BANGLADESH: Office of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights obliged to respond to rampant killings, torture and impunity in Bangladesh

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is writing to you today to draw the attention of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to the rampant and unrestrained abuses of human rights that are daily occurring in Bangladesh, contrary to the impression given by its government internationally, and to call for your intervention. 

Over the past week, the AHRC has submitted a number of open letters to the new UN Human Rights Council to express our serious concern about the membership of Bangladesh. These letters have pointed to the failures of the government of Bangladesh to fulfil virtually any of the commitments given to UN rights agencies and its people over the last decade, including:

1. FAILURE to separate the lower judiciary from the executive, thereby denying the possibility of effective redress for any human rights abuses by the police, military and paramilitaries in Bangladesh (AHRC-OL-38-2006);

2. FAILURE to criminalise torture in accordance with the UN Convention against Torture and Other, Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to which it is a party (AHRC-OL-39-2006); 

3. FAILURE to end the policy of extrajudicial killing in “crossfires” during anti-crime and anti-terrorist operations (AHRC-OL-40-2006); 

4. FAILURE to address seriously the unparalleled level of corruption that is eroding every aspect of public and private life in the country (AHRC-OL-41-2006); and,
5. FAILURE to introduce a national human rights institution in accordance with the UN-endorsed Paris Principles, despite having received outside funding and training for this purpose (AHRC-OL-42-2006). 

The consequences of these failures are self-evident. The AHRC has in this year alone documented and submitted to your office over 30 detailed cases of killing, torture, assault, arbitrary arrest and impunity in Bangladesh. In fact, we have received details of many more cases than we have submitted and at present cannot keep up with unceasing reports of gross abuses and collapsed rule of law reaching us from all parts of Bangladesh. These are also but a tiny fraction of the total number of such incidents occurring in the country. 

The cases submitted to your office have involved not only individual victims but also in some instances large numbers of persons which should be of special concern to the global human rights movement. For instance, 20 people were killed, at least three allegedly tortured and ten women raped by state officers, while several hundred more were seriously wounded in Chapainawabganj after protests over rural electricity supply that were attacked by the police during February 2006. An executive probe commission established under intense public pressure has not led to any prosecutions of perpetrators. Subsequent protests calling for government action have again been violently attacked by the police. The AHRC has lodged details of these incidents with your office; however, it is not aware of any action forthcoming. 

In fact, the consistent lack of a serious response from your office to the gross abuses that are occurring daily in Bangladesh, despite constant reporting and documentation by the AHRC and other rights groups, is of concern to us, and we feel it requires your immediate attention. We are not aware of any determined interventions by concerned UN officials and experts into the situation of human rights in Bangladesh. Nor are we aware of requests pending for visits by such persons. This must change. 

We believe that it is imperative that your office take a much stronger position with regards to the killings, torture, rapes and other grave human rights violations to which the people of Bangladesh are daily subjected, while its government year after year reiterates promises to do this thing or that without ever being called to account or sanctioned by the international human rights community. In fact, you have both a legal and moral obligation to act in view of the government’s broken promises and outright lies, and their consequences. We believe that a firm and uncompromising position taken by the UN rights bodies on the appalling conditions in Bangladesh would have results. 

Accordingly, we request that you communicate with the relevant staff and independent experts working through your office to see that commitments given by that country to treaty bodies and other agencies under your mandate are reviewed with a view to imposing sanctions on the government of Bangladesh through the UN Human Rights Council. We further request that these persons make visits to Bangladesh without delay to assess the situation themselves. Finally, we suggest that you consider proposing to establish a position of Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Bangladesh in order that the country can obtain the attention that it deserves. 

We look forward to your intervention and await greater action from all UN rights agencies on the same. 

Yours sincerely

Basil Fernando
Executive Director
Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong 

Document Type : Open Letter
Document ID : AHRC-OL-044-2006
Countries : Bangladesh,
Issues : International human rights mechanisms,