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Bangladesh
01.11.18
Urgent Interventions

Joint letter to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michele Bachelet, on the deteriorating human rights situation in Bangladesh

November 1, 2018

Her Excellency Michelle Bachelet

High Commissioner for Human Rights

Palais Wilson

52 rue des Pâquis

CH-1201 Geneva, Switzerland.

Your Excellency:

Congratulations on your new role as United NationsHigh Commissioner for Human Rights. As you take up your new mandate, theundersigned organizations urge you to make Bangladesh a focus of your effortsin the coming months and to undertake an official visit to Bangladesh as soonas possible. It is our understanding that your predecessor, Prince Zeid binRa’ad Zeid al-Hussein, was in advanced talks with the Government of Bangladeshregarding a visit to the country. We strongly urge you to resume thatdiscussion and schedule a visit without delay.

In your opening remarks to the 39thSession of the UN Human Rights Council on September 10, 2018, you rightlycommended Bangladesh for its role hosting Rohingya refugees and for makingsignificant development advancements. But you were also right to make it clearthat Bangladesh’s human rights record in recent years has been deeplyconcerning. In addition to the crackdown on peaceful student protests and theviolent anti-drug campaign that you referenced in your remarks—both of whichwarrant close attention—the Government of Bangladesh has also engaged inattacks against independent media and journalists, human rights defenders, andopposition figures. These abuses are further enabled by the recent passage ofthe Digital Security Act,[1] which criminalizes the legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of opinionand expression and the right to freedom of association. Enforced disappearancescontinue to occur at an alarming rate (34 people were reportedly disappeared inSeptember alone),[2] and reports oftorture in custody continue to surface despite passage of the Torture andCustodial Death (Prevention) Act 2013.[3]

In addition, the government iscracking down on political dissidents and opposition activists. The oppositionBangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) reports that, over the past two months,police have registered 3,736 cases, resulting in charges against 313,130 partyleaders and activists. The BNP insists that all of these cases and charges arepolitically motivated; the Awami League Government disputes thischaracterization. The spree of criminal cases against opposition figures isbeing conducted in such a fashion that the police have filed several casesagainst opposition leaders who have died or have been living abroad for years.[4] Intrials widely condemned as politically motivated, top opposition leaders havebeen sentenced to death or lengthy prison sentences prior to the upcominggeneral election, which is expected to take place in December 2018.[5]

The UN Human Rights Committee notedconcerns in its 2017 Concluding Observations regarding:

· The “reported highrate of extrajudicial killings by police officers, soldiers and Rapid ActionBattalion force members and at reports of enforced disappearances, as well asthe excessive use of force by State actors”;

· The absence of“ongoing investigations into cases of torture in the State party…[despite]information that torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement or militarypersonnel is widespread in the State party during interrogations to extractconfessions”; and

· The“limitations on the rights of journalists, bloggers, human rights defenders andcivil society organizations in the State party to exercise their right tofreedom of opinion, expression and association”.

These concerns were exhaustivelyraised by members of the UN Human Rights Council earlier this year duringBangladesh’s 3rd cycle Universal Periodic Review. Bangladesh failed to accept anumber of key recommendations, including to ratify the International Conventionfor the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance; to issue astanding invitation to all UN Special Procedures; to amend or repeal laws thatdo not comply with international standards by restricting legitimate expressionor association; and to fight against impunity by committing to investigatealleged human rights abuses by security forces.

Although serious concerns have beenraised by non-governmental organizations, as well as by UN bodies and UN MemberStates, there have been only four visits by UN Special Proceduresmandate-holders in the last ten years. These were the UN Special Rapporteur onFreedom of Religion and Belief (2016); the UN Special Rapporteur on ViolenceAgainst Women (2013); and a joint visit by the UN Independent Expert on HumanRights and Extreme Poverty and the UN Independent Expert on the Right to SafeDrinking Water and Sanitation (2010). These are welcomed visits, and importantmandates and issues for Bangladesh. But at this critical juncture, theGovernment of Bangladesh must grant broader access to UN Special Procedures.

In addition to undertaking an officialvisit to Bangladesh yourself, we urge you to press the Government of Bangladeshto accept visit requests from the UN Special Rapporteur on Human RightsDefenders; the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression; the UN SpecialRapporteur on Freedom of Assembly and Association; the UN Special Rapporteur onTorture; the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions; the UN WorkingGroup on Enforced Disappearances; and the UN Working Group on ArbitraryDetention. These are the mandates that can most directly address many of thecore issues raised by UN Member States during the UPR, the UN Human RightsCommittee, and by you in your opening remarks to the UN Human Rights Council.

Your office has a critical role toplay. Bangladesh remains a close partner of the UN and particularly the UN HighCommissioner for Refugees. Bangladesh is also one of the largest contributorsof military personnel to UN Peacekeeping missions. But it must also be a closerpartner of the UN human rights mechanisms. In previous election cycles therehas been a marked increase in violence and repression. Attention from youroffice and other UN human rights bodies can help reverse this trend. We arecommitted to working with you and your office, as well as with the Governmentof Bangladesh, to ensure that a visit can take place soon.

Sincerely,

1. 350.org

2. Asian Human Rights Commission

3. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development(FORUM-ASIA)

4. Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL)V

5. Association For Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE)

6. Сenter for Civil Liberties, Ukraine

7. CIVICUS

8. Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI),India

9. Freedom Now

10. Human Rights Concern, Eritrea

11. Human Rights Defenders Network, Sierra Leone

12. International Federation for Human Rights(FIDH)

13. Karapatan, The Philippines

14. Lokataru Foundation, Indonesia

15. Odhikar, Bangladesh

16. Phenix Center for Economic Studies, Jordan

17. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights

18. Sudanese Development Initiative (SUDIA), Sudan

19. The Article 20 Network

20. Transparency International

21. World Organisation against Torture (OMCT)

22. MARUAH, Singapore

23. Transparent Election Foundation of Afghanistan(TEFA)

24. Citizen Congress Watch (CCW), Taiwan

25. Uganda National NGO Forum

[1] See, DhakaTribune, “Bangladesh signs Digital Security Bill into Law,” October 8,2018, available at,https://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/2018/10/08/president-signs-digital-security-bill-into-law; see also ForumAsia, Digital Security Act English translation (2016), available at, https://www.forum-asia.org/uploads/wp/2016/08/Digital-Security-Act-English-09.03.2016.pdf.

[2] See, Odhikar“Human Rights Monitoring Report of September 2018”; see also, New Age,“Enforced Disappearances Double: Odhikar Report,” October 3, 2018, availableat http://www.newagebd.net/article/52199/enforced-disappearance-doubles-odhikar-report.

[3] According todata gathered by Odhikar, at least 125 persons were tortured to death by lawenforcement agencies from January 2009 to May 2018.

[4] See e.g.,Prothom Alo, "Police sue another dead man for sabotage," October 9,2018, available at,https://en.prothomalo.com/bangladesh/news/184686/Police-sue-another-dead-man-for-sabotage.

[5] See e.g.,NewAge Bangladesh, “Babar, Pintu, 17 others to die, Tarique, Harris, 17 othersjailed for life,” October 10, 2018, available at,http://www.newagebd.net/article/52831/aug-21-grenade-attack-19-get- death-penalty-tariqe-among-17-life-term. p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px Helvetica; min-height: 14.0px}p.p2 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 11.5px Helvetica}p.p3 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 10.0px Helvetica}p.p4 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 6.5px Helvetica}p.p5 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.5px 0.0px; font: 11.5px Helvetica}p.p6 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 11.5px Helvetica; min-height: 14.0px}span.s1 {font: 12.0px Helvetica}span.s2 {font: 8.0px Helvetica}span.s3 {font: 6.5px Helvetica}span.s4 {font: 10.0px Helvetica}

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