Britain confirmed Thursday it trains a Bangladeshi police unit that human rights groups have labelled a government “death squad” but stressed the programme was to improve ethical standards.
The Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) was set up in 2004 and admits about 600 people have died in what it calls “encounter/shootout” incidents over the last six years.
The deaths have been condemned by rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, who say they are deliberate executions often targeting political activists.
Human Rights Watch describes the RAB as a “Latin American-style death squad dressed up as an anti-crime force.”
US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks discussing the counter-terrorism objectives of the British and United States in Bangladesh revealed details of the RAB training programme.
“We confirm that… the UK provides a range of human rights assistance in Bangladesh,” a British High Commission press officer in Dhaka told AFP by email. “Our counter-terrorism assistance is fully in line with our laws and values.
One cable makes it clear that the US was not able to offer assistance to the RAB because it would be illegal under US law, which bans the training of security forces accused of gross human rights violations.
But the Americans and British advised the Bangladeshi government against disbanding the RAB, with the US ambassador writing in a cable that “RAB was the enforcement organization best positioned to one day become a Bangladeshi version of the U.S Federal Bureau of Investigations.”
Duncan Norman, Britain’s Deputy High Commissioner in Dhaka, told AFP in an interview earlier this year that the RAB had been had provided with “human rights training” since early 2008, and that the programme would run until March.
“Our engagement has focused on the provision of capacity building with an emphasis on ethical policing skills,” Norman told AFP, saying Britain’s National Police Improvement Agency (NPIA) ran the courses.
No equipment is provided to the RAB and no officers are trained in Britain, he added.