Human Rights Committee
Concludingobservations on the initial report of Bangladesh*
1. TheCommittee considered the initial report of Bangladesh (CCPR/C/BGD/1) at its3339th and 3340th meetings (see CCPR/C/SR.3339 and 3340), held on 6 and 7 March2017. At its 3363rd meeting, held on 22 March 2017, it adopted the presentconcluding observations.
2. The Committee welcomes the submission of theinitial report of Bangladesh and the information presented therein, andregrets that it was 14 years overdue. It expressesappreciation for the opportunity to engage in a constructive dialogue with theState party’s high-level delegation on the measures taken by the State party sincethe entry into force of the Covenant to implement its provisions. The Committeeis grateful to the State party for its written replies (CCPR/C/BDG/Q/1/Add.1) to the list ofissues (CCPR/C/BDG/Q/1), which were supplementedby the oral responses provided by the delegation.
B. Positive aspects
3. TheCommittee welcomes the following legislative and institutional measures takenby the State party since the entry into force of the Covenant in 2000:
(a) Adoption of the Domestic ViolencePrevention and Protection Act, in 2010;
(b) Adoption of the National WomenDevelopment Policy 2011, especially the framework for efforts to promotewomen’s participation in decision-making positions contained in the policy;
(c) Adoption of the Prevention andSuppression of Human Trafficking Act, in 2012;
(d) Adoption of the Persons withDisabilities Rights and Protection Act, in 2013;
(e) Adoption of the Torture and CustodialDeath Prevention Act, in 2013.
4. TheCommittee also welcomes the ratification of, or accession to, the followinginternational instruments by the State party:
(a) The International Convention on theProtection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families,in 2011;
(b) The Convention on the Rights of Personswith Disabilities, in 2007.
C. Principal matters of concern andrecommendations
Nationalhuman rights commission
5. The Committee is concerned that the NationalHuman Rights Commission (NHRC) may not have a broad enough mandate toinvestigate all alleged human rights violations, including those involvingState actors such as the police, military and security forces. It is furtherconcerned that the NHRC lacks sufficient financial and human resources tofulfil its mandate (art. 2).
6. TheState party should broaden the mandate ofthe NHRC and allow it to investigate all alleged human rights violations,including those committed by State military and security actors. The Stateparty should also provide the NHRC with sufficient financial and humanresources to allow it to impartially and independently fulfil its mandate inline with the Paris Principles (GeneralAssembly resolution 48/134, annex).
Domesticapplicability of the Covenant and right to an effective remedy
7. TheCommittee is concerned that not all of the rights protected by the Covenanthave been given full effect through domestic law and that some domesticlegislation contains provisions contrary to the rights in the Covenant. It is alsoconcerned at the lack of information on cases which demonstrate that domesticcourts are upholding the rights in the Covenant (art. 2).
8. The State party should adopt domesticlegislation enabling the implementation of all of the rights in the Covenantand undertake a comprehensive review of its legislation to bringconflicting provisions in line with the Covenant. The State party should also raiseawareness about the rights in the Covenant and domestic law giving effect tothese rights among judges, lawyers and prosecutors to ensure that rightsguaranteed in the Covenant are upheld by the courts. It should also consideracceding to the First Optional Protocol to the Covenant, which establishes anindividual complaint mechanism.
9. TheCommittee is concerned about the use of unclear terminology in counter-terrorismlegislation such as in the Special Powers Act of 1974, which grants the State broad powers of arrest and detention for thevague term “prejudicial acts”,and the broad definition of “terrorist act” in the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2009,which can lend itself to arbitrary and abusive implementation. The Committee isconcerned that the Anti-Terrorism Amendment Bill (2012) which amended theAnti-Terrorism Act of 2009 increased the penalty for financing terrorism toallow for a maximum punishment of the death penalty. It is further concernedby reports that these laws are used to stifle speech of journalists and humanrights defenders (arts.6, 9, 14 and 19).
10. The State party shouldensure that:
(a) its counter-terrorism legislation is in fullconformity with the Covenant;
(b) acts ofterrorism are defined in a precise and narrow manner, and that legislationadopted in that context is limited to crimes that would clearly qualify as actsof terrorism;
(c) the deathpenalty is not imposed for offences, such as the financing of terrorism, whichdo not constitute the “most serious crimes” within the meaning of article 6 (2) of the Covenant; and
(d) counter-terrorism measures arenot used to restrict freedom of expression and opinion of journalists and human rights defenders.
11. Whilenoting that pursuant to article 28 of the Constitution the State will not discriminate against citizens on thelimited grounds of “religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth,” theCommittee is concerned that the Anti-Discrimination Bill of 2015 has not yetbeen adopted, and that discrimination continues to occur against certain groups,such as:
(a) Discriminatory provisions against womencontinue to exist in law, and laws and Constitutional provisions protectingwomen are not enforced due in part to patriarchal attitudes in the State partytowards women and girls;
(b) Attacks on places of worship ofreligious minorities, extortion, intimidation, harassment of, and land grabbingfrom, religious minorities;
(c) Lackof legal recognition of indigenous peoples, reported discrimination andrestrictions on the civil and political rights of indigenous peoples, inparticular as it relates to land rights and participation in political anddecision making processes;
(d) Persistence of a caste based systemresulting in limited employment and housing opportunities for people fromso-called lower castes who experience extreme poverty, social stigma andmarginalization;
(e) Criminalization under section 377 of thePenal code of consensual sexual acts between same sex couples which are termed“unnatural behaviour,” stigmatization, harassment and violence against lesbian,gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons, barriers to assistance in seekingemployment of “hijras” who are considered as transgender persons by theadministration of invasive and humiliating medical examinations to provetransgender status (arts. 2, 3, 26 and 27).
12. The State party should ensure that the Anti-DiscriminationBill of 2015 protects against direct and indirect discrimination in the public and private spherebased on a comprehensive list of grounds for discrimination, including colour,descent, caste, national or ethnic origin, religion, sexual orientation andgender identity, disability and other status, and provide for effectiveremedies in case of violations. The State party should also accelerate theadoption of this bill and ensure its effective implementation. It should also develop education campaigns forschools, government officials and the general public to promote tolerance and appreciation for diversity and non-discrimination. Furthermore, the State party should:
(a) Undertake legislative reformsto eliminate direct and indirect discriminatory legislative provisions againstwomen, implement existing legislative protections for women and girls, endentrenched patriarchal attitude in society through educational campaigns on theequality of women, and ensure that the application of religious personal status laws donot violate the right to non-discrimination of women and girls;
(b) Protectthe safety and security of persons belonging to minority religious groups andensure their ability to fully enjoy their freedom of religion and to worshipwithout fear of attack;
(c) Recognizethe legal status of indigenous peoples, facilitate the reporting of violationsof the rights of indigenous peoples, investigate such cases, prosecuteperpetrators and compensate victims, resolve land disputes through theimplementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Land Dispute Resolution CommissionAct 2001 (amended in 2016) and through the use of an independent landcommission, and include indigenous persons in political and decision makingprocesses;
(d) Takemeasures to end the de facto caste systems, and ensure that individuals from so-calledlower casts are not relegated to caste based employment and have equal accessto all rights guaranteed under the Covenant, without discrimination;
(e) Decriminalizeconsensual sexual acts between same sexcouples, provide protection to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT)persons from violence and harassment by ensuring that all cases are promptlyinvestigated, prosecuted, and punished with appropriate sanctions, andeliminate barriers to employment and violations to the dignity of “hijras”.
Earlymarriage and harmful traditional practices
13. TheCommittee is concerned that the State party has one of the highest rates ofearly marriage in the world, with 32% of girls married before the age of 15 and66% of girls married before the age of 18. It is also concerned that earlymarriage is prevalent in refugee camps where 90% of families have at least onemarried family member under the age of 18. The Committee notes efforts by theState party to reduce early marriage through the approval of a Child Marriage RestraintBill in 2016, but remains concerned that marriage below the age of 18 will bepermitted in “special circumstances.” The Committee is further concerned at thecontinuation of harmful traditional practices such as the imposition of thepayment of dowries on the families of girls (arts. 2, 3, 24 and 26).
14. The State party should take immediate measures to sharply reduce early marriage and prevent dowrypractices, including through the implementation of legislation preventing earlymarriage and dowry practices and by carrying out campaigns to publicize thelegislation outlawing such practices, and inform girls, their parents andcommunity leaders of the harmful effects of early marriage. The Stateparty should amend the Child Marriage Restraint Bill tomaintain the legal minimum age of marriage for girls at 18 years, in accordancewith international norms, without any exceptions.
Voluntary termination of pregnancy andsexual and reproductive health
15. The Committee is concerned that abortionis criminalized except when the life of woman is in danger, which prompts womento resort to unsafe abortions, endangering their health and leading to a highrate of maternal mortality. The Committee notes that while the State partyallows for “menstrual regulation,” the procedure is not widely available andwomen requesting the procedure reportedly are often refused. It is also concerned at the highrate of adolescent pregnancy connected to early marriage and resulting in maternal mortality (arts. 3, 6, 7, 17, and 26).
16. The State party should:
(a) Revise its legislation to provide for additional exceptions to the legal ban on abortion,including in cases of rape, incest, fatal foetal impairment, and for therapeuticreasons, and to ensure that women are not deniedmedical services and are not prompted by legal obstacles, including criminalprovisions, to resort to unsafe abortions that put their lives and health atrisk;
(b) Increase education and awareness-raising programmeson the importance of using contraceptives and on sexual and reproductive healthrights.
17. While noting theexistence of laws and national action plans to prevent violence against women,the Committee is concerned at the lack of consistent implementation of theselaws, in particular in light of the reportedly high rates of domestic andsexual violence against women and girls in the State party. Of particularconcern are acid attacks, rape, gang rapes, dowry related violence,fatwa-instigated violence, sexual harassment, and sexual violence againstindigenous women related to land grabbing in the Chittagong Hills Tract, andsexual and gender based violence and domestic violence against Rohingya refugeewomen and girls in refugee camps (arts. 3, 6, 7 and 27).
18. The State party shouldredouble its efforts to prevent and combat all forms of violence against women.It should ensure the consistent implementation of theexisting laws and national action plans on violence against women. It shouldintensify awareness-raising measures among the police, the judiciary,prosecutors, community representatives, women and men on the gravity of sexualand gender based violence and domestic violence and its detrimental impact onthe lives of victims. The State party should ensure that cases of violenceagainst women, including indigenous and refugee women, are thoroughlyinvestigated, that perpetrators are prosecuted and, if convicted, punished withappropriate sanctions, and the victims are provided with full reparation. Itshould also ensure the availability of a sufficient number of shelters withadequate resources for victims.
Extra-judicialkillings and enforced disappearances
19. The Committee isconcerned at the reported high rate of extra-judicial killings by policeofficers, soldiers and Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) force members and the reportedenforced disappearances, as well as the excessive use of force by State actors.The Committee is further concerned by the lack of investigations and accountabilityof perpetrators, leaving families of victims without information and redress. Itis further concerned that domestic law does not effectively criminalize enforceddisappearances, and that the State party does not accept that enforceddisappearances occurs (arts.2, 6, 7, 9, 10, and 16).
20. The State party should:
(a) Takeimmediate measures to protect the right to life of all persons;
(b) Reviseits legislation to limit the use of force by law enforcement officials, themilitary and special forces, incorporating international standards, includingthe Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law EnforcementOfficials, and ensure accountability for violations;
(c) Effectivelycriminalize enforced disappearance;
(d) Investigateall cases of arbitrary killings, enforced disappearances, and excessive use offorce, prosecute and if convicted punish the perpetrators with appropriatesanctions, and provide full reparation to the victims. In case ofdisappearances, the State party should establish the truth about the fate and thewhereabouts of the victims and ensure that victims of enforced disappearanceand their relatives are informed about the outcome of the investigation;
(e) Providein its next periodic report information on: (i) the number of investigationsconducted; (ii) convictions secured and (iii) disaggregated information onpenalties that have been imposed on perpetrators.
Tortureand ill treatment
21. TheCommittee notes information provided by the State party that there arecurrently no ongoing investigations into cases of torture in the State partyand is concerned at this fact in particular in light of information thattorture and ill-treatment by law enforcement or military personnel iswidespread in the State party during interrogations, to extract confessions.The Committee notes reports that this practice continues despite the existenceof the Torture and Custodial Death Prevention Act of 2013, and is furtherconcerned at reports that law enforcement officials are requesting to repealthis law and are seeking safeguards from prosecution on torture charges (arts.7, 9 and 10).
22. The State party should put an end to thepractice of torture and ill-treatment. It should enforce the Torture andCustodial Death Prevention Act of 2013 and ensure that no immunity provisionsin other laws supersede the protections in this Act. The State party shouldestablish an independent complaint mechanism with the authority to investigateall reported allegations of, and complaints about, torture and ill-treatment. Itshould further ensure that alleged perpetrators of those crimes are prosecutedand that the victims are provided with full reparations.
23. The Committee is concerned atthe high number of cases in which the death penalty is imposed in the Stateparty and the fact that it can be handed down for crimes that do not meet thethreshold of the “most serious crimes” within the meaning ofarticle 6 (2) of the Covenant, such as smuggling or the adulterationof food under the Special Powers Act of 1974, the production, manufacture orconsumption of intoxicant materials under the Intoxicant Control Act of 1990,and in certain cases spying under the Official Secrets Act of 1923 (arts. 6, 7 and 14).
24. The State party should givedue consideration to abolishing the death penalty and acceding to the SecondOptional Protocol to the Covenant, aiming at the abolition of the deathpenalty. If the death penalty is maintained, it should consider introducing amoratorium on its application and, in any event, undertake legislative reformto ensure that the death penalty is provided only for the most serious crimes,understood to be intentional killings, and that pardon or commutation of thesentence must be available in all cases, regardless of the crime committed. TheState party should also ensure that, if the death penalty is imposed, it isnever in violation of the Covenant, including in violation of fair trialprocedures.
25. TheCommittee is concerned at the poor conditions of detention in the State party’sprisons, particularly with respect to overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, andextortion of inmates and their relatives by prison guards to enjoy basicrights. It is further concerned by the high number of deaths in prison over thelast five years, all of which are attributed by the State party to naturalcauses or to suicide, while reports indicate that at least some of these deathscan be attributed to poor prison conditions, negligence by the authorities,lack of access to treatment, and, in some cases, death as a result of injuriessustained by torture while in police custody (arts. 6, 7, 9 and 10).
26. TheState party should continue to strengthen its efforts to improve conditions ofdetention by taking practical measures to reduce overcrowding, particularly bypromoting alternatives to detention, ensuring that bail determinations are madepromptly and that persons on remand are not kept in custody for an unreasonableperiod of time. It should also increase efforts to guarantee the right ofdetainees to be treated with humanity and dignity and ensure that conditions ofdetention in all of the country’s prisons are compatible with the UnitedNations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the NelsonMandela Rules).
Freedomof opinion expression and association
27. TheCommittee is concerned at limitations on the rights of journalists, bloggers,human rights defenders and civil society organizations in the State party to exercisetheir right to freedom of opinion, expression and association, in particular:
(a) Lack of police protection, registrationof complaints, investigations and prosecutions of incidents of violent killingof “secular bloggers” by extremist groups as well as death threats, physicalattacks, intimidation and harassment of journalists, bloggers and human rightsdefenders;
(b) The arrest of at least 35 journalists,“secular bloggers” and human rights defenders in 2016 under the Information andCommunications Technology (ICT) Act of 2006 (amended in 2013), a de-factoblasphemy law which limits freedom of opinion and expression using vague andoverbroad terminology to criminalize publishing information online, which“hurts religious sentiment” and information, which prejudices “the image of theState” with a punishment of 7 to 14 years;
(c) Undue limitations on the ability ofhuman rights defenders and non-governmental organizations to operate, throughthe Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Bill of 2016, whichrestricts the ability of non-governmental organizations to secure resources andmakes it an offence to make “inimical” or “derogatory” remarks against theConstitution or a constitutional body terms which are undefined and which canresult in deregistration of the non-governmental organization in question(arts. 6, 19, and 22).
28. The State party should immediately undertakethe following measures to protect the rights of journalists, bloggers, humanrights defenders and civil society organizations:
(a) Protectthem from unlawful killings, physical attacks and harassment. Ensure thatpolice officials receive adequate training regarding the protection of humanrights defenders. Register complaints and thoroughly investigate all attacks onthe life, physical integrity and dignity of these persons, bring perpetratorsto justice and provide victims with appropriate remedies;
(b) Repealor revise the laws mentioned above with a view to bringing them into conformitywith its obligations under the Covenant, taking into account the Committee’sgeneral comment No. 34 (2011) on freedoms of opinion and expression. Inparticular, it should clarify the vague, broad and open-ended definition of keyterms in these laws and ensure that they are not used as tools to curtailfreedom of expression beyond the narrow restrictions permitted in article 19 ofthe Covenant;
(c) Repeal the Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities)Regulation Bill, and ensure that any legal provisions restricting access toforeign funding does not risk the effective operation of non-governmentalorganizations as a result of overly limited fundraising options, and ensurethat non-governmental organizations can operate freely and without fear ofretribution for exercising their freedom of expression.
Rightto political participation
29. The Committee is concerned that violence duringelections, such as the excessive use of force by State actors during theJanuary 2014 election, hinders the rights of voters to participate in free andfair elections (art. 25).
30. TheState party should ensure the safety and security of all individuals in thecontext of elections so that they may exercise their right to vote.
Refugees and Asylum Seekers
31. The Committee is concerned at reports that at times largenumbers of asylum seekers fleeing violence in Myanmar were returned to Myanmarat the border. It is also concerned that the State party intends to relocateover 30,000 Rohingya refugees to the island of Thengar Char, an area whichcurrently lacks the infrastructure necessary for respect of basic human rights,and is prone to flooding, and that such relocation might take place without thefull and free consent of the affected individuals (arts. 6, 7, 12 and 27).
32. The State party should implement legislative andadministrative measures to comply fully with the principle of non-refoulementin line with article 6 and 7 of the Covenant. It should consider acceding tothe 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. Itshould ensure that refugees are not forcibly relocated andthat planned relocation sites would offer conditions of life compatible withthe international obligations of the State party.
D. Dissemination and follow-up
33. The State party should widely disseminate the Covenant, its initial reports, the written replies to the Committee’s list ofissues and the present concludingobservations with a view toraising awareness of the rights enshrined in the Covenant among the judicial,legislative and administrativeauthorities, civil societyand NGOs operating in the country, and the general public. The State party should ensure that the report and the presentconcluding observations are translated into the official language of the Stateparty.
34. Inaccordance with rule 71, paragraph 5, of the Committee’s rules of procedure,the State party is requested to provide, within one year of the adoptionof the present concluding observations,information on the implementation of the recommendations made by theCommittee in paragraphs 14 (Early marriage andharmful traditional practices), 20 (Extra-judicial killings and enforceddisappearances) and 22 (torture and ill treatment) above.
35. The Committee requests the State party to submitits next periodic report by 29 March 2021 and to include in that reportspecific up-to-date information on the implementation of the recommendationsmade in the present concluding observations and of the Covenant as a whole. TheCommittee also requests the State party, in preparing the report, to broadlyconsult civil society and NGOs operating in the country, as well as minority andmarginalized groups. In accordance with General Assembly resolution 68/268, the word limitfor the report is 21,200 words. Alternatively, the Committee invites the Stateparty to agree, by 29 March 2018, to use its simplified reporting procedure,whereby the Committee transmits a list of issues to the State party prior tothe submission of its periodic report. The State party’s replies to that listwill constitute its second periodic report to be submitted under article 40 ofthe Covenant.