Bangladesh on Tuesday rejected a rights group's report about extrajudicial killings of Rohingya Muslims who took shelter at refugee camps in the southern Cox's Bazar district fleeing a military crackdown in neighboring Myanmar.
Amnesty International on Monday called on Bangladeshi authorities to put a stop to extrajudicial executions of Rohingya refugees and conduct independent, impartial and effective investigations into the matter.
"Bangladesh authorities must respect and protect the human rights of Rohingya, including the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, expression and movement, as well as their other rights as refugees," the rights watchdog said in a statement.
However, Bangladesh's Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal refused to accept them as Rohingya refugee, while labelling them as "drug dealers".
"Those who have died [in police shootout in Cox's Bazar] are not Rohingya refugees, they are Yaba [narcotic tablets] traders", Kamal told Anadolu Agency.
Referring to a series of killings in refugee camps in Bangladesh's southeastern Cox's Bazar following the murder of a local leader of the ruling Awami League party, Amnesty International added that extrajudicial executions of so-called 'accused' Rohingya men "violate their right to life, as well as the principle of presumption of innocence and right to a fair trial."
On Aug. 23, 2019, Omar Faruk, 30, a local leader of the Bangladeshi ruling party’s youth wing, was shot dead, allegedly by a group of Rohingya men.
In protest of the murder, supporters of the party blocked a highway and vandalized a number of shops and houses inside the Jadimura Rohingya camp in Cox’s Bazar.
Since then, at least seven Rohingya men, allegedly suspects of the murder, have been killed in reported "gunfights" with police.
"The victims were arrested, and then they were taken to a location to 'recover' illegal substances -- then a so-called 'gunfight' took place that claimed the lives of one or more victims," Amnesty cited as a common response by local law enforcement agency for the killings.
According to media reports, at least 45 Rohingya refugees have been killed in Bangladesh in so-called gunfights with police over the past 26 months since the Rohingya exodus from Myanmar following a brutal military crackdown in Rakhine state on Aug. 25, 2017.
The Bangladeshi minister added that some drug dealers in Myanmar used Cox's Bazar as a safe trafficking route when fleeing anti-narcotic drives by Myanmar police.
"Some of those Yaba traders [a kind of methamphetamine drug] have been killed here in police shootouts and mistakenly marked as Rohingya refugees," he stressed, refuting the Amnesty report as well as local media reports about the killing of Rohingya.
Amnesty International also expressed concern on restrictions on Rohingya refugees' movement and communication with ban of the use of mobile phones and networks after a large rally in refugee camps on Aug. 25, 2019 to mark the second "Genocide Day".
A persecuted people
According to Amnesty International, more than 750,000 Rohingya refugees, mostly women and children, have fled Myanmar and crossed into Bangladesh after Myanmar forces launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim community in August 2017, pushing the number of persecuted people in Bangladesh above 1.2 million.
Since Aug. 25, 2017, nearly 24,000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed by Myanmar’s state forces, according to a report by the Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA).
More than 34,000 Rohingya were also thrown into fires, while over 114,000 others were beaten, said the OIDA report, titled "Forced Migration of Rohingya: The Untold Experience."
Some 18,000 Rohingya women and girls were raped by Myanmar’s army and police and over 115,000 Rohingya homes were burned down and 113,000 others vandalized, it added.
- Concern on other extrajudicial killings
Rights groups -- both local and international -- have long been criticizing Dhaka for extrajudicial killings in general across the country, with mostly political opponents being targeted.
In a separate statement on Monday, Amnesty also issued an overall warning against extrajudicial killings across Bangladesh, urging authorities to step in immediately.
"Reports of extrajudicial executions in Bangladesh spiked sharply following Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s directive to launch an anti-narcotic drive on May 3, 2018," said the statement.
Citing media reports and other sources, the statement added that within only 10 days of launching the operation, 52 people were killed by security forces. "Human rights organizations have documented 466 such deaths reported in 2018 alone, more than three times as many as recorded in 2017," the report said.
Amnesty urged for a full, independent, prompt and impartial investigation of all alleged extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.
Alleging that Amnesty's report was not based on facts, the Bangladesh home minister asserted that all incidents of police shootouts or crossfire were "properly investigated".
"In the case of any firing incident, investigation is carried out under an executive magistrate who files a report on whether it was done illegally or intentionally or with any hostile motive," the minister added.
He said that based on that investigation report, legal and departmental actions were taken against responsible persons.