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CHRI: protect journalists, minority rights, end impunity, high praise for handling of Rohingya crisis

May 12, 2018

Geneva / Delhi

May 12, 2018

Bangladesh needs to show it is taking action to protect journalists and bloggers, human rights defenders, strongly defend minority rights and tackle issues arising from impunity around enforced disappearances when its human rights record comes up on for review Monday, May 14, before the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group in Geneva.  This is for the third time since 2008 that Bangladesh has faced the UPR process.

However, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), joins other international institutions in appreciating the enormous service that Bangladesh has unstintingly provided to over 700,000 Rohingya who have fled repression and oppression in Myanmar to seek sanctuary in Bangladesh’s border areas. 

CHRI regards this as a beacon of humanitarian support and urges the international community not to flag in its  efforts to provide support to Bangladesh and the Rohingya refugees.  It calls for special heed to the protection of girls and young women as disturbing detailed reports are emerging of human trafficking from the refugee camps.

Under the UPR, Bangladesh will be presenting a national report summarising the domestic human rights scenario. Other nations will then make observations and recommend steps to improve the situation.  The UPR is a unique process which involves a review of the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States once every four years. Recently India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka were reviewed under this UN process.

CHRI urges the government of Bangladesh to engage constructively with the UN mechanism and end its crackdown on freedom of speech and expression. CHRI calls on the international community to press Dhaka on the need to stop attacks against media workers and bloggers, and human rights defenders.

CHRI expresses its deep concerns on growing attacks on secular bloggers and media workers who have also received death threats. Eight journalists have been killed since last UPR in 2013. During the period of review, 1271 charge sheets were filed in Bangladesh under section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology Act for criticising the Government, political leaders, and others on Facebook, as well as in blogs, online newspapers, or other social media. This has created a climate of intimidation and fear. In 2017, one journalist was killed, while 28 suffered serious injuries, and another  75 were victims of major assaults.

“Independent journalism has become a highly insecure profession in Bangladesh”, said Sanjoy Hazarika, CHRI’s international director, pointing to the situation  of Mahfuz Anam, the editor of the Daily Star newspaper and one of the most prominent media figures in the country, who has been facing not less than 83 cases of sedition and libel.

In addition, CHRI point out that there has been a failure on part of the State to conduct credible investigations on past and current attacks on journalists, media outlets, and human rights defenders. In the last few years, perpetrators of such crimes appear to have enjoyed impunity adding credence to accusations of government and police complicity and negligence.

CHRI has observed that the most significant human rights issues that require Bangladesh governments urgent action include the following:  excessive use of force, enforced disappearance and extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary or unlawful detentions, forced disappearances by government security forces and restrictions on civil liberties, including freedom of speech and assembly, press as well as on the activities of non-government organizations.

Further, overcrowding of prisons is a serious issue, impacting the rights of inmates: 68 jails in Bangladesh with a capacity of 36,614 prisoners are currently holding 76,025 or more than double their capacity. In the Commonwealth, Bangladesh has the highest proportion of Under Trial Prisoners to general prisoners with 77.7%.

On the positive front,  Bangladesh has continued to flag human rights and justice as core components of all international discussions concerning existing and emerging global challenges such as  violent extremism, climate change and mass movement of people. In 2015, the Rules of Procedure for International Crimes Tribunal was amended, to facilitate speedy disposal of cases and transparency of court procedure.

Lastly, CHRI also noted that Bangladesh has not adhered to several recommendations since the last UPR. Some progress has been made in submitting reports to UN treaty bodies but reports are still pending submission to Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination(CERD) and the Convention against Torture (CAT). It has pending requests for visits by seven Special Rapporteurs (SR), including from SR on freedom of assembly and SR on human rights and counter terrorism.  Since its second UPR, Bangladesh has not been able to protect religious, ethnic and linguistic minorities against human rights violations within its territory and turned a blind eye to law enforcement agencies assisting in such abuses.

CHRI calls on the international community to highlight these serious human rights concerns. Sustained international  and domestic pressure and scrutiny are critical to this process.

For more information, please contact:
Yashasvi Nain
Programme Officer, International Advocacy and Programing
Email: yashasvi@humanrightsinitiative.org