The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights talked to 18 people including rights activists, representatives of civic bodies and families of enforced disappearance victims. At the time they also alleged that the government has been making unwarranted remarks about the victims of enforced disappearances.

They also talked about the judiciary. Prothom Alo came to know this talking to the rights activists, representatives of civic bodies and families of enforced disappearance victims.

During the meeting, the issues of rights situation in Bangladesh, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, Chittagong Hill Tracts, torture of minority communities, and attack and filing cases and torturing the journalists were presented before the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Besides, the recognition of indigenous people, their problems and crises, problems regarding their land, impending Jatiya Sangsad (parliament) election, Digital Security Act, cases filed against rights activists were also highlighted.

Regarding all these, Michelle Bachelet said she would talk to the Bangladesh government about the issues presented to her. She further said she does not have anything magical to solve all the problems immediately. But she would raise the issues in the UN meeting and those would be included in her report as well.

Michelle Bachelet arrived in Dhaka on a four-day visit on Sunday. On the first day of her visit, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights held separate meetings with four senior ministers of the government. The ministers are - law minister Anisul Huq, foreign minister AK Abdul Momen, home minister Asaduzzaman and education minister Dipu Moni. Different issues including extrajudicial killing, enforced disappearance, freedom of expression, media freedom and various other aspects of human rights were discussed in the meeting, said related sources.

After a meeting with the rights activists, representatives of civic bodies and families of enforced disappearance victims on Monday, she visited the Bangabandhu Memorial Museum in Dhanmondi in the afternoon. She paid tributes to Bangabandhu placing wreath at the portrait of Bangladesh’s founding father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

Michelle Bachelet was the president of Chile from 2006 to 2010 and from 2014 to 2018. She joined as the 7th United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on 1 September 2018.

Lack of accountability

Shaheen Anam, executive director at Manusher Jonno Foundation, was among the 18 people who met UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Speaking to Prothom Alo she said, “Fundamental issues of human rights were raised in the discussion. One of the discussants said his brother was a victim of enforced disappearance but he could not file any case about it. It was also said that hindrances are being faced even to use the word ‘indigenous people’. Every year the minority community people have been facing attacks. Those were discussed.

“But they said though the state has not stoked the incidents of attack on the minority community people, there is a lack of initiatives to prevent such incidents from their side. Unknown people are made accused if any case is filed for the incidents of such attacks. Even if those who are actual perpetrators are detained, get release at a time. There is no such incident where justice was served for attacking the minority community people,” she added.

Shaheen Anam further said she stressed on the women rights issue. It is seen that cases filed on charges of torture of women linger. A research revealed only 3 per cent of rape incidents are brought to book. That means 97 per cent of the perpetrators roam free even after committing the crime. She also raised the issue of lack of accountability of different service providing organisations of the state. Though people suffer for the negligence of the people in charge of those organisations, there is a very little example of bringing them under accountability.

Who are involved with enforced disappearances?

The relatives of the victims of enforced disappearances have been demonstrating under the banner of an organisation ‘Mayer Daak’ since 2014. The members of the victim families allegedly faced threats and torture of the law enforcement agencies at different times.

Sajida Islam, coordinator of Mayer Daak, talked to Michelle Bachelet on Monday. She said to Prothom Alo, “Highlighting the incidents of enforced disappearances we’ve informed her (Bachelet) that the law enforcement agencies are involved with the incidents. We’ve also said that over 600 people have become victims of enforced disappearances during the tenure of incumbent government.”

Keep the door to discussion open

Rights activist Khushi Kabir took part in the discussion with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. She told Prothom Alo, “We’ve highlighted both good and bad sides of human rights situation in the country.”

The rights activists and representatives of civic bodies highlighted the opportunities as well as the challenges of their work in the meeting. Regarding this, Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) chief executive Syeda Rizwana Hasan said, “Cases are being filed against rights activists, environmentalists and journalists under the Digital Security Act (DSA). Where would we actually get redressal for this? Are the organisations in charge of looking after these things being able to work free of political influences? These things were highlighted to Michelle Bachelet.”

The BELA chief executive further said the discussion revolved mainly around concerns regarding human rights. However, there are advancements in some sectors as well like ensuring the rights of specially abled people. But there are concerns about extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. Oppressing journalists with Digital Security Act and violence against women were also raised in the discussion, she added.

Pressed on, Syeda Rizwana Hasan said, “She (Michelle Bachelet) said she does not have any magical solution. The concerned parties could engage in a systematic dialogue about these. It is not that everything will be alright if an election takes place. If the system is not functioning people would not get democracy even if the election takes place. The UN High Commissioner also said she would talk to the government about the issues. She also said to keep the door of discussion open; it can’t be shut.”

*The report, originally published in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten for English edition by Shameem Reza