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Bangladesh: Government must prioritise human rights in its fourth term

24 January 2024

GENEVA (24 January 2024) – UN experts* urged the Government of Bangladesh to carry out major human rights reforms to reverse repressive trends in the country and restore political dialogue and participation, as it enters its fourth consecutive term.

“We are alarmed at reports that widespread attacks, harassment and intimidation of civil society, human rights defenders, journalists, and political activists, which marred the recent elections,” the experts said.

In the lead up to the elections, reportedly some 25,000 opposition leaders and supporters were arrested, and 56 people killed in election related violence, including alleged torture and deliberate denial of healthcare for political prisoners, excessive use of force by law enforcement authorities, arson, and violence by unidentified groups. There have been no independent investigations into these violations, the experts said.

The experts noted that the country’s main opposition party, the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) and some other political parties boycotted the elections, expressing a lack of trust in the process. Voters were reportedly pressured to vote by ruling party members and threatened with violence and loss of their social protection benefits if they failed to do so.

“We have written to the Government of Bangladesh, urging them to conduct full, prompt and independent investigations into the alleged numerous human rights violations,” the experts said.

“We are alarmed by the dangerous decline of human rights, fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law in Bangladesh, eroding public trust in state institutions. This is also tarnishing the country’s image and could endanger its social and economic development,” the experts said.

“We urge the Government to prioritise human rights reforms in its new work program and to create an enabling environment for the free and safe exercise of fundamental freedoms and political participation, to restore public trust in the democratic process. ‘‘This would also reassure foreign investors and send a clear message to the world that it is committed to upholding its international legal obligations,” the experts said.

The experts called on the Government to:

  1. Immediately and unconditionally release all civil society and political activists detained without charge or on charges inconsistent with international human rights law; and ensure fair public trials in accordance with international human rights standards for those charged with criminal offences.
  2. Institute urgent and substantial reforms to guarantee the integrity and independence of the judicial system.
  3. Guarantee the free and unobstructed exercise of freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, refrain from imposing undue restrictions on protests and political rallies, and ensure effective accountability for serious violations of these fundamental freedoms.
  4. Respect the independence, freedom, diversity, and pluralism of the media, and ensure the safety of journalists from threats, physical and online violence, or judicial harassment and criminal prosecution for investigative and critical reporting.

“We stand ready to support and advise the Government of Bangladesh on these and other measures to strengthen human rights and the rule of law,” the experts said.

*The experts: Mr. Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights of freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Ms. Margaret Satterthwaite, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Ms Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Ms Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the protection and promotion of freedom of opinion and expression, Ms. Priya Gopalan (Chair-Rapporteur), Mr. Matthew Gillett (Vice-Chair on Communications), Ms. Ganna Yudkivska (Vice-Chair on Follow-Up), Ms. Miriam Estrada-Castillo, and Mr. Mumba Malila - Working Group on arbitrary detention.

Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent of any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, Country Page - Bangladesh

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