Human Rights Watch has criticised Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan for his comments on the rights body’s recent report on secret detentions and enforced disappearances in the country.
Just hours after Human Rights Watch released the 82-page report on Thursday, the home minister termed it a “smear campaign.”
Read more: HRW calls for free probe, prosecution
Instead of committing to investigate these incidents, Khan declared his government will “reject the report outright,” the New York-based human rights body said in a release yesterday.
It claimed that the minister "callously" ignored victims’ families “who are desperately waiting for answers”.
“Whom will you say disappeared? Many businessmen went into hiding failing to repay their loans in this country. Some people went missing after developing extramarital relationship,” HRW quoted Khan as saying.
HRW in the report urged the Bangladesh government to launch an independent investigation into the allegations of secret detentions and enforced disappearances and “prosecute security forces responsible for such egregious rights violations”.
According to the report, Human Rights Watch has produced a detailed analysis of cases where individuals were picked up, often in front of witnesses or family members by security forces who identified themselves as members of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), Detective Branch (DB), or the “administration.”
When these people were not produced in court within 24 hours, as required under Bangladeshi law, family members repeatedly approached police and other officials, who denied the person was detained, it said.
While many of these men were eventually produced in court, after a period of weeks or months of illegal detention, others were released with warnings to stay silent, it claimed. Several were later found killed in so-called gunfights or “cross-fire,” and scores remain “disappeared”, it added.
Against the home minister’s claim that the United Nations had never mentioned enforced disappearances, HRW said that, in fact, like the detailed letters sent by Human Rights Watch requesting comment on these abuses, the Bangladesh government has ignored repeated queries from the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. The Human Rights Committee has also issued stern warnings.
The rights body also said that Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, while in opposition, repeatedly highlighted human rights violations and promised an end once she gained office, however, as her government is nearing the end of its second consecutive term, it is just echoing its abusive predecessors.
The security forces are secretly detaining and disappearing its political opponents and critics, as well as others it deems to be criminals, HRW claimed.
Bangladesh's law enforcement authorities have illegally arrested and detained hundreds of people in secret detention since 2013, the HRW said in the report, adding that at least 90 people were victims of enforced disappearance last year alone, while 21 of the detainees were reportedly killed.