Govt accuses UN rights office of being biased on Bangladesh

Foreign ministry

The government has castigated the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) for its 'biased' and 'ill-intentioned' statement on the human rights situation in Bangladesh. 

In a press release on Tuesday, the foreign ministry also claimed that the UN rights experts, while making the statements, were seemingly influenced by a desire to malign the government here with false and fabricated information.  

The OHCHR released a press release on 14 November on its website, titled as “UN experts urge Bangladesh to seize human rights council review as opportunity to address deteriorating human rights situation”.

The foreign ministry raised questions about motive, content, and timing of the OHCHR observation jointly made by three UN special rapporteurs – Irene Khan, Clement NyaletsossiVoule, and Mary Lawlor. 

According to the release, the special rapporteurs came up with the observation a day after the conclusion of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on Bangladesh on 13 November, where a majority of countries, while making recommendations, appreciated Bangladesh for its legislative, policy, and institutional initiatives to advance human rights. 

“Their one-sided observations appear as ill-intentioned particularly in the context of the government’s active engagement with them,” the release added.  

The ministry further highlighted Bangladesh's commitment to the rule of law and the independence of its judiciary, particularly in handling cases of Dr Muhammad Yunus, Adilur Rahman Khan, and Rozina Islam.

"The three cases are being dealt with by law courts of the independent judiciary where the Government has no scope of intervention," it maintained.

Regarding the case of Dr Muhammad Yunus, the ministry noted that the lawsuit was filed for depriving the workers of a company owned by him of their rightful share of profit. It is surprising that the special rapporteurs are talking of the government violating human rights when it is actually protecting labour and human rights.

It also noted that in the UPR session, while reiterating the government’s steadfast commitment to promote and protect human rights in the country, most of the issues raised by the special rapporteurs were clarified by the Bangladesh delegation. Emphasising that implementation of the human rights agenda is a work in progress, the delegation also assured the human rights council that it would continue making efforts to implement the recommendations made by different countries. 

“Therefore, the government fails to understand what necessitated the issuance of such remarks by the special rapporteurs so hurriedly without allowing the Government any time to reflect on the recommendations made during the UPR,” it added.  

The foreign ministry expressed disappointment with the special rapporteurs’ conduct, deeming it incongruent with their respective mandates. It said the government here expects them to remain neutral and objective, adhering to the code of conduct. At the same time, it accused the rapporteurs of being selective in their focus on Bangladesh, ignoring the positive aspects highlighted by the majority of UPR participating delegations.

“There were fourteen states that underwent UPR examination in the just concluded session of the working group on UPR in November 2023. It is interesting to note that the special rapporteurs chose to issue a statement only on Bangladesh where again they remained silent on innumerable improvements as were appreciated by majority of the participating delegations in this peer review,” it noted. 

The ministry alleged that the special rapporteurs “dishonoured their UN credentials  and misused the media centre of the OHCHR to propagate their personal and biased views to reach a wider audience.”

However, the ministry expressed its positive approach towards constructive recommendations from UN member nations during the UPR but criticised the special rapporteurs for undermining these suggestions with their negative assessment. 

“They went to the length of urge (ing) the human rights council and the international community to press upon Bangladesh the urgency and importance of ensuring a safe, open and conducive environment for free and fair elections and sought to occupy a higher moral pedestal over member states and to influence adoption of the report of the working group. Their urge to the international community goes far beyond their call of duty,” the release added. 

The ministry observed that one of the three special rapporteurs is from Bangladesh and has recently been showing unprecedented level of enthusiasm in making critical observations while she maintains relative silence on other countries. By being so partial, biased, subjective and disproportionately focused, the special rapporteurs run the risk of losing their credibility and acceptance. 

However, the release underlined the importance the government attaches to the role of special procedure mandate holders towards a well-functioning human rights mechanism. While it hopes that the special rapporteurs would remain faithful to their mandates, it expects the OHCHR to provide support to them to objectively fulfill their mandates and to remain careful of not being used as a platform of their subjective pronouncements.