We need a national action plan to fulfil our human rights commitments
Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen reaffirmed that Bangladesh remains robustly engaged with various UN human rights mechanisms, including the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The law minister, who led the delegation of the government to the third cycle of the UPR review in 2018 as well as the review of the Committee Against Torture in July 2019, echoed the same and said that Bangladesh is well on its way to implement its commitments under the UN human rights mechanism.
This is a very important occasion, as this is the first time the government has taken initiatives to develop a national implementation plan for the commitments it has made under UPR and other UN human rights mechanisms.
Adopting a national plan of action for the implementation of UPR commitments has been a long-standing demand that was first raised back in 2013 after the second cycle of the UPR session. Unfortunately, that time, there was no positive response from the government’s side. Again, before and after the third cycle of UPR review, CSOs raised the issue on several occasions in front of the ministers concerned and they confirmed that they were focusing on systematic implementation in the third cycle.
They also agreed to adopt an action plan for making the implementation process more systematic and effective.
In October 2018, Bangladesh was elected once again as a member to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for the 2019-2021 tenure, bagging 178 votes out of 192 votes. Previously, Bangladesh served as an HRC member for three terms. In February 2019, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) arranged an international conference titled “Bangladesh and Human Rights” to celebrate the membership of Bangladesh to the UNHRC.
Regarding Bangladesh’s engagement with UN human rights mechanism, there is no doubt that the government has made significant development in submitting periodic reports under UN treaty bodies as well as attending review sessions. The country is a party to eight of the nine international human rights treaties.
Previously, Bangladesh had only been regular in submitting periodic reports under Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women and Child Rights Convention. In recent years, it has submitted its first periodic report on the implementation of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to the UN Human Rights Committee in 2015 which was due since 2000, and the committee did their review and provided their concluding observations in 2017.
Later, Bangladesh submitted its report to the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and members of their Families (CMW) in 2015 and Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (CESCR) in 2017. Bangladesh finally submitted state report under Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) in July 2019 when the committee informed that it will review Bangladesh’s compliance under the convention with or without the state report.
As of now, Bangladesh has over 500 recommendations (200+ from treaty bodies, 21 from UN Special Rapporteurs who visited Bangladesh, and 251 from UPR third cycle). All of these recommendations are interrelated, and will highly contribute towards achieving the SDGs if implemented properly. Hence, the question arises as to how the country has been implementing the observations and recommendations of these committees.
Although such mechanisms require the engagement of all stakeholders, it is the states that are the main driving force; the responsibility of implementing the recommendations primarily lie on the state itself. CSOs, development partners, and other stakeholders can only provide technical assistance, monitor the progress of implementation, and lobby the government from time to time with specific recommendations for better implementation.
As Bangladesh has completed the third cycle of UPR review, and has been reviewed by six out of eight treaty bodies, they are now in a place to assess their progress in the sector of human rights -- what are the challenges, what went good and what didn’t.
Human Rights Council has acknowledged that the promotion and protection of human rights and the implementation of the 2030 agenda are interrelated and mutually reinforcing. Concretely, more than 90% of the SDG targets are linked to principles of international human rights instruments.
We know the Bangladesh government has given the highest priority on achieving the targets of the SDG within the expected period. We want to remind it again that without proper and sustainable implementation of the government’s human rights commitments under different UN mechanisms, the political commitment of achieving the targets of SDGs will be unfulfilled.
Unfortunately, after one year, from our periphery, there seems to be a huge lack of coordination amongst the ministries. There is no visible dissemination of information about the review or on accepted recommendations; no distribution of responsibilities among ministries; no regular and effective interaction with civil society. There is an overall absence of any specific action plan or strategy on how to implement recommendations from different human rights mechanisms.
Thus, it seems like the government is more focused on reporting rather than coordinated implementation. For systematic and effective implementation, CSOs have been demanding for the establishment of a national mechanism for reporting and follow up; a comprehensive, specific, and time-bound national plan of action to implement recommendations on human rights; strong monitoring mechanisms to ensure accountability; discussion in parliament on the accepted recommendations, how these should be implemented, progress, challenges, etc; regular, inclusive, and effective consultation with CSOs; and doing periodic reports including submission of the mid-term UPR report at the end of 2020 to assess the progress.
The commitments made by the government of Bangladesh towards the international community on human rights is surely commendable. Now, it is time to see how effectively the government monitors its progress and what its follow-up actions are.
Tamanna Hoq Riti works at the Media and International Advocacy Unit of Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK).