Thursday, December 21, 2006

Benetech Analyzes Key Bangladeshi Human Rights Data

In my recent blog postings, I documented personal impressions during my recent trip to Bangladesh. This post takes a look at how Benetech is helping to document human rights abuses in that country. Objective and scientific evidence of human rights violations gives voice to victims and witnesses who have the courage to come forward and tell their stories. Romesh Silva, a statistician with Benetech's Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG), has provided key statistical analysis for a Human Rights Watch report issued this week documenting torture and unlawful killings by Bangladesh's Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), an elite anti-crime and anti-terrorism force.

Silva's analysis presented in the report, "Judge, Jury, and Death: Torture and Executions by Bangladesh's Elite Security Force." HRW concludes that between June 2004 and October 2006, the RAB killed at least 367 people in Bangladesh and tortured hundreds more.

While researching these incidents, HRW compiled a database of reported RAB killings based primarily on reports from Bangladeshi media, Bangladeshi human rights groups and HRW’s own research. Of the 367 reported killings, 77 percent (284/367) were reported as "crossfire" killings in which the victim was allegedly killed as a bystander to a gunfight and 11 percent (42/367) were described as "killings during shootouts" in which the victim allegedly took part in a shootout with the police. "Thanks to RAB operations," reads the HRW report. "Bangladeshis commonly use the word 'crossfire' as a verb meaning to murder or kill." The data cited in the report concludes that the monthly rate of RAB killings climbed steeply in 2006 and identifies specific RAB battalions responsible for the majority of the deaths.

While I was in Bangladesh, I asked people about the RAB battalions, and found that it was a sensitive subject. One conversation that stuck in my mind centered on corruption in the justice system: that if a corrupt system would allow bad people to escape justice (through bribery), then the RABs were accomplishing what the system could not. Of course, they seem to be doing it in a way that violates international human rights norms. As Bangladesh approaches its crucial election in the near term, it will be interesting to see what the next government does differently. However, Benetech's job is not to advocate for specific policy changes: our job is to use science and technology to help illuminate the truth to better inform social, policy and justicial processes. Our long term view is that is the best way to support the international declaration of human rights.

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