BANGLADESH: Restrictive environment for human rightsdefenders ahead of the 2013 elections
Preliminary findings of a fact-finding mission
Paris-Geneva, December 7, 2012. The Observatory for the Protectionof Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federationfor Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT),expresses concerns about the restrictive environment for human rights defendersin Bangladesh, after it completed a fact-findingmission in the country on November 22, 2012.
“With the existing polarised politicalcontext and increasing tensions ahead of the upcoming 2013 general elections,human rights defenders are put at further risk of human rights violations”,the mission stated upon its completion. TheObservatory mission, which was carried out from November 14 to 22, 2012,investigated on the environment in which NGO workers, journalists,environmentalists, lawyers and trade union leaders are carrying out their humanrights activities. “While laws have become a tool used by the State to hinder thework of and suppress dissident voices through judicial harassment, a lack ofproper judicial safeguards and remedies has allowed for the culture of impunityto continue”, it added.
InBangladesh, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and torture incustody occur regularly. From July 1, 2008 to September 30, 2012, a total of506 extra-judicial killings were reported, and for the year 2011 alone, 30enforced disappearance cases were documented by FIDH and OMCTmember-organisation Odhikar.Both State and non-State actors are allegedly involved in such human rightsviolations. One of the recent cases includes the killing of labour leader AminulIslam in April 2012.
Too often,when such violations occur, there is no prompt and proper investigation. Thisproduces a climate of fear and culture of impunity. In such a context,individuals and organisations documenting such abuses and crimes can be exposedto reprisals.
Someeditors, reporters and journalists who denounce unlawful practices or disclosesensitive information about corruption reported facing indirect or directthreats to their safety. This sometimes has led to self-censorship. In thiscontext, Just News BD journalist Mutafizur Rahman Sumon wasimprisoned in July 2012 and ill-treated for campaigning against the impunityfor crimes against journalists - such as the murder of journalists SagarSarowar and Meherun Runi on February 11, 2012. A reporter with RTV Channel,Mr. Bayezid Ahmed, has also been facing threats by unknown individualsafter he unveiled a case of corruption within the Railway Ministry earlyOctober 2012.
The missionfound that judicial harassment is another major concern, as a number oflawyers, journalists, trade unionists or environmentalists reporting on humanrights violations have faced numerous spurious charges – often brought before abiased judiciary. Such cases, which can last months or even years, are used asanother means to silence the denunciation of human rights violations.
The missiondelegates also witnessed a number of legal and practical obstacles to theactivities of human rights NGOs, whose projects are often delayed orarbitrarily refused by the government’s NGO Affairs Bureau. Such obstaclescould potentially intensify against human rights organisations as an NGO Billon “foreign funding” is currently being drafted.
In addition,the trade union environment is polarised along the two main political parties,and the few independent unions that exist face obstacles to their work. Inparticular, the legislative and political framework presents many obstacles tothe formation and functioning of trade unions.
TheObservatory will release a fact-finding mission report in 2013 that willoutline detailed conclusions and recommendations. The document will be directed- in particular - to the Government of Bangladesh, the United Nations (UN) andthe European Union.
Accordingly,the Observatory urges the Bangladeshi authorities to fully conform in allcircumstances with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human RightsDefenders and other human rights instruments ratified by Bangladesh, notablyby:
- putting an end to any kind ofthreats and harassment - including at the judicial level - against human rightsdefenders;
- carrying out prompt, impartial andtransparent investigations into abuses and violations committed against humanrights defenders, and sanctioning all those responsible according to the law;
- refraining from detaining any humanrights defenders arbitrarily as a means to silence their human rightsactivities;
- ensuring the enjoyment of freedom ofassociation for all human rights NGOs in line with Articles 5 and 13 of the UNDeclaration on Human Rights Defenders.
TheObservatory also hopes that the newly-created National Human Rights Commissionwill be able to play a more pro-active role in protecting human rightsactivists in line with the Paris Principles.
· FIDH: Arthur Manet / Audrey Couprie:+33 1 43 55 25 18
· OMCT: Delphine Reculeau: +41 22 80949 39