Bangladesh: Arbitrary detention and impunity for torture continues after elections

The re-election of long-standing Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in early January took place in a context of gross human rights violations that continue to occur across the country with almost complete impunity ©Shutterstock

The United Against Torture Consortium is calling on Bangladesh’s newly elected administration to respect and restore civic space and to carry out significant reforms on the prevention of and protection from torture. Sheikh Hasina, the long-standing Prime Minister of the country, was re-elected in early January for a fourth consecutive term in a context of gross human rights violations, including torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings that continue to occur across the country with almost complete impunity.

Despite international criticism and its own human rights commitments reiterated last November before the United Nations in Geneva, the Bangladeshi government further intensified its crackdown on dissenting voices in the run-up to the parliamentary elections. Around 25’000 opposition leaders and supporters were arbitrarily arrested, and some were allegedly tortured and denied treatment. At least ten have died in prison since November 2023. We are not aware of any independent investigations into these alleged violations.

For years, the Bangladeshi government has suppressed opposing voices. Hundreds of human rights defenders and journalists have been arbitrarily detained under repressive laws, including the Digital Security Act 2018 and the Cyber Security Act 2023. Repression has also been used against labour rights activists. The president of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation Gazipur district committee, Shahidul Islam, was beaten to death after he supported factory workers who did not get paid. Investigations into his killing have yet to be conducted.

The Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), an elite unit of the Bangladesh police which has been criticised by numerous UN human rights experts and sanctioned by the US Department of the Treasury, is particularly notorious for its excessive use of force and use of torture. We renew our urge to the government to dissolve the RAB and to investigate and prosecute abuses independently.

We highlight that Bangladesh dramatically benefits from the EU’s Generalised Scheme of Preferences. Despite severe and systematic violations of several of the 15 core human rights conventions, including the Convention against Torture, which would justify the withdrawal of the scheme under EU regulations, Bangladesh continues to profit from duty-free and quota-free access to the EU market.

Against this backdrop, we urge the government of Bangladesh to put an end to authoritarianism and to respect its commitments to democratic principles and human rights:

  1. Immediately and unconditionally drop all politically motivated cases, release all arbitrarily detained activists and opposition members, and ensure fair and transparent judicial processes.
  2. Conduct thorough and impartial investigations into gross human rights violations, particularly cases involving torture, extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.
  3. Dissolve the Rapid Action Battalion and investigate and prosecute alleged torture, extrajudicial killings, and enforced disappearances by its members.
  4. Repeal the Cyber Security Act and reevaluate other repressive laws that are used to detain government critics arbitrarily.
  5. Re-establish the rule of law by ensuring the rights of all detained persons, accountability, and accessible and impartial justice.
  6. Meaningfully engage with the international community by implementing recommendations by the Committee against Torture, the Universal Periodic Review and UN independent experts. 

We call on the international community to hold Bangladesh to account for its human rights record. Countries should engage with the Bangladeshi government so that rampant violations and the culture of impunity are brought to an end. We particularly urge the European Union to demand meaningful progress on the rule of law, the protection of civic space and accountability for torture and other grave violations before any further trade negotiations can take place.

About the Consortium: The United Against Torture Consortium pools the strengths and expertise of six leading anti-torture organisations (IRCT, OMCT, FIACAT, APT, Omega Research Foundation and REDRESS) in partnership with over 200 civil society organisations in more than 100 countries, to strengthen and expand the anti-torture movement. The European Union funds the project.

The news release is available in Bangladeshi here.

For more information, please contact:

Hugh Macleod (International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims)
Rebecca Shaw (Omega Research Foundation)
Francesca Pezzola (World Organisation Against Torture)


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