The Bangladesh delegation to the United Nation’s 'Universal Periodic Review (UPR)' in Geneva on 14 May, failed to respond to pressing human rights concerns in the country, according to Human Rights Watch.
The New York-based rights group insisted that the Bangladesh government should use the UPR at the UN Human Rights Council as a "time for reflection, not self-congratulation".
Instead, HRW said, the law minister, Anisul Huq, speaking for the government, highlighted only what their administration considered to be positive steps.
The minister had just glossed over concerns about critical issues such as enforced disappearances, secret and arbitrary detention, extrajudicial killings, and a crackdown on freedom of speech and association, HRW said in report " Bangladesh: Skirting the Issues at the UN" issued on Wednesday.
It recommended that Bangladesh should show its commitment to human rights by giving full consideration to recommendations from other countries and accepting those that would significantly improve its compliance with international human rights standards.
“Bangladesh needs to stop ignoring and start addressing serious human rights violations, such as when its security forces engage in enforced disappearances, killings, torture, and arbitrary arrests, many of them politically motivated,” said HRW Asia director Brad Adams.
The report, however, mentioned that a number of member countries rightly praised the government’s willingness to open the Bangladesh border and provide aid to hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fleeing atrocities by the Myanmar military.
The Bangladesh delegation spoke at length about the progress on handling the influx of the Rohingya refugees but responded with silence and denial to questions and recommendations by several countries, including concerns about extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and attacks on human rights defenders, the report pointed out.
“Bangladesh says it remains committed to doing right by the Rohingya refugees, but it should embrace that same principle towards its own citizens,” Adams said.
“With national elections next [this] year, it is essential for the government to expand democratic space and provide room for debate and dissent.”
Human Rights Watch and other groups have reported for many years about human rights concerns in Bangladesh, and many of these concerns were simply not addressed adequately by Bangladesh in the hearing., the report said.
It recalled that the government pledged during the previous periodic review in 2013 to thoroughly and impartially investigate and prosecute all allegations of human rights violations, in particular by the security forces.
"But it has ignored and denied reports of violations since then, including about violence by the security forces during the 2014 elections and against people who protested the conduct of the elections. The government delegation claimed that it is taking action against those responsible for abuse, but there is little evidence or transparency on this," the HRW report observed.
It said Human Rights Watch has also documented several cases in which members of the political opposition have been forcibly disappeared or secretly detained without charge. "Scores of Bangladesh National Party (BNP) supporters were unlawfully detained and several remains disappeared."
Another key concern to which the government delegation responded inadequately is attacks against critical media and nongovernmental organisations, HRW pointed out.
Many people have been and continue to be jailed or charged under section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology Act, which includes "vague and overbroad provisions to target free speech". Section 57 has also been used to target key civil society leaders and institutions, the report added.
"The government has also been using sedition and other criminal laws to target free speech."