Foreign ministry’s statement: OHCHR chief’s statement ‘prejudiced and premeditated’

Foreign ministry

The government has reacted to a recent press statement issued by the Office of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and said the claim that the “poll was marred by violence and repression of opposition candidates” appears to be “extremely prejudiced and premeditated”.

The Election Day was unprecedentedly peaceful except for some isolated incidents in a few polling stations, said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Sunday.

This was echoed by many international election observers and journalists who covered the election on the ground, it said.

The government has rejected the claim that “many human rights defenders have been forced to go into hiding, and some have fled the country, while dozens of suspected enforced disappearance cases have been reported, mostly in November”.

“This is far from reality and rather a plain example of irresponsibility on the part of OHCHR. It is important that the Office checks the veracity of the information before it uses the same in public statements,” MoFA said in its statement in an effort to “offer the correct perspective”.

The government finds that the OHCHR has “unfortunately overstepped” its mandate.

The OHCHR statement misrepresents the ground reality and a repetition of subjective and biased assessments to politicise human rights, MoFA said.

Bangladesh welcomes “constructive criticisms” and is always ready to address any legitimate concern, said the MoFA, adding that Bangladesh looks forward to continuing to collaborate with the United Nations and its human rights mechanisms.

The government’s firm commitment to uphold the democratic principles was evident in the conduct of free, fair and peaceful elections with people’s participation on 7 January, 2024, said the government.

While the government believes in an inclusive democracy, regrettably, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) decided to stay out of the electoral process on the pretext of their unconstitutional demand of the provision of a caretaker government, the Bangladesh government observed. It is unfortunate that the BNP resorted to violence and killing of innocent people to thwart the democratic process as the party did during earlier occasions of national elections, it stated in the statement.

MoFA said only since 28 October in 2023, BNP activists killed 24 individuals including innocent civilians and on-duty law enforcement personnel. They set fire to nearly a thousand vehicles, public and private, derailed and attacked trains with arson burning passengers alive including a mother and her three years old child.

The details of BNP’s destruction are horrific and the OHCHR was time and again supplied with evidence of BNP’s nationwide mayhem, according to the statement.

In this context, it was, indeed, a challenge to ensure peaceful elections amidst threats, disruptions and violence aiming to destabilise the country and disrupt its democratic journey. Despite such widespread violence, the response from the law enforcing agency members was restrained, rational and within the legal parameters, MoFA said.

“OHCHR’s allegations of reprisals such as arbitrary and mass arrests, threats, enforced disappearance; blackmailing and surveillance by law enforcement officials are baseless and unsubstantiated. The number of arrests is a sheer exaggeration,” the statement reads.

Arrests were made and legal actions were taken only against those who were involved in or inciting violence and unlawful activities. These measures were necessary to maintain rule of law and to safeguard the rights of all citizens, it said.

Bangladesh said it will be guided by the spirit and letters of the Constitution and its international human rights commitments and by people’s mandate in its pursuit to uphold human rights and to realise people’s aspiration for a progressive society.