Following the Narayanganj seven-murder verdict, the Human Rights Watch has urged the government to take immediate steps to disband Rapid Action Battalion and replace it with a rights respecting force.
A Narayanganj court on Monday sentenced 26 people, including 16 former Rab members, to death for their role in the seven-murder. Besides, nine other ex-Rab members were sentenced to different prison terms.
The HRW has termed the verdict a "rare one", but opposed the death penalty and urged the government not to carry out the order.
"While in opposition, the Awami League called for the disbanding of Rab. Before taking office in 2009, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said she would reform Rab. This has not happened, so it is time for the government to take immediate steps to disband Rab and replace it with a rights respecting force," it said.
The HRW said for years, Rab has been deployed by successive governments not only to fight crime, but often as an "in-house death squad, leaving a string of extrajudicial killings -- often referred to as “crossfire” deaths, torture, disappearances, and arbitrary arrests in their wake."
In a press statement on Thursday, the New York-based rights body said for years, almost no Rab members were held to account for these crimes.
Lauding the prosecution of Rab members, the HRW said, “Yet it should not only happen when the victim is a ruling party member.”
It said for too long, Rab officials have been "shielded" from prosecution by successive governments, some even justifying their crimes.
Blaming the government for responsible for the situation, the rights organisation said the government has created "the climate of impunity".
“In recent cases, when Rab and other law enforcement agencies have disappeared people, witnesses say officers arrived claiming they were from the 'administration', an open admission they worked for the state. Many of the disappeared people have later turned up dead.”
Rab is a mixed force of police and soldiers, the press statement said, adding that although it is formally led by a civilian officer, it is "the army that controls Rab".
Involving trained-to-kill soldiers in law enforcement is inherently risky, but the police also have their own problems with abuse, the statement added.
In recent years, members of the Detective Branch of police have also been responsible for "Rab-style serious human rights violations, including deliberately maiming suspects in custody by shooting them in the leg", the HRW mentioned.