Human rights activists' protection: State agencies must be accountable

Article 11 of the Constitution of Bangladesh states, "The Republic shall be a democracy in which fundamental human rights and freedoms and respect for the dignity and worth of the human person shall be guaranteed…." The government is responsible to protect the rights of the citizens on behalf of the state.

In countries with poor human rights conditions, human rights activists and organisations must actively protect human rights. However, in Bangladesh, there are concerns about whether these groups can carry out their duties without fear. The situation seems to diverge significantly from the government's claims.

The findings from the recent research report by the Centre for Governance Studies (CGS) are concerning. According to the survey, a staggering 65 per cent of human rights workers faced obstacles in their work due to interference from state organisations and the ruling party.

In 41 per cent of these instances, intelligence agencies, law enforcement, and government officials were responsible for hindering their efforts. Additionally, one in every ten human rights workers had to leave a particular place due to various threats and challenges.

Based on interviews with 50 grassroots human rights activists from 36 districts, CGS prepared the report. Around 46 per cent of the activists mentioned that the human rights situation in the country has deteriorated. Additionally, 62 per cent expressed that the overall work environment is 'unsafe and very unsafe.'

Professor Ali Riaz from the Illinois State University, who led the research, noted that some activists avoided answering certain questions during the survey due to fear, indicating a prevalent culture of fear.

While the government holds the responsibility to protect human rights, it cannot possibly be aware of all violations. In such cases, human rights organisations play a vital role in providing crucial information. Media regularly highlights human rights abuses. Ideally, governments should use this information to take legal action against violators.

However, in many cases, the opposite happens. Journalists and human rights activists are subjected to various forms of harassment. Contrarily, the perpetrators of human rights violations often receive support and protection.

This situation is not only unwarranted but also unusual in a state that was established through a liberation war, based on the principles of equality, social dignity, and justice. Regrettably, there have been instances where members of the administration and law enforcement have been involved in forced disappearances and extrajudicial killings. Despite objections raised by human rights organisations and activists, the government policymakers did not take heed.

However, when the United States imposed sanctions against RAB (Rapid Action Battalion) as an agency and seven of its officials due to human rights violations, the frequency of extrajudicial killings significantly reduced.

Nevertheless, it cannot be claimed that the human rights situation has improved entirely, as deaths in police custody and the arbitrary use of digital security laws against dissent is still prevalent.

To prevent further deterioration of the country's human rights situation, the government must avoid implementing new legal crackdowns and harassing human rights activists and organisations. State agencies, funded by the people's tax money, should be held accountable for their actions.