UN rights chief calls on Bangladesh to probe abuse allegations

Dhaka, Aug 17 (EFE)- The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Wednesday urged Bangladesh to acknowledge human rights issues and open a credible investigation into allegations of human rights abuses including enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killing and torture.

“Acknowledging the challenges is always the first step to overcoming them,” Bachelet said in a press conference as she wrapped up her four-day visit to the country.

Bachelet arrived in Bangladesh on Sunday and held a series of meetings with ministers, human rights defenders, NGO workers, and government officials.

Bachelet said that various UN human rights mechanisms — including the UN Committee Against Torture — have been raising concerns for several years.

“I raised my deep concern about these serious allegations with government ministers and highlighted the need for an impartial, independent and transparent investigation into these allegations accompanied by security sector reform,” she said.

The former president of Chile added that there are continued, alarming allegations of both short-term and long-term enforced disappearances, and concerns about the lack of due process and judicial safeguards.

“I encouraged the government to create an independent, specialized mechanism that works closely with victims, families and civil society to investigate allegations of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings,” she said.

The UN rights chief said that her office is ready to provide advice on how such a body could be designed in line with international standards, though she insisted that she had no specific “modality” or “recipe” for holding the probe.

Bachelet’s visit came as an opportunity for human rights defenders to shed light on alleged abuses in Bangladesh.

Ahead of her visit, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and eight other international organizations urged Bachelet to call for an “immediate end to serious abuses including extrajudicial killings, torture, and enforced disappearances.”

HRW has said security forces had forcibly disappeared nearly 600 people since prime minister Sheikh Hasina took office in 2009.

While some victims have been released or appeared in court after weeks or months of secret detention, others became victims of extrajudicial killings, passed off as deaths during gunfights. Scores are still missing, the NGO has said.

Many victims were critics of the ruling Awami League government.

The Bangladesh government has consistently denied that the security forces committed enforced disappearances.

The United States has imposed sanctions on the country’s elite security force, the Rapid Action Battalion, and seven of its current and former officials, including police chief Benazir Ahmed, for alleged human rights abuses.

Bachelet also visited Rohingya camps during her trip to see the plight of refugees firsthand and discussed the issues with Bangladeshi authorities, including Hasina, in a meeting on Wednesday.

“What I heard in my conversations with women, young people, religious leaders, and other Rohingya refugees in the camps was a resounding hope that they will be able to return to their villages and homes in Myanmar — but only when the conditions are right,” she said after visiting refugee camps in southwest Bangladesh.

Bachelet also called on the Bangladesh government and all Bangladeshis to be vigilant against harmful rhetoric against Rohingyas and actively counter misinformation with facts.

“I am very worried about increasing anti-Rohingya rhetoric in Bangladesh, stereotyping and scapegoating Rohingyas as the source of crime and other problems,” she said.

Nearly 925,000 Rohingya refugees live in Bangladesh after fleeing Myanmar since the start of the military crackdown in 2017, which the UN described as ethnic cleansing and possible genocide.

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