How do UN, int'l rights bodies react to attacks on Ahmadiyyas?

15 eminent cultural activists, academics and minority leaders have asked the government to take preventive measures 

Civil society representatives, and national and international rights groups have long been demanding that Bangladesh ensure safety and security of all religious minorities, including the followers of Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama'at, in line with the constitution.

Despite all measures taken by the government, incidents of violent attacks, intimidation and hate speech continue, leading to loss of lives and property and violation of the constitution.

The Constitution of Bangladesh, which recognises Islam as the state religion, also ensures rights of all other religions, irrespective of race, caste, sex or place of birth. Moreover, secularism and freedom of religion is one of the fundamental principles of state policy.

After Friday's attack on an annual event of the Ahmadiyyas, 15 eminent cultural activists, academics and minority leaders have asked the government to take preventive measures to protect the Ahmadis.

In 2021, UN human rights experts expressed their deep concern over the lack of attention to the serious human rights violations perpetrated against the Ahmadiyya Muslims around the world and called on the international community to step up efforts in bringing an end to the ongoing persecution of Ahmadi Muslims.

“We call on the international community to be vigilant and to undertake coordinated action to respond to the violations faced by the Ahmadi Muslims around the world, particularly in countries where their lives are most at risk,” the UN OHCHR said in a statement on July 13, 2021. 

While Ahmadis constitute a global religious community with rich history and tens of millions of members, for more than 15 years, the UN reported incidents of religious intolerance, discrimination, and violence perpetrated against this community in a number of countries, including Algeria, Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

The UN also called for revising laws and regulations that create obstacles to ensuring the rights of persons belonging to minorities, including the principle of non-discrimination, the rights to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, freedom of opinion and expression, as well as cultural and socio-economic rights guaranteed in international human rights instruments, including in the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the 1981 UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief and the 1992 UN Declaration on the Rights Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities.

According to a UK government's policy note on Bangladesh published in 2022, government officials have different opinions regarding Ahmadis. Whereas some maintain a neutral position on religious issues; others have openly declared Ahmadis as non-Muslims.

It said the government has come under pressure from Islamist groups to declare Ahmadis “non-Muslims” and the onus is on the person to demonstrate otherwise. 

The 2020 US report on religious freedom also highlighted the plights of the Ahmadiyya community in Bangladesh.

The situation was worse in 2004 and 2005 when the BNP's coalition partners -- Jamaat-e-Islami and Islami Oikyo Jote (IOJ) -- dedicated to the preservation of "the finality of the prophethood" of Prophet Muhammad, and threatened the Ahmadiyya community with attacks on their mosques and campaigned for Ahmadis to be declared non-Muslim, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW).

London-based Amnesty International also denounced the treatment of the Ahmadiyya community during the BNP-Jamaat regime. 

In a statement in 2006, the group asked the government to ensure that all members of the Ahmadiyya community in Bangladesh are protected by the police and local authorities; take strict measures to curb the use of hate speech and public rallies to incite violence against Ahmadis; and to declare that no member of any group has the right to intimidate or persecute any members of the Ahmadiyya community, and to bring those responsible for such incidents to justice.

A similar hate campaign was launched by Hefazat-e-Islam, linked to IOJ, in 2013 but the government maintained that declaring the Ahmadis non-Muslim was not possible as per the country's Constitution.

According to Article 28 (1) of the Constitution, the State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.

Moreover, Article 41 states that (a) every citizen has the right to profess, practice or propagate any religion; (b) every religious community or denomination has the right to establish, maintain and manage its religious institutions.

As per Article 44 (1), a citizen can move the High Court if his/her religious freedom is violated.