Alarming escalation of threats to human rights defenders

Paris-Geneva,November 9, 2013 - As twomembers of prominent human rights NGO Odhikar will face trial tomorrow in Dhakain relation to their human rights activities, the Observatory for theProtection of Human Rights Defenders, an FIDH-OMCT joint programme, publishestoday an internationalmission report on the situation of human rights defenders in Bangladesh.

In Bangladesh, the authorities resort to a legal arsenal andrestrictive practices to prosecute and pressure human rights defenders, whoface physical attacks, arbitrary detention and judicial harassment.

NGO activists, lawyers, journalists and tradeunionists trying to defend the victims of human rights violations remaininadequately protected and suffer repression for carrying out legitimateactivities under international law”, said KarimLahidji, President of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). “Presently,two members of Odhikar, a respected human rights NGO, are facing judicialharassment for publishing a report on police repression”, he added.

Mr. AdilurRahman Khan, Secretary of Odhikar and amember of the General Assembly of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), whose trial will resume tomorrow, was detained from August 10 toOctober 11, 2013. Mr. Nasiruddin Elan,Director of Odhikar, was sent to prison on November 6. Both have been harassed afterOdhikar published a report on the repression of a demonstration offundamentalists by the police last May.

In Bangladesh, the political atmosphere isfundamentally polarised, and the situation is becoming increasingly tensed inthe lead-up to the general elections due to take place before the end ofJanuary 2014.

We are alarmedover the present situation and the risk of further repression of human rightsdefenders in the upcoming pre-election context. Human rights work is in theinherent interest of any nation, no matter who the victim may be. This voiceneeds to be heard even in times of political tension”, declaredGerald Staberock, Secretary General of OMCT. There is aheavy burden on all actors, State authorities, political parties and the mediaalike, to withstand the temptation of labelling human rights defenders aspro-government or anti-government, depending on whom they criticise or whichparty is in power”, he added.

The trade union environment isalso generally polarised along party lines, and the few independent unions thatexist face obstacles to their work, including daily harassment by theauthorities. The enforced disappearance and extrajudicial killing of labourleader and human rights defender Aminul Islam in 2012 reminded the internationalcommunity and human rights defenders on the ground how risky independent labourrights activities could be in Bangladesh. Authorities failed to launch anyeffective investigation about his assassination.

The Observatory concludes that as long ascorruption is not curbed, and in the absence of a peaceful and constructivepolitical environment, of legislation promoting human rights and of anindependent judiciary, abuses of power and arbitrary practices will continue.These make the exercise of fundamental freedoms more difficult, hinder thestrengthening of an independent civil society, and maintain human rightsdefenders in the trap of a disabling environment.

TheObservatory Mission Report, titled Humanrights defenders trapped in a polarised political environment”, outlines recommendations to the Bangladeshi authorities,the United Nations, the European Union and other foreign diplomacies. The report is available here.

For more information, please contact:
FIDH: Audrey Couprie/Arthur Manet: +33 1 43 55 25 18
OMCT: Delphine Reculeau: +41 22 809 49 39

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