Has Cameron heard of the RAB ?

by  Malinda Seneviratne

[The grimace referred to here materialized on Peter Hayes’ face a little more than three years ago.  The article was published ‘Sunday Lakbima News’ on December 26, 2010. Back then, I hadn’t known what RAB meant.  I don’t think many do, even now.  Good to go back now and then because there are things that happen and continue to happen, terrible things whose architects try to make out they are saint]

I don’t watch TV much.  My daughters don’t let me.  They complain to their mother that I watch ‘adult’ thing when there are children’s programs running in other channels. Their whines terrify me and I quietly slink away, guilt written all over my face.  In any case, without an antenna and living in the middle of what could pass off as a jungle in the Colombo District, the reception is so poor that I prefer checking scores on cricinfo than actually watch the action ‘live’, which is all I need the TV for.

I happen to be in a television station recently and got to watch a program. Not sure if it was ‘adult content’.  I didn’t watch for very long, but managed to catch a face and an expression.  Dr. Peter Hayes.  British High Commissioner in Sri Lanka. Caught on camera at the swearing-in ceremony of Mahinda Rajapaksa.  Just for a fraction of a second.  That was enough. A grimace.  I am not sure if the poor man was at that very moment being harassed by a fly or something, but he was quite down-in-the-mouth.

He certainly had reason to feel uncomfortable, going by reliable reports of his conduct in certain circles.  To begin with, he is known to have been salivating at the snub delivered by Britain to the Sri Lankan President while he was in London, sneeringly claiming that his government was not honor-bound to provide security to a Head of State on a private visit.  I am not sure if that’s ‘ok’ with diplomatic protocol, but even if this were the case, I doubt the British would exercise discretion in a similar manner if Barack Obama (for instance) was facing the prospect of being insulted by rent-a-Taliban groups in London.

Dr. Hayes wanted a particular political outcome on January 26, 2010.  He used his authority as head of institution to canvass votes for the candidate of his choice.  He was duly chastised, in polite or curt terms I do not know, by a Sri Lankan employee he had accosted for this purpose. The man was duly sacked on what appears to be the most frivolous of charges, not to mention the fact that the principle of equal treatment had been violated in the process.

I don’t think it was a fly. No, I don’t think it was a mosquito either.

I don’t know what his problem is.  Human rights violations?  Internally displaced persons?  War crimes? Systemic torture and other atrocities?  It could be possible but not related to Sri Lanka. It is more likely that his worry lines are a product of what his government has been up to these last few years in Iraq and Afghanistan (I doubt he is interested in going beyond this, for that might make him contemplate suicide, such has been the track-record of his ancestors in the small matter of robbing, looting, killing and desecrating in countries such as Sri Lanka).

After all, he cannot be ignorant of the fact that his Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, believes with all his heart that the invasion of Iraq was illegal.  He knows too that British handbooks for interrogation of prisoners contain methods that are in violation of the Geneva Convention. He might have known something I didn’t know and that may have been why he seemed to be having a foul-face morning. Bangladesh.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it has been found that the British government has been training a Bangladeshi paramilitary force condemned by human rights organizations as a “government death squad”.  It has been established that members of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), which has been held responsible for hundreds of extra-judicial killings in recent years and is said to routinely use torture, have received British training in “investigative interviewing techniques” and “rules of engagement”.

                The RAB, in the last six years, is claimed to have been responsible for more than 1,000 extra-judicial killings.  They call it ‘crossfire deaths’, how sweet. The RAB’s use of torture has been exhaustively documented and this might have been something that crossed poor Dr. Hayes’ thoughts that bad morning in November.

Despite all this, British and US governments are in favour of further strengthening the RAB. Surprise, surprise!  The US Ambassador to Dhaka, James Moriarty, believes that the RAB is positioned to be the Bangladeshi equivalent of the FBI. That should tell us a lot about the FBI!  I wonder, by the way, if Particia Butenis, the then US Ambassador in Colombo had attended the same event and if she had a similar expression on her face for similar reasons, i.e. US complicity in ‘crossfire deaths’ and torture in Bangladesh.  On the other hand, as a former Ambassador to Bangladesh and one who actively sought to bring down the then government of that country, she would have known all this way back when and as such would have acquired a passable ‘poker face’.  Poor Dr. Hayes must have been less thick-skinned.

Moriarty admits that British officials had been training the RAB for 18 months in areas such as ‘investigative interviewing techniques’.  At least some of the British training has been conducted by serving British police officers, working under the auspices of the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA).  It is hard to believe that the experts would not have drawn paragraph and page from the training manuals they themselves would have had to study.

The British Foreign Office calls it ‘human rights training’.  The tall-tale is that involvement is about make policing more professional and teaching human-rights based practices linked to the rule of law. RAB’s head of training, Mejbah Uddin, maintains that he is unaware of any such training. Fishy. Quite fishy.

Now I am sure Dr. Hayes, as a British subject and representative, is embarrassed.  I am sure he finds it tough falling asleep at night. What’s a grimace here and there, then, eh?


Malinda Seneviratne is the Editor-in-Chief of The Nation and can be reached at msenevira@gmail.com

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