Bangladesh disputes study into alleged forced disappearances

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Bangladesh on Wednesday disputed a Human Rights Watch investigation into disappearances of government critics and others as built on questionable, uncorroborated allegations that security forces were involved.

The government has long denied allegations of forced disappearances, and its latest denial followed a report the rights group released Monday that identified 86 people who remain missing after allegedly being targeted by security forces. The group is urging the United Nations to independently investigate.

The study is “built on questionable sources of information that in many instances should not be believed,” said Ferdousi Shahriar, the deputy chief of mission at Bangladesh’s embassy in Washington.

She said the report was based on interviews with “unidentified individuals,” including 60 interviews with unnamed people, 81 citations from unnamed individuals, as well as 7 anonymous witnesses. She added in the statement that the study “conflates” what could be kidnappings with “government-sponsored disappearances.”

Shahriar said Bangladesh investigates every reported disappearance, but that it “cannot, logistically or legally, give credence to anonymous sources that suggest law enforcement officials are abducting individuals in broad daylight when there is zero evidence – in arrest records or records of those detained – that corroborate those events.”

Human Rights Watch mainly blames the disappearances on the Rapid Action Battalion, an elite anti-crime force that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government credits with crushing Islamic militancy. Calls to a spokesperson for the Rapid Action Battalion were not returned.

Based on over 115 interviews between July 2020 and March 2021 with alleged victims, family members and witnesses, Human Rights Watch said Bangladeshi authorities have continually refused to look into enforced disappearances or to hold those responsible accountable.

Referring to data collected by Bangladeshi rights groups, Human Rights Watch said nearly 600 people have been forcibly disappeared by security forces since Hasina took office in 2009. While some victims have been released or appeared in court after weeks or months of secret detention, others were killed in what authorities labeled shootouts with police, it said.

It found 86 were still missing. “Many of the victims were critics of the ruling Awami League government,” the report said.

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