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HRW: Bangladesh skirts human rights issues at UN

  • Published at 12:28 pm May 17th, 2018
  • Last updated at 05:21 pm May 17th, 2018
HRW: Bangladesh skirts human rights issues at UN

A number of countries praised the government’s willingness to open the Bangladesh border and provide aid to hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees 

A Bangladesh delegation to the United Nation’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva on Monday skirted around pressing human rights concerns in the country, Human Rights Watch (HRW) claimed on Thursday.

Law Minister Anisul Huq, speaking for the government, highlighted only what the government considered to be positive steps and glossed over concerns about critical issues such as enforced disappearances, secret and arbitrary detention, extrajudicial killings, and a crackdown on freedom of speech and association, according to a press statement issued by the US-based human rights organization.

Bangladesh should show its commitment to human rights by giving full consideration to recommendations from other countries and accepting those that would significantly improve its compliance with international human rights standards, it suggests.

“Bangladesh needs to stop ignoring and start addressing serious human rights violations, such as when its security forces engage in enforced disappearances, killings, torture, and arbitrary arrests, many of them politically motivated,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Bangladesh government should use the Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council as a time for reflection, not self-congratulation.”

Bangladesh lauded for sheltering Rohingya

A number of member countries rightly praised the government’s willingness to open the Bangladesh border and provide aid to hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fleeing atrocities by the Myanmar military. 

‘Delegation silent over human rights issues’

However, the Bangladesh delegation spoke at length about the progress on handling the influx of the Rohingya refugees but responded with silence and denial to questions and recommendations by several countries, including concerns about extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and attacks on human rights defenders, the statement reads, adding that whether Bangladesh formally accepts or rejects the recommendations made by countries will not be known for some time.

HRW and other groups have reported for many years about human rights concerns in Bangladesh, and many of these concerns were simply not addressed adequately by Bangladesh in the hearing, it alleges. 

“In one example, the government pledged during the previous periodic review in 2013 to thoroughly and impartially investigate and prosecute all allegations of human rights violations, in particular by the security forces. But it has ignored and denied reports of violations since then, including about violence by the security forces during the 2014 elections and against people who protested the conduct of the elections. The government delegation claimed that it is taking action against those responsible for abuse, but there is little evidence or transparency on this.”

Enforced disappearances

The human rights body said it has documented several cases in which members of the political opposition have been forcibly disappeared or secretly detained without charge. “Scores of Bangladesh National Party (BNP) supporters were unlawfully detained and several remain disappeared.” 

A former diplomat, Maroof Zaman, remains disappeared since December 2017, the statement adds. 

HRW decries threats to press freedom

The government delegation responded reportedly inadequately to questions about attacks against critical media and nongovernmental organizations.

“Many people have been and continue to be jailed or charged under Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology Act, which includes vague and overbroad provisions to target free speech, and under the 2016 law regulating the use of foreign funding by nongovernmental groups,” it said in the statement.

“Section 57 has been used to target key civil society leaders and institutions. The government says it will revise Section 57 with its draft Digital Security Bill, but some of its provisions fall short of international standard.” 

The government has also been using sedition and other criminal laws “to target” free speech, it added.

Labour rights

Labour rights were also not adequately addressed. Although there has been some progress on safety concerns for workers, much remains to be done. Union leaders and those seeking to join unions face threats and opposition from factory owners and managers, the HRW observed.  

Child marriage

The human rights watchdog alleged that the government had failed to keep a commitment to end child marriage. In February 2017, the government approved a law with a new exception that allows girls under 18 to marry under special circumstances, “with no minimum age stipulated.”

A promised national action plan to end child marriage is now over three years late, it said.

Concluding the statement, Adam said: “Bangladesh says it remains committed to doing right by the Rohingya refugees, but it should embrace that same principle towards its own citizens.

“With national elections next year [or late this year], it is essential for the government to expand democratic space and provide room for debate and dissent.”