'Parliamentary election in 2018 was to ensure human rights'

UN Human Rights Council headquarters in Geneva
UN website

The parliamentary election of 2018 was one of the top institutional steps the incumbent government of Bangladesh Awami League (AL) has taken to ensure and expand human rights, rule of law and right to justice, the government informed the United Nations. Though the election drew much criticism inside and outside of the country, the government in its national report to the UN said the election has played a vital role in strengthening administrative, legal and ethical systems through institutional structures. It also mentioned about AL getting over 80 per cent vote in the election.

These were said in the national report the Bangladesh government presented to the UN as the 4th Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of UN human rights commission is set to begin in Geneva on Monday.

In the report, the government mentioned the Delimitation of Constituencies Act-2021, election commission appointment act-2022, and parliament election (EVM) guidelines-2018, rules of conduct of political parties and candidates-2008 and amendments brought in the rules of conduct of political parties and candidates to strengthen the electoral system.

The government has claimed that the election commission appointment act is free from any kind of bias and it will ensure formation of an efficient election commission and this is the first of its kind act in the subcontinent. Informing that the Representation of the People Order, 1972 ensures the total authority of the election commission over the executive during the elections, it has been said in the report that the commission has organised a total of 6,842 national and local elections since 2018. However, the report stopped short of providing any explanation regarding the allegations of irregularities in the elections, especially, stuffing ballot boxes in the previous night of the polling day of 11th parliamentary elections in 2018.

The report also mentioned strengthening the Supreme Court, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), election commission, Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and Law Commission. It stated that nine justices were appointed in the Appellate Division of the SC and 36 justices were appointed in the High Court Division and a total of 321,450 cases were settled between 2017 and 2022.

Bangladesh is ranked in lowest rungs of the World Justice Project index and many international organisations and countries have been continuously talking about the authority of Bangladesh’s executive over the judiciary.

Advances in implementing recommendations

In the report, the Bangladesh government has highlighted its assessments regarding advances made in implementing 178 recommendations put forth in the third UPR in 2018. In the third UPR, Bangladesh immediately accepted 167 recommendations, did not consent to 60 recommendations and spoke about informing the decisions it takes regarding 24 recommendations.

While speaking about the advances made in implementing the recommendations, Bangladesh mentioned its being elected as a member of the UN Human Rights Council for the 2023-25 tenure with securing the highest number of votes as a recognition of the country’s commitment to human rights.

Putting forth the statistics of expanding the budget of the National Human Rights Commission by 99 per cent in the last five years and enhancing its human resources, it was stated in the report that the NHRC resolved 3,666 complaints in that time. In investigating the allegations against RAB, the report mentioned a limited explanation of section 18 of the National Human Rights Commission Act, 2009 that spoke about “procedure to be followed in case of disciplined force”.

Regarding enforced disappearance

While speaking about the allegations of enforced disappearances, the report said the government has been maintaining communications with the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and held meetings with the committee twice in 2022 and 2023.

Regarding a list of 76 people, it has been said that nine were found and the committee was informed about this; two are foreigners, and no police or trial records were found of them; 28 are accused in various cases including murder and have been on the run to evade trial. Relatives and families of 10 people mentioned in the list have not extended any kind of cooperation while investigation has been going on about the remaining 27 people.

The government also said that a total of 130,222 people went missing in Bangladesh between 2018 and 2021. Among them, the law enforcement agencies could recover 125,129 people.

Regarding the allegations of involvement of the law enforcement agency members in enforced disappearance and picking up of people, the report mentioned that several RAB officials were brought to book on charges of seven-murder in Narayanganj before 2018.

The government mentioned only about 24 cases of torture and inhuman conducts in custody. The report also spoke about reprimanding two judges of lower court for not complying with the directives of the Supreme Court in regard to granting remand in 2021. However, there was no explanation of making a large number of arrests of the people of different faith groups and opposition leaders and activists and granting remand of them for longer periods and torture there.

The report does not have any acknowledgement of the allegations of human rights violation raised by rights organisations against the law enforcement agencies. Rather, it said that human rights is at the centre of the  activities of the law enforcement agencies. It described in detail the training of the law enforcement agency members regarding human rights.

Though the national report mentioned the government’s decision to enact Cyber Security Act instead of the Digital Security Act, it did not say anything about the allegations of misuse of the previous law, demands of compensation and the changes brought in the Cyber Security Act. Rather, it has been said that the defunct act was composed not to hinder freedom of expression, rather to protect it.

It has been said in the report that 14 new acts and eight additional acts or amendments have been brought as legal steps to implement the recommendations put forth at the 3rd UPR. Digital Security Act, 2018 has been included in the list.

The 4th Universal Periodic Review of Bangladesh has been taking place at the UN Human Rights Council at such a time when over 8,000 leaders and activists of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) have been arrested centering political clash over organising a free and fair election, and several hundreds of cases were filed against thousands of unnamed accused.

At the same time, allegations of using disproportionate force have been raised to quell demonstrations of readymade garments workers on demand of raising the minimum wage and at least two workers have been killed in violence. Representatives of all the UN member states can take part in the UPR. Representatives of international rights organisations also participate in the review.

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