Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Wednesday accused Bangladesh of torturing and killing paramilitary soldiers accused of involvement in a 2009 mutiny, the latest in a string of complaints against the country's feared special police force.
HRW said the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), an elite crime-fighting unit it has previously labelled a “death squad” was alleged to have been involved in many of the abuses.
“At least 47 suspects have died in custody,” said HRW, which interviewed more than 60 people for its report. “Detainees were subjected to beatings, often on the soles of their feet or palms of their hands, and to electric shock. Some victims described being hung upside down from the ceiling,” the group said in a statement.
“Torture is routinely used by security forces in Bangladesh,” it said. “Human Rights Watch and others have long documented the systematic use of torture in Bangladesh by its security forces, including the army, the Rapid Action Battalion and ... the country's main intelligence agency.”
The government denied the accusations.
“Allegations made by HRW about torture leading to custodial deaths are totally baseless,” said Kamaluddin Ahmed, a senior official at the Home Ministry. “Post mortem reports of people who died in custody mentioned clear reasons (for the deaths) and there is no evidence of torture. The Bangladesh government acts according to law.”
Last May, HRW said nearly 200 people had have been killed in operations by the RAB since the beginning of 2009, accusing it of extrajudicial killings as well as torture.
In August, Amnesty International urged other countries to stop selling weapons to Bangladesh that can be used by the elite force.
The 2009 mutiny by Bangladeshi border guards, known as BDR, broke out in force headquarters in Dhaka and quickly spread to a dozen other towns. More than 70 people were killed. It shook the stability of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's newly elected government, which ended the revolt by negotiating a settlement.
“The army and other security agencies immediately began to round up thousands of suspects. Family members of detainees and the media soon reported allegations of torture and custodial deaths,” HRW said, the first time a foreign group has published the results of investigations into events surrounding the mutiny.
About 4 000 people have already been found guilty of involvement in the mutiny, all in mass military trials. They have been jailed for up to seven years.
Those also being tried for killing, rape and arson face the death penalty, legal officials said. The government hopes to complete the trials by end of this year.
Human Rights Watch urged Bangladeshi authorities to establish an independent task force with investigate and prosecute allegations of human rights abuses after the mutiny. - Reuters