Sorry London, supporting death squads is a problem

Don’t say Wikileaks isn’t opening up the possibility of a more accountable Western state:

The [British] government faces a legal challenge to its support for a Bangladeshi paramilitary group described by human rights organisations as a “government death squad”.

Lawyers are to seek a judicial review of the legality of training assistance provided to the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), arguing that it places the UK in breach of its obligations under international law.

Members of RAB have been held responsible for hundreds of extrajudicial killings since the unit was established in 2004. The unit itself admits to being responsible for more than 600 deaths, which it euphemistically attributes to “crossfire”.

Dhaka has resisted pressure to disband the unit, with one government minister declaring last year: “The government will need to continue with extrajudicial killings, commonly called crossfire.”

Details of British support for RAB were revealed in US embassy cables released by WikiLeaks and reported by the Guardian on Wednesday. They show that the government has been providing training in “investigative interviewing techniques” and “rules of engagement”.

At least some of the training has been provided by serving police officers who travelled to Bangladesh under the auspices of the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA), a body established three years ago to promote good practice in UK policing and share it with overseas police.

The legal challenge is being mounted by Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers, which represents the family of Baha Mousa, the Iraqi hotel receptionist tortured to death by British troops in 2003. In a letter to the Foreign Office and Home Office tonight, the firm alleged that the UK had “aided and assisted Bangladesh in breaching peremptory norms of customary international law”. The UK must withdraw its support for RAB, conduct a prompt investigation and possibly pay compensation to the unit’s victims.

Shiner said: “The British public by now should be sick of our governments’ hypocritical approach to torture and unlawful killings. It pretends to condemn both, but in practice it aids and assists states that they know are violating these basic rights. This represents a serious violation of international law.”

The Foreign Office has defended the training as “fully in line with our laws and our values”. A spokesman sought to suggest it was providing only “human rights training” for RAB, although NPIA says other training has been given, and RAB’s head of training told the Guardian he was unaware of any human rights training since he was appointed last June.