A global human rights group has claimed that more than 100 Rohingya refugees were victims of extrajudicial killings in Bangladesh since 2017, but a senior government official told BenarNews that all Rohingya slain in “crossfire” incidents were drug traffickers.
A statement issued Tuesday by Amnesty International gave the tally of slain Rohingya refugees, citing information from a local human rights group. Neither organization responded to BenarNews requests for more information about these claims.
However, a police superintendent in Cox’s Bazar gave BenarNews an even higher figure of 104 Rohingya killed by security forces since May 4, 2018. The southeastern district is where about a million Rohingya Muslims are sheltering in refugee camps after more than 740,000 people fled violence against members of the stateless minority group in neighboring Myanmar three years ago.
“More than 100 Rohingya refugees were victims of alleged extrajudicial executions between August 2017 and July 2020, according to Bangladeshi human rights organization Odhikar,” the London-based rights watchdog said in a statement on Tuesday, in which it called for a full and thorough investigation of the allegations.
“Yet none of these cases have been investigated and no suspected perpetrators have been brought to justice.”
Bangladesh officials continue to state that extra-judicial killings do not take place in their country while asserting that suspected criminals are shot dead by security forces during exchanges of gunfire, or “crossfire.”
“None of the Rohingya killed in the crossfire with the border guards and law enforcement agencies were the victims of extrajudicial killings. They were armed narcotics smugglers coming from the Myanmar side of the border,” Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service, when asked about Amnesty International’s allegations.
“The duty of our border guards is to foil infiltration into Bangladesh from the other side of the border. Our border guards come under fire from the ‘yaba’ [narcotic] pill smugglers when they attempt to stop intrusions, and when the guards retaliate with fire some smugglers are killed,” he said.
Similar incidents take place when law enforcement officials conduct anti-narcotics drives, Khan said.
“Again, our law enforcers came under fire from the Rohingya drug peddlers and smugglers. During the exchange of fire, drug peddlers are killed. Our forces have the right to fire in self-defense,” the home minister said, adding, “We investigate all incidents of crossfire. Departmental action follows if law enforcers are found to have violated the law.”
Higher Death Tally
Meanwhile, police in Cox’s Bazar said 104 Rohingya were killed in alleged crossfire incidents between March 4, 2018 and July 31, 2020. By comparison, Amnesty International’s statement had a similar tally but over a longer period.
Here, too, the Rohingya deaths were due to gunfights or conflicts within the refugee community, said Iqbal Hossain, an additional superintendent of police in Cox’s Bazar district.
“Those who were killed in gunfights had been involved robbery, criminal activities, and smuggling of ‘yaba’ pills. There were several cases of robbery, criminal activities, and drug smuggling against all of the slain Rohingya,” Hossain told BenarNews.
“Many Rohingya also died in the internecine conflicts among different Rohingya criminal groups.”
Hossain also referred to a 2019 incident, which led to the deaths of five Rohingya refugees.
Violence broke out in Cox’s Bazar on Aug. 22, 2019, when gunmen, suspected to be Rohingya, gunned down a youth wing official of Bangladesh’s ruling Awami League party.
The killing of Omar Faruk triggered protests the next day, with participants blocking highways and vandalizing shops and houses inside a Rohingya camp, local media reported at the time.
In follow-up operations, five refugees were killed, at least two of them by police who described them as suspects in Faruk’s killing.
“The Rohingya robbers whisked away Jubu League leader Omar Faruk and killed him,” Hossain said.
‘They killed my son’
Some relatives of Rohingya refugees who were allegedly killed by Bangladeshi authorities claimed that their loved ones were not involved in criminal activities.
Md. Shafi, a Rohingya refugee living at the Leda camp in Teknaf, a sub-district of Cox’s Bazar, said police killed his 28-year-old son, Rashid Ullah, in July.
“The police took away my innocent son from a shop. Then they killed my son saying he’s an armed thief,” Shafi told BenarNews.
“The police put me in jail too for 40 days.”
Amnesty International said in its Tuesday statement that it had spoken to family members of five Rohingya refugees who were victims of alleged extrajudicial executions in Cox’s Bazar.
“Every incident has a strikingly similar narrative where the victims were killed during a ‘gunfight’ with members of law enforcement agencies who claimed that they only opened fire in retaliation,” Amnesty said.
“Three of the five Rohingya men were reportedly picked up from their homes by the police and were then found dead, said their family members.”
Nur Khan, a former executive director of rights group Ain-O-Shalish Kendra, a local human rights group, said all the incidents of crossfire were “actually extrajudicial killings.”
“Maybe some Rohingya were involved in drug peddling and smuggling. But this does not justify their extrajudicial killings. They can be tried. We have a judicial system in place.”
Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.