Bangladesh’s human rights record was reviewed by the UN Human Rights Committee on 6 and 7 March 2017 in Geneva. As one of the 169 States that have ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Bangladesh was required to undergo review by the Committee on how it is implementing the Covenant.
The Committee, which is composed of 18 international independent members, discussed a range of issues relating to the ICCPR with a delegation from the Bangladesh Government. Members were also briefed by the NGO representatives.
Sultana Kamal, Chairperson of Center for Social Activism (CSA) delivered a statement during the Bangladesh Review on the implementation of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Issues which were highlighted in the statement:
• Having advantage of absolute majority in the parliament and of no effective criticism, the government has introduced a plethora of laws without any proper consultation- many of which are very repressive and fall short of human rights standards. For example, the 2013 amendment of the Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) Act that provides heavy punishment (minimum 7 years imprisonment) for “crimes” related to freedom of expression and also allows the police to arrests an accused without a warrant; the Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act 2016 says ‘any foreign-funded NGO which engages in activities deemed to be ‘anti-state’ or extremist, or which makes “derogatory comments about the Constitution and constitutional institutions” will be liable for prosecution; the Child Marriage Restraint Act 2017 keeps a very significant proviso – special circumstances — that allows a boy or a girl to get married before reaching the minimum age limit. Several other bills like the Citizenship Bill, Digital Security Bill etc. are on its way to be enacted as laws which have several problematic provisions;
• The absence of strong political opposition in the parliament and outside parliament giving the government easy layover to manipulate their power. The government is also showing heavy handedness to stop any kind of criticism or protest both online or offline from any quarter- be it from the civil society members, journalists or just individuals. This is significantly contributing to the increasing intolerance towards freedom of assembly and association and to freedom of speech and of thought and conscience;
• Killing of bloggers, online activists since 2013 is part of this alarming trend. These fatal and vicious attacks on bloggers did not only silence the victims but also sent a chilling message to all in Bangladesh. Free thinkers have been repeatedly targeted by extremist groups throughout Bangladesh and appears that the trend set by the government on handling such issues was disappointing;
• The Government continues to deny the allegation of enforced disappearances and extra judicial killings. Government representative’s argument that ‘Enforced Disappearance’ is not a recognized term under Bangladesh’s laws and hence the government cannot be responsible for the cases of enforced disappearances and extra judicial killings is not only a cruel farce to the victims and their family members, but also gives a strong signal of impunity to the perpetrator;
• The situation particularly of the religious minorities and the indigenous peoples are of huge concern. Despite the widespread demand, the government did not recognise ‘indigenous peoples’ in its constitution and rather termed them as ethnic minorities, yet excluding many ethnic groups. The government even restricts media and everyone to use the word indigenous. The indigenous peoples and the religious Hindu minorities are the prime target of all forms of violence mostly aimed at grabbing their lands and properties.