A U.N. human rights body urged Bangladesh’s government Friday to launch an independent probe into the elite Rapid Action Battalion security force, as it expressed concern at “consistent reports of arbitrary arrests” and enforced disappearances allegedly involving Bangladeshi law enforcers.
The Committee Against Torture (CAT), a United Nations body composed of 10 independent experts, issued its call for an investigation after examining the human-rights record of Bangladesh, a signatory to the U.N. Convention Against Torture.
“The Committee expressed concern at consistent reports alleging widespread and routine torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement officials for the purpose of obtaining confessions or to solicit the payment of bribes … and failure to ensure accountability for law enforcement agencies, particularly the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB),” the committee said in a statement.
The panel called on Bangladeshi authorities to form “an independent investigation into the RAB.”
It also recommended that the activities of the former RAB officers be vetted under procedures guided by the United Nations before they could be selected to serve in U.N. peacekeeping missions abroad, during which they are known to be paid generous salaries.
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan rejected the panel’s statements.
“I can assure that the human rights situation in Bangladesh is better than many countries of the world,” he told BenarNews.
“Our law enforcement agencies have been working relentlessly, and they’ve crushed the militants and terrorists with courage,” Khan said. “They have big achievements.”
CAT monitors implementation of the international ban on torture, which was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1984 and came into force in 1987.
It was the first time that the committee had examined Bangladesh, which ratified the Convention against Torture in 1999 but had failed to submit the committee’s requirements until it sent out a 17-page report on July 23.
The panel released its statement more than a week after Law Minister Anisul Huq defended Bangladesh’s rights records during a meeting of the panel in Switzerland.
In Geneva on Friday, panel member Felice Gaer told a news conference that Bangladesh had presented the committee “with no report for 20 years, came a week beforehand and gave us a report which was solely about the law.”
“We did not come out with a happy conclusion. We have a 16-page report which begins with the discussion of widespread torture, widespread and routine torture,” Reuters quoted her as saying.
Human rights activists in Bangladesh agreed with the statements by the Committee Against Torture.
“The CAT observations are legitimate and credible,” Mizanur Rahman, former chairman of the country’s National Human Rights Commission, told BenarNews. “We, the civil society members and human rights activists, have talked about these issues countless times, but the government denies the allegations.”
Rahman said the human rights situation in Bangladesh could be improved by creating a panel that would serve under the Supreme Court’s control.
“The government should constitute a separate permanent wing of prosecution,” he said. “This wing will investigate the allegations of human rights abuses by the law enforcement agencies.”
Although RAB has been credited in the successful apprehension of high-profile suspected terrorists, New York-based Human Right Watch has criticized it for its alleged involvement in “endemic use of torture.”
“Human Rights Watch has documented widespread torture by Bangladesh security forces including beating detainees with iron rods, belts, and sticks; subjecting detainees to electric shocks, waterboarding, hanging detainees from ceilings and beating them; and deliberately shooting detainees, typically in the lower leg, described as ‘kneecapping,’” the global rights watchdog said in a statement last month.