - army, air force, and navy - the police, and members of Bangladesh’s other law enforcement groups. Members are assigned from their parent organizations, to which they return after serving with the unit. RAB operates under the Ministry of Home Affairs and is commanded by an officer not below the rank of deputy inspector general of the police or the equivalent military rank. The unit is regarded as an elite counterterrorism force and indeed has targeted, apart from criminal suspects, alleged members of militant Islamist or left-wing groups.

Human Rights Watch and others have long documented extra-judicial killings and torture by RAB [“The Fear Never Leaves Me,” “Crossfire,” and “Judge, Jury and Executioner”]. Instead of ensuring the allegations are investigated, the government dismisses them without examination. In private, some officials admit that they are aware that RAB engages in human rights violations but that the government is afraid to confront it because this would anger the army.

“There is an obvious culture of fear within the government when it comes to confronting RAB on any issue,” said Adams.

Human Rights Watch noted that the culture of impunity extended to RAB means that any criticism of its actions draws immediate, fierce, and unchallenged criticism from the battalion. When on July 4, 2012, Human Rights Watch released a report documenting serious abuses by RAB against suspects in the February 2009 massacre by the Bangladesh Rifles, RAB spokesperson Commander Sohail immediately dismissed the report as “baseless and intentional,” and accused Human Rights Watch of trying to instigate militancy and criminal activities in Bangladesh. More ominously, however, he also said that some “local upstart human rights organizations and vested quarters” were helping Human Rights Watch to “hatch a plot” against Bangladesh. State Minister for Law Qamrul Islam said, “The people, who wanted to make the country dysfunctional, have a link with the HRW report.

This is high time to take stern action against the NGOs responsible for publishing the baseless report.”
The Home Minister denounced the report without reading it.

Human Rights Watch expressed concern for local human rights activists and individuals who provided information for the report. It called on the government of Bangladesh to ensure that neither RAB nor any other government security forces threaten, intimidate, or attack local human rights defenders or any of the witnesses mentioned in the report.

“RAB and some government officials have created a dangerous environment for RAB’s critics,” said Adams. “This government has gone from denouncing RAB abuses while in opposition to supporting RAB blindly now that they are in power. It is an unprincipled position, and comes at great expense to its citizens.”

12 Jul 2012   11:10:14 AM   Thursday
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