By Jenna Furman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia
DHAKA, Bangladesh — On July 4, 2012, Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a report stating that detainees being held for their involvement in the 2009 government mutiny in Bangladesh were suffering from serious human rights abuses at the hands of Bangladesh’s special police force, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB).
Nearly 3,000 paramilitary border guards are on trial for a 2009 mutiny which killed 74 people including 57 military commanders.
Thousands have already been found guilty of involvement in the mutiny in mass military trials. They face jail sentences for up to seven years and those who are also convicted of killing, rape or arson await the death penalty.
During the February 25-26, 2009 mutiny, Bangladeshi paramilitary border guards attacked force headquarters in Dhaka and spread their attack to surrounding towns. The mutiny occurred two months after the election of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Hasina initially offered amnesty to the mutineers to end the rebellion but rescinded his offer when dozens of bodies were found in sewers and mass graves.
Following the revolt, the army and other security organizations detained thousands of suspects.
HRW reported that at least 47 of the paramilitary border guards awaiting mass trials for their alleged involvement in the 2009 mutiny have died from maltreatment while those that remain have been tortured through beatings or electric shock.
Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director, Brad Adams, called the trial process “fundamentally flawed” and stated that suspects were being interrogated in secret locations. HRW calls for the Bangladesh government to establish an independent task force to address the human rights abuses and to close all secret, unofficial interrogation locations.
HRW claims that torture is in widespread use throughout the governmental forces of Bangladesh including the country’s army, special police force, and main intelligence agency.
HRW’s report refers to Bangladesh’s RAB as a “death squad” resulting from their suspected involvement in the human rights’ abuses. By May of this year, HRW stated that almost 200 people had died in RAB operations since early 2009 from extrajudicial killings or torture.
The RAB has called the HRW report’s allegations baseless and the Bangladesh government denies all allegations of torture or extrajudicial killings.
On July 6, the Ministry of Home Affairs charged HRW with conspiring against Bangladesh. They also demanded that the HRW withdraw the report which they deemed unfair “meddling in the internal affairs of a country.”
The Bangladeshi government states that the trial is being held in a “fair and transparent manner” and that the accused are enjoying full legal support.
According to the Asian Human Rights Commission, the Bangladesh government plans to arrest members of human rights organizations and activists who were suspected of providing information for the HRW report. The government plans to charge these activists with treason and sedition among other criminal charges.
The Bangladesh government hopes that the mass military trials will be completed by the end of the year.
For further information, please see:
The Daily Star – It’s Part of an International Conspiracy: Ministers Slam HR Watch Report on BDR Trial, RAB, Human Rights Violation – 7 July 2012
Asian Human Rights Commission – Bangladesh: A call for Urgent Intervention for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Bangladesh – 6 July 2012
Human Rights Watch – Bangladesh: Torture, Deaths of Jailed Mutiny Suspects: Mass Trials Violate Right to Fair Trial for Accused in 2009 Violence – 4 July 2012
NY Times – Bangladesh: Rights Group Cites Abuses in Mass Trials of Guards – 4 July 2012
Reuters – Bangladeshi “Death Squad” Tortures Mutiny Suspects – HRW – 4 July 2012
Washington Post – Rights Group Urges Bangladesh to Stop ‘Unfair Trials’ of Border Guards in 2009 Mutiny – 4 July 2012