Emphasis on democracy and human rights

Law minister Anisul Huq
Prothom Alo file photo

Law minister Anisul Huq at the review meeting of the UN human rights on Monday said Bangladesh has ensured all sorts of rights of the opposition in politics and the opposition parties enjoy full freedom in parliament.

He apprised the 4th Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of UN human rights in the beginning of discussion on the overall human rights situation in Bangladesh.

He said Bangladesh is committed to the compliance of basic principles and legal obligations of human rights in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh submitted its report in writing for review and the law minister mainly repeated the contents of that.

At the meeting the representatives of the western countries presented their observations and recommendations on the political protests and freedom of expression regarding the democracy and election in Bangladesh. The law minister responded to these.  

Moreover, the law minister pointed to certain political issues over which none of the countries said anything. These issues include the caretaker government demanded by the BNP, conditional release for treatment of BNP chief and former prime minister Khaleda Zia, the case against Muhammad Yunus at the labour court and human rights organisation Odhikar and its chief Adilur Rahman. He gave the government's explanation over these issues.

At the meeting the representatives of the liberal democratic countries including the US and UK laid emphasis on the freedom of speech, freedom of association and thinking, and ensuring democratic rights. They also emphasised on the accountability for the violation of law and human rights.

On the other hand, South Asian countries including China and India stressed on health and education.

Freedom of speech

The largest number of countries at the 4th UPR recommended abolishing the death sentence.

They called for ratifying the international charter for disappearance and the independent investigation of incidents of disappearances.

Many countries recommended for ratification of the additional protocol of convention against torture (CAT).

The issue of Cyber Security Act, which was enacted by abolishing the Digital Security Act, also came up for discussion.

The representatives of many countries said this new act will severely curtail freedom of speech.

They also said the law needs to be amended to make it consistent with the international laws of human rights. The representative of Canada made a demand to cancel the Cyber Security Act.

About freedom of speech and thought, the law minister said these rights are not unlimited and it is also important to ensure security and peace.
He also said this law has been framed to secure the cyber world. The provision for defamation being considered an offence has been abolished in the new law.

The law minister said the expression of different opinions will not be considered an offence in this law.

Freedom of speech

About calls made by the US, UK and some other western countries about holding a free, fair and participatory election, the law minister said the government is determined to hold a free, fair and peaceful election. He also mentioned enactment of the law regarding recruitment of election commission and amendment of Representation of the People Order (RPO) which were in the report.

About BNP’s demand for a caretaker government, the law minister said the system was introduced as a result of vote rigging during the tenure of BNP. The court declared the system illegal and later the parliament scrapped the caretaker government. He said the government was more liberal towards BNP but the party chooses the way of violence. Law minister said BNP killed police, attacked the residence of the chief justice and journalists.

Anisul Huq said the government is not making any arbitrary arrests but on specific allegations.

Immediately after the UPR convention, another programme took place in the United Nations office on the human rights situation in Bangladesh. Speaking at that event, Human Rights Watch’s senior researcher Julia Buckner said over 10,000 leaders-activists of opposition party has been arrested over last two weeks. Even dead persons and those who live abroad are also being sued in trumped up charges. Several officials of Bangladesh mission in Geneva were present at this session. Of them, Sanchita Haque reiterated the law minister’s stance on the issue.

Regarding the cases and treatment of Khaleda Zia, law minister Anisul Huq said as many claim her to be in house arrest, he wants to take the floor to make it clear that the BNP chief is indicted in a case filed during the caretaker government.

Upon an application from her family, the government released her temporarily on humanitarian ground and extended the release period in seven phases. She is receiving the best treatment in the country.

The law minister stressed cooperation and information sharing with the working committee on enforced disappearance. He also noted that Bangladesh has hosted a record number of special rapporteurs since the previous UPR.

Labour and human rights

In his speech, Anisul Huq described the garment workers’ protests as ‘an act of sabotage’ and claimed the protesters to be out to disrupt the country’s democratic process.

The government amended the labour act to safeguard the labour rights and also announced a fresh minimum wage for them last week, he added.

Later, Amnesty International said through its official X handle that it is a right of workers to demonstrate for a living wage.

The law minister noted that the authorities have eased up the registration process for trade unions. Besides, he shed light on the case against Nobel laureate Dr Muhammad Yunus, saying the workers filed a case against him for breaching the rules of 5 per cent profit sharing and the government took their side.

Later at a meeting of rights defenders, a senior official of the Human Rights Watch mentioned the case against Dr Muhammad Yunus as a part of the government’s intimidation and harassment to muzzle the civil society.

Odhikar secretary Adilur Rahman Khan was present in the meeting and was harassed there by some pro-government individuals.

In its recommendation, the US urged Bangladesh to safeguard the people’s voting rights, ensure freedom of expression and thoughts for journalists and civil society, and take steps to hold members of law enforcement agencies involved with human rights violations.

The UK representative laid emphasis on holding a free, fair and inclusive election and advocated for freedom of expression, association, meeting, and judiciary.

A total of 118 nations took part in the human rights review session on Bangladesh. Observing the session, Pakistan, Cuba, and Romania will prepare a report and is supposed to publish it on Wednesday. The final recommendations will be published on 24 November.