Shrinking practice of civil rights

There is no alternative to democratic system of government if the benefits of development are to reach people at all levels. In democratic countries, civil rights are extended through laws and various institutional and non-institutional practices. We witness a complete opposite picture in Bangladesh. The recent reports revealed by several national and international organisations on the scope of civil rights practice and the sustainability of civil bodies Bangladesh are perturbing.

Human rights organisation Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK) believes that civil rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and protest that has been mandated in the constitution are shrinking in the country. The organization observes that political parties and people had to face various adversities in holding gatherings across the year of 2022.

ASK says that in 2022, there were 479 incidents of political violence across the country while 70 people were killed in these incidents. Around 6914 people were injured. Apart from this, 19 people died in gunfights and in the custody of law enforcement while five people were abducted or missing. There have been 1694 incidents of violence against women while 126 women were killed and 936 were raped. Total 12 women were victims of acid attack. Around 1,045 incidents of child abuse have occurred and 474 children were killed in such incidents. Besides, 21 people were killed at the border in the previous year. while 36 people died in mob lynching, 65 people died in custody.

Apart from this, 12 incidents of attacks on minorities occurred in 2022 and 210 journalists were tortured and harassed.

It is evident why ASK has called the overall human rights situation of the country as 'horrific'. Due to this alarming situation of human rights violations, Bangladesh has drawn flak criticism from international arena in the past years. In 2021, the United States also imposed sanctions against seven current and former RAB officials.

According to ASK's report, extrajudicial killings have decreased compared to previous years, but they have not completely stopped. Incidents of disappearances, abductions, deaths in custody have not stopped. The executive director of ASK called for a complete end to extrajudicial killings as well as formation of a judicial commission to stop cases of disappearances, murders and abductions and to bring those involved to justice. We also believe it is necessary to ensure transparency and accountability in every field to improve the overall human rights situation.

According to USAID's recently published Civil Society Organisations Sustainability Index (CSOSI) Global Report 2021, the position of Bangladesh in the global sustainability index of civil organisations has shrunk in 2021 as in the previous year. The report said that the Covid situation along with the ongoing crisis like legal complexities, restrictions on expression, bureaucratic complications, uncertainty of getting funds are responsible for this.

Misuse of laws such as the Digital Security Act for the online platforms creates hindrance to expression. Therefore, the exercise of civil rights online is shrinking. Based on the opinion of concerned parties, it is necessary to change the clauses that conflict with the right of expression in such laws. The government should respect the peaceful assembly of political parties or individuals. The environment for sustainability of civic organisations must be ensured. A prerequisite for a sustainable democracy is to secure the right of citizens to express their opinions.