UN rights chief hails economic development of Bangladesh

The high commissioner praises Bangladesh’s achievement in education, health, immigration, and climate change

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has applauded Bangladesh’s success in economic sector saying that the country is making significant development in recent years.

She was speaking at a press conference to brief the media on her four-day visit at a hotel in Dhaka on Wednesday.

The high commissioner also praised Bangladesh’s achievement in education, health, immigration, and climate change.

She said: “Bangladesh has made strides in socio-economic development, poverty eradication, access to education and health, women’s and children’s mortality, access to food, water and sanitation.”

She thanked the government for inviting her to visit the country, the first by a high commissioner for human rights.

"I hope my visit will build on the government’s engagement with the UN’s human rights mechanisms and help deepen cooperation with us, furthering the promotion and protection of human rights in Bangladesh," Bachelet said.

During the visit she met with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and several ministers - foreign, home, law, and education - and other government officials.

She also met with the National Human Rights Commission and representatives of civil society, as well as members of the diplomatic community and academics.

Michelle Bachelet said she held talks with various stakeholders on the measures to be taken to deal with the impact of the pandemic and the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war.

Mentioning that the next general election is getting closer, the high commissioner said that the political parties need to sit for a dialogue among themselves.

She said the election period would be an important time for Bangladesh to maximize civic and political space. "There needs to be space for more dialogue among political parties and with a wide range of civil society actors to prevent grievances from building and erupting in social unrest."

The high commissioner said the voices of women, religious minorities and indigenous peoples, and especially young people need to be heard as well.

Press freedom

The UN high commissioner for human rights expressed her concern over the self-censorship in media. 

She urged the government to amend laws like Digital Security Act (DSA) to ensure media freedom.

"I acknowledge the need to regulate the online space, addressing online hate speech, disinformation and combating cybercrime," Bachelet said. 

She added that addressing these concerns is not simple, as regulating communications always creates risks for the protection of freedom of expression.

“We have submitted our recommendations for repeal and revision of certain provisions of the Act, with a view to ensuring their compliance with international human rights laws and standards and preventing arbitrary application or misuse,” Bachelet said.

She welcomed the government’s legal recognition of transgender community and hoped that it would take further steps to respect, protect and fulfil the fundamental human rights of LGBTIQ+ persons.

The high commissioner also stressed the importance of protecting minority groups, such as Hindus and indigenous peoples from violence or land encroachments. 

Extra judicial killings

The UN high commissioner said extrajudicial killings were a big obstacle in the establishment of justice. 

She 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.

Michelle Bachelet said there were allegations of enforced disappearance and extra judicial killings against law enforcement agencies. “Based on these allegations, I expect further investigation from the Bangladesh government.”

Particularly given the long-standing frustrations at the lack of progress in investigations and other obstacles to justice, Bachelet 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.

"My office is ready to provide advice on how such a body could be designed in line with international standards," she said.

Inviting the UN Working Group on enforced disappearances to visit Bangladesh would also show a commitment to decisively address this issue, Bachelet added.

As the biggest contributor of uniformed personnel to UN peacekeeping missions, the UN chief said Bangladesh should ensure it has a robust system in place to ensure the careful human rights screening of security personnel.

Rohingya repatriation

Following her visit to the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar, the high commissioner said a suitable situation is yet to be created for Rohingya repatriation even after five years.

“They (Rohingyas) will be able to return to their villages and homes in Myanmar – but only when the conditions are right,” she said.

She also expressed her concern over the increasing anti-Rohingya rhetoric in Bangladesh, stereotyping and scapegoating Rohingyas as the source of crime and other problems.

She asked the authorities to include the members of Rohingya community in social and economic work to dissuade them from criminal activities.