The United Nations working group has expressed grave doubts concerning the ability of Bangladesh's judiciary to function independently, saying that the judicial administration faces serious problems. The UN group expressed deep concern about extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances as well as the independence of the judiciary. They have recommended that an impartial, independent and specialised institution be set up, which can take measures to carry out investigations of an international standard into the allegations of enforced disappearance and extrajudicial killings.
These observations about diminishing the public trust in the judicial system appeared in a note drawn up for the Fourth Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the United National Human Rights Council. The national report submitted by the Bangladesh government, however, talks about strengthening the judiciary by appointing new judges, increasing financial allocations, and stepping up the rate of case settlements. The National Human Rights Commission report echoes the government narrative.
The UPR observations this time are particularly significant in the backdrop of extensive repression of the political opposition in Bangladesh over the question of ensuring that the forthcoming election is free, fair and inclusive. This review session will be held today, Monday. There will be opportunity to reply to various questions and criticism that will be raised, based on which the Fourth UPR recommendations will be drawn up on 15 November. Law minister Anisul Huq is due to lead the Bangladesh delegation at the human rights review.
In light the information they have collected on the deterioration of the human rights situation in Bangladesh, the UN human rights council's note has called for various laws of Bangladesh, including the criminal procedure code, to be reformed in accordance to international human rights laws and conventions. The high commissioner and experts have also called upon Bangladesh to ratify international conventions against enforced disappearance and against torture. It also called for a review of all laws of the country in order to eliminate discrimination.
During her visit, Michelle Bachelet had also discussed about an impartial, independent and transparent inquiry into allegations of ministers being involved in the torture and also about reforms in the security sector
The summary based on information and evaluation by various expert groups of the organisation, also includes the recommendations made to the government by the former high commissioner Michelle Bachelet during her Bangladesh visit. Most of the recommendations of the UN delegation in Bangladesh taken up by Bangladesh during the Third UPR, have not been implemented. Bangladesh has said that it had taken up 178 recommendations and had highlighted the institutional and legal measures taken to implement these.
Michelle Bachelet had expressed concern at various levels of the government in Dhaka concerning enforced disappearances and torture and made recommendations in this regard. This has been mentioned in the UN note, with a call for an independent system of investigation to look into the allegations of enforced disappearance, so that the experts can work closely with the victims of enforced disappearance, their families and civil society. She also called for a strict process of selection for the security forces. This information package of the UN human rights council indicates that during her visit, Michelle Bachelet had also discussed about an impartial, independent and transparent inquiry into allegations of ministers being involved in the torture and also about reforms in the security sector. However, not much of this was revealed during her visit.
Various information, observations and recommendations of the UN Human Rights High Commissioner, Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) and Committee Against Torture (CAT) have found place in this information package. CAT has called for an invitation to be extended to nine special rapporteurs mandated to investigate and evaluate human rights issues, to visit Bangladesh. The high commissioner has sought an opportunity to be given for the working group on enforced disappearances to visit Bangladesh. CAT has called for the independence of the national human rights commission to be strengthened and to open up for investigations the various places where people are kept in detention.
Expressing concern at the indiscriminate arrest of political opponents and demonstrators, CAT has called for their fundamental rights to be ensured. They have all for a halt to death in custody under any circumstances and also to ensure adequate healthcare during detention and to allow sudden spot visits by representatives of independent observation agencies to the detention centres.
CAT expressed concern about the harassment, indiscriminate arrests, violence and misbehaviour towards the civil society representatives, lawyers and journalists who criticise the authorities. Accordingly, the committee has called for amendment of the ICT act and the law related to foreign grants. The high commissioner also mentioned the shrinking space for citizens groups to function, excessive control on the NGOs and curtailing freedom of expression. He also called for all harassment to be halted against the human rights organisation Odhikar, which was cooperating with various UN processes or expert groups regarding enforced disappearance and extrajudicial killing.
Bangladesh’s fourth UPR is taking place at a time when human rights and critical institutions, opposition leaders, independent media houses and civil society are facing systematic attacks ahead of national electionsAmnesty Interntional
CESCR has called for the ratification of ILO's 1989 convention on indigenous and tribal populations. The UN delegation in Bangladesh has called for various UN agencies as well as local and international NGOs to be allowed to work freely on humanitarian, developmental and rights issues.
The commission also separately published summaries of the observations and recommendations of various human rights groups and NGOs. The summary expressed concern, highlighting information on the serious deterioration of human rights and spoke of the organisations taking various important measures.
The summary of the observations and recommendations submitted by 39 organisations including Amnesty, Human Right Watch, Asian Legal Resource Centre and other international, regional and local organisations, extensively highlighted the government suppression of dissenting views by enforced disappearance, extrajudicial killing, torture, ban on rallies and meetings, threat to media freedom, harassment of non-government human rights organisations, independence of studies and research, discrimination against minorities, ethnic minorities and marginalised communities and issues pertaining to labour rights.
In a statement issued on 11 November on the eve of the UPR session, Amnesty International issued a statement calling upon the UN member states to use the UN’s upcoming Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on Bangladesh to hold the authorities to account for the gross human rights violations and rapidly deteriorating human rights situation in the country ahead of its general elections. The statement said, “Bangladesh’s fourth UPR is taking place at a time when human rights and critical institutions, opposition leaders, independent media houses and civil society are facing systematic attacks ahead of national elections."
* This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir