UN reports indicate that around 380 members of minority groups have been attacked in the first half of 2018
A number of United Nations (UN) experts have expressed alarm regarding political violence, restrictions on freedom of expression and the rise of religious fundamentalism in Bangladesh ahead of the 11th parliamentary election.
The UN expressed those concerns in a press release issued by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights quoting eight independent special rapporteurs on Thursday.
“In the run-up to the vote, religious minorities, especially Hindus, fear renewed targeting. Unfortunately these fears have a strong basis,” read the press release.
UN reports indicate that around 380 members of minority groups have been attacked in the first half of 2018, and security forces have reportedly arrested and intimidated opposition figures and dissenting voices.
The press release, quoting the UN experts, said: “Members and supporters of opposition parties have been arrested, killed and disappeared. Reports state that supporters of the ruling party were involved in some of the incidents.
“Even one of the Election Commissioners has expressed the view that he does not believe there is any level playing field at all in this election. Urgent action is needed by Bangladeshi authorities during this turbulent time to ensure the safety of all people, and to create an enabling climate for a much-needed public debate.”
The experts’ concerns were underscored by an attack on the motorcade of opposition politician Dr Kamal Hossain on December 14, reportedly injuring at least 25 people. From December 9 to 12, a total of 47 such incidents of violence were reported, in which eight people were killed and 560 were injured.
“We urge the authorities to allow for and encourage monitoring of the human rights situation by civil society in the lead up to, during and after the elections,” said the experts.
The UN experts expressed grave concerns about the rise of religious fundamentalism and the negative impact on human rights, including the right to life, the right to participate in cultural life, freedom of expression, and freedom of religion or belief.
They were troubled by reports that the two main political parties have sought to appease or cooperate with fundamentalist groups.
Addressing the issue, UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights Karima Bennoune said: “The increasing restrictions on freedom of expression, combined with election-related violence and the rise of fundamentalism, have together created a climate of fear in Bangladesh which needs to be urgently addressed by the authorities.”
Bennoune addressed the issue of the impact of fundamentalism on cultural rights in a 2017 report to the Human Rights Council.
The experts also voiced concerns at the use of surveillance, intimidation and politically motivated prosecution of key opposition members.
The experts pointed out that they are particularly concerned about the use of the Digital Security Act to criminalize journalists and anyone using social media freely expressing their views, and the impact it has on the public’s right to know, which is of paramount importance in an election context.
They voiced their fears that the upcoming general elections in Bangladesh may trigger renewed violence against opposition figures and secularists, and attacks against members of religious minorities, their homes, temples and sources of livelihood.
The experts added that taken together, recent developments raise serious concerns about whether the elections can be conducted in a free and fair manner.
They called upon the authorities to stem the tide of violence as a matter of urgency, and to demonstrate their commitment to human rights and to truly free and fair elections.
Karima Bennoune, special rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, and David Kaye, special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, are among the eight experts who contributed in the report and the press release.