DHAKA: A global human rights group called Monday on the United Nations to lead an independent international investigation into the alleged disappearances of government critics and others at the hands of security forces in Bangladesh, an allegation the country's government has long denied.
New York-based Human Rights Watch listed 86 alleged victims on a webpage, providing profiles and details of each case.
It said they remain missing, mainly blaming the Rapid Action Battalion, an elite anti-crime force that is credited by the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina with crushing a rise in Islamic militancy in the Muslim-majority nation.
This report, based on more than 115 interviews conducted between July 2020 and March 2021 with victims, their family members, and witnesses, alleges that authorities consistently refuse to investigate enforced disappearances or to hold those responsible accountable.
The group said authorities use disappearances and the threat to carry them out to silence critics, chilling free speech.
"Bangladesh authorities mock victims and routinely obstruct investigations, making clear that the government has no intention of meaningfully addressing enforced disappearances by its security forces," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
"As critics of the government live in fear of being forcibly disappeared, and families of the disappeared have little hope of getting justice from the government, UN, human rights experts should open an investigation into enforced disappearances," Adams said.
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 labelled shootouts with police, it said.
Scores are still missing.
Many of the victims were critics of the ruling Awami League government, the report said.
Calls to a spokesman for the Rapid Action Battalion were not returned immediately on Monday.