DHAKA (Reuters) – The United States has expressed concern about a Bangladeshi anti-drugs campaign in which more than 100 people have died but the government has dismissed any suggestion of extra-judicial killings and said the crackdown had popular support.
The Bangladesh government launched the drive against trafficking this month, and police have arrested more than 10,000 people across the country as alarm grows about drugs, in particular the spread of the stimulant methamphetamine.
But the campaign has raised fears among rights activists of a Philippine-style war on drugs and the US ambassador, Marcia Bernicat, voiced concern about the bloodshed.
“Of course I express concern about the number of people dying,” Bernicat told reporters on Friday after talks with Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan in which the campaign was discussed.
“Everyone in a democracy has a right to due process. If there is a violent confrontation people may not survive that, but the goal should be zero tolerance, the goal should be to try and bring everyone to justice,” she said.
The interior minister, Khan, did not comment on Bernicat’s concerns, but told Reuters that as of Tuesday, 102 drug traffickers had been killed in gun fights with law enforcement officers.
“These aren’t extra-judicial killings. Our forces are bound to use arms only to protect themselves,” Khan said.
In the Philippines, thousands of suspects have been killed since President Rodrigo Duterte took office two years ago. He angrily rejected similar US concern about the violence there.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who launched the anti-narcotics campaign in early May, said it would go on until Bangladesh was free of the drug menace. No drug “godfathers” would be spared, she said.
“No innocent people are being harassed or targeted, but if any such incidents happen it will be addressed through proper investigation,” Hasina told reporters.
“People in Bangladesh are happy with this drive.”
Bernicat said no one – neither civilians nor police – should take the law into their own hands.
“In our societies we are innocent until proven guilty and so everyone should be afforded that right. I always ask here and at home that human rights are respected,” she said.
The International Federation for Human Rights and its Bangladeshi member organisation, Odhikar, called on the government to stop the crackdown and investigate what it said were numerous complaints of extrajudicial killing.
Neighbouring Myanmar is a major producer of methamphetamines, which have been flowing in ever larger volumes across its border.