As the Bangladesh government has begun cracking down on drug dealers and suppliers in the country, at least 91 people have died in less than two weeks, sparking fears of a Philippines-style drug war marked by extrajudicial killings.
Since the operation began May 15, the death toll has risen every day, the names and whereabouts of those killed filling newspaper columns but with few details of the evidence against them. Odhikar, a human rights advocacy group, said Sunday that it had counted 91 people killed in 13 days.
Bangladesh launched the crackdown in response to what it said was a surging trade in illegal drugs particularly cheap methamphetamine pills known as “yaba”. The Guardian reports that the stimulant usually enters the country through neighbouring Myanmar and authorities estimate the supply surged to 300million pills last year, blaming the influx on Rohingya refugees fleeing military violence and the fishermen who ferried them over.
On May 3, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had launched the anti-drug campaign. According to the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) 3,300 people have been arrested during the campaign that was launched at the beginning of May and 2,795 drug dealers and users have been handed fines or jail terms in trials in mobile courts.
Human Rights activists in Bangladesh called the anti-drug campaign "illegal". Human Rights Watch said the killings needed to be investigated. “Considering that one minister has proposed shooting addicts and the prime minister has compared this effort to ending Islamic militancy, there is concern that security forces will once again operate without proper accountability and oversight,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, the organisation’s South Asia director. Bangladeshi security forces, particularly the RAB, have been repeatedly accused by local and international human rights groups of carrying out extra-judicial killings in alleged encounters with criminals and terrorists.
According to the non-profit Odhikar, 3,060 people were killed in extrajudicial killings by the security forces between 2001 and April 30, 2018, with 91 of the killings taking place in the first four months of this year.
More than 7,000 people are said to have been killed in Philippines since Robert Duterte launched a war on the drugs trade in July 2016. Duterte has said that his campaign to kill tens of thousands of people would not only target traffickers but that he also aimed to "slaughter addicts".