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Bangladesh: Rapid Action Battalion

Volume 724: debated on Monday 24 January 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what part they are playing in the training of the Rapid Action Battalion in Bangladesh.

The United Kingdom Government have been providing basic human rights and ethical policing skills training to the Rapid Action Battalion in Bangladesh since 2008. We consider it important that the Bangladeshi Government have the capability to maintain effective law and order, so as to protect the safety and human rights of the Bangladeshi public and to minimise the extent to which counterterrorism threats emanate from Bangladesh to the United Kingdom. The aim of our work is to further improve the Rapid Action Battalion’s standards in accordance with our own values and legal responsibilities.

I thank the noble Lord for that reply and for his very positive leadership on this issue. Does he not agree that great commendation is due to the British armed services for much of the training that they do across the world in very difficult circumstances? Does he not also agree that great pains must therefore be taken to avoid directly or indirectly becoming associated with organisations conducting themselves in a way that not only negates everything that we believe to be worth defending in our society but plays into the hands of militant extremists by provoking resentment? Does the noble Lord further agree that, within Bangladesh, there is widespread popular dismay and contempt for the behaviour of that battalion?

The noble Lord is absolutely right to refer to those concerns, which Her Majesty’s Government certainly share. We have remained engaged through this programme, which is generally part of our counterterrorism programme, in order to seek to raise the standards and improve the human rights skills of that particular body. It has been uphill work; we are anxious to do more. We are in constant contact with the Bangladeshi authorities, through the British High Commission, and it is exactly the sort of matter which my right honourable friend the Prime Minister will raise when he receives the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, who is coming to visit next month. These matters will be discussed there and the noble Lord is quite right to raise them.

My Lords, according to the Bangladeshi human rights organisation Odhikar, 127 people were extra-judicially killed in 2010, more than half of them by RAB. Has the Foreign Secretary sought the advice of the FCO’s recently appointed human rights advisory group on whether it is appropriate for us to offer training to a paramilitary force that is alleged to have murdered so many suspects and to have operated a torture centre where British suspects were tortured to gain information? Will the Government ask the Guardian to make all the available material on RAB available to Sir Peter Gibson for his inquiry into the alleged British knowledge of improper treatment of prisoners abroad?

I am sure that all necessary information will be provided for that inquiry. These matters have been discussed, and they continue to be discussed and reviewed most carefully. It is obviously a matter of difficult judgment in how to ensure that our engagement and, indeed, support for the Rapid Action Battalion leads to an improvement in the situation that we have confronted, which my noble friend mentioned. The answer to his question is: yes, we are concerned and, yes, all those concerned with the promotion of human rights in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are focused on how we can improve this programme and the effectiveness of training in the handling of human rights. That must go forward.