BANGLADESH: Rights groups urged the government to probe human rights abuses and reform institutions 

Dear friends,

We wish to share with you the following statement from the Universal Periodic Review Forum of Bangladesh, a coalition of 17 human rights, women’s rights, labour and indigenous people’s rights NGOs from Bangladesh.

Asian Human Rights Commission
Hong Kong

A Statement from the Universal Periodic Review Forum of Bangladesh, a coalition of 17 human rights, women’s rights, labour and indigenous people’s rights NGOs from Bangladesh forwarded by the Asian Human Rights Commission

BANGLADESH: GOVERNMENT OF BANGLADESH urged to ensure investigation of war crimes, extra-judicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, violence against women, and indigenous peoples, to repeal discriminatory laws, secure economic and social rights, including to freedom from forced evictions, strengthen institutions for protection of human rights, implement CHT Peace Accord

The Human Rights Forum on UPR (‘the Forum’), Bangladesh, a coalition of 17 human rights, women’s and labour and indigenous people’s and development organisations, takes this opportunity to highlight developments since February 2009, noting achievements made, commitments that remain unfulfilled, as well as continuing concerns regarding violations of human rights by the Government of Bangladesh. In this context, the Forum calls on the Government to make specific, time bound and measurable commitments in the UPR outcome document adopted by the Human Rights Council.

Bangladesh’s UPR: February 2009 Session 
Bangladesh’s report was reviewed at the Working Group on 3 February 2009. During the review 48 states made recommendations to Bangladesh (Annex 1).1 A list of questions prepared in advance by 8 states was transmitted to Bangladesh through the Troika (Annex 2). The head of delegation, the Foreign Minister Dipu Moni, responded to some of the questions raised and comments made during the session and announced that Bangladesh would give due consideration to “all the recommendations that are consistent with the expectations of the Bangladeshi people”. The response of Bangladesh to these recommendations will be included in the outcome report adopted by the Human Rights Council on 10 June 2009 at its 11th session.

Bangladesh’s Re-Election to the Human Rights Council
Bangladesh was re-elected to the HRC for a second term of three years in uncontested elections at the UN General Assembly on 12 May following several new pledges (Annex 3). This was despite the failure of the GoB since January 2009 to fulfil many of the pledges made during its first election, in particular regarding strengthening of institutional protection for human rights and for anti-corruption (Annex 4). In particular, the Government has taken no action with respect to recommendations to develop a national human rights programme or to devise a national strategy for delivering justice, to include the police, the judiciary, civil society and government, or to even announce further steps for ratification of international human rights instruments or to bring national laws into conformity with their provisions, or to prioritise capacity building among law enforcement and judicial officers with a focus on women, children and other minority groups. It has taken no steps to involve civil society in the follow up to the February review. In too many cases, in particular of extra-judicial executions and torture, as well as arbitrary arrests, far from bringing about a ‘reassertion of due process’ as claimed by the Foreign Minister in February 2009, the Government appears to be continuing to trample on due process rights with impunity.

This document sets out the key concerns of the UPR Forum, and recommendations for action by the Government:

War Crimes: An inter-ministry meeting on 9 April decided to set up an investigative agency, appoint prosecutors and establish tribunals for the trial of those Bangladeshis who collaborated  with the Pakistan Army in killing, raping, looting and burning under the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act, 1973. The Law Commission has just begun a consultation on the 1973 Act.

Extra-judicial killings: Despite electoral manifesto commitments to end extra-judicial executions, and the Foreign Minister’s announcement at the Human Rights Council in February 2009 of a “zero tolerance” policy, such killings have continued to take place with no efforts to announce investigations or appropriate action. Under this Government’s watch, from January to May 2009, at least 25 people have been killed extra-judicially by the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), Police and Army.2 The Government instead of announcing investigations into such cases, has claimed that such forces are entitled to act in self-defence.3 The latest killings, on 28 May 2009, of two students in the Jatiyo Sangsad area by RAB only underscores the malignancy which has gone by the name of ‘crossfire’ as not a report was pending against them with any police station.

Following theBangladesh Rifles (BDR) mutiny and the tragic killing of around 75 persons including 60 officers of the Bangladesh Army, 22 BDR soldiers in custody have died in “suicides” or “heart attacks.” In a few cases, bereaved families have alleged that there were marks of torture on the bodies that they received.The Government issued press notes on how to avoid heart attacks or on the incidence of heart attacks among the BDR, and finally established an investigation; however this appears to have no mandate to recommend prosecution of any person found responsible for such a death.

Freedom from torture: Despite a clear prohibition of torture in the constitution, there are no express remedies for torture in law, and there has been no practice of seeking to investigate allegations or prosecute those responsible. A Private Member’s Bill on criminalization of torture and custodial deaths, table on 5 March, remains pending consideration. The Government itself has made no announcement of any legislative plans

Right to Fair Trial: While adopting laws for separation of the judiciary, the Government included one significant exception retaining powers for executive magistrates to be given responsibility for certain cases (under Section 190 of the Code of Criminal Procedure), but with no criteria specified, raising concerns regarding the scope for executive interference. The Government has set up a process for withdrawal of ‘politically fabricated or vexatious cases’; cases submitted for withdrawal including many cases of corruption, and also of serious offences of violence, many involving political leaders. The Committee’s terms of reference appear limited to cases prior to the current Government’s taking office, and it has rapidly withdrawn cases against ruling party politicians. The selectivity of the process, the lack of any public disclosure of the cases, or the criteria for withdrawal, as well as the involvement of Public Prosecutors and Ministers appointed by the current Government, who themselves acted as defence counsel in many of these cases raises significant questions about whether impunity is simply being reinforced.

The Government has announced that it will establish a Judicial Service Secretariat, and strengthen this for full implementation of separation of the judiciary. However, the very low scales of pay for judicial officials and their working conditions remain major obstacles to their functioning freely and independently.

Freedom of expression: In its recent pledges to the Council, Bangladesh claims to have “one of the most independent print and electronic media in the world.” However, the state media remains wholly controlled by the executive, with news reports focusing largely on the activities of Ministers. Private channels are largely owned by political leaders associated with the ruling party or main opposition parties. A senior civil servant was allegedly forced into compulsory retirement following publication of a report that he had written poems critical of the Prime Minister.4 No action has been taken to date to investigate attacks by law enforcement agencies or ruling party members on journalists (including incidents under the present Government,5 While appreciating the enactment of Right to information law we take note that the Government has not responded to the request for a visit by the Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, made in 2003.

Right to Shelter: The GoB has taken no steps to move ahead with implementation of pending rehabilitation schemes including for transfer of a plot of land in Dhaka city. Discovery of irregularities in the implementation of a public private partnership scheme for slum dwellers by a Parliamentary Committee has yet to be followed up with clear actions.

Right to Education: The Forum welcomes the significant initiatives taken to form a Commission to formulate a new Education Policy, 6 announce reforms to madrasa education and also to distribute free textbooks up to class nine.7  It also welcomed the announcements to set up a primary school in every village by 2013, and to ensure computerised training compulsory at primary level by 2020.8 However, no steps have been taken to address teaching in the languages of indigenous peoples (Adivasis/Paharis) or education for children with disabilities.

Violence against women: Since January 2009, there have been 73 incidents of rape or attempt to rape, 44 dowry related violence and 6 cases of ‘fatwa’ related violence.9 Recent incidents include reports of a ‘fatwa’ being issued by local clerics for public beating of a woman accused of ‘illicit sex’ an of her father; despite prompt action by the Government to make arrests, and provide medical treatment and security to the victim, no direction has yet been given to prevent the pronouncement of such fatwas or clarify that they are wholly illegal. Despite the pervasiveness of domestic violence, and the pendency of a draft law submitted by NGOs to the MoWCA, no steps have been taken as yet by the Government to announce a review of laws and policies to ensure effective redress for such violence.  Despite an ongoing UNDP supported Police Reform Programme, reports indicate that police continue not to record reports of such violence, including the incidents of rape, and prolonged court delays as well as the lack of protection for victims and witnesses means that prosecutions often fail. The Government failed to take any steps to adopt guidelines on sexual harassment prepared by a statutory duty, and has to date not yet clarified how it will implement Guidelines recently enunciated by the High Court in this respect

Except for a statement by the Minister for Law regarding reform of Hindu marriage registration laws, the Government has taken no concrete steps to begin reforms on discriminatory personal laws that deny women’s equality rights within the family. While Bangladeshi woman may now transmit citizenship to children born to foreign husbands, they cannot do so to their husbands without a restrictive residency requirement. As yet, no national action plan to combat violence against women has been adopted, nor has any comprehensive step been taken to address wage inequalities or to monitor the availability of maternity leave in all public and private employment.

Child Rights: No significant measures have been taken in response to any of the recommendations on prohibiting all forms of violence against children, including corporal punishment, raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility, initiating a review of domestic law and practice. No steps have been taken to finalise the National Child Labour Policy, drafted during the Caretaker Government. The GoB has announced it will ratify ILO Convention No. 138 on Minimum Age for Employment, but with no timeframe.10  The GoB has failed to take any steps to revise the earlier National Plan of Action against Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children was in place for 2003- 2005.

Minority Rights: While significant appointments have been made to high-level positions, including a Minister, the situation of minorities as a whole remains of concern, The continuing failure address the continuing expropriation of the property rights of minorities as ‘vested property’, including by acting upon existing Supreme Court judgments which declare the Vested Property Act to be a dead law, and to continue with the process of listing of such properties, with a view to their return, which had commenced under the Caretaker Government, is a major concern. No steps have been taken yet for amendment of gender-discriminatory personal laws, which disproportionately impact women from religious minority communities.

Indigenous Peoples Rights: The GoB has finally reconstituted the high level national Committee for implementation of the Accord after a 7-year gap, headed by an MP. It has announced that the Land Commission will be reconstituted and the relevant law amended. However it has not as yet taken any concrete steps to activate the Land Disputes Resolution Commission or to design or initiate any viable process of voluntary relocation of Bengali settlers from the Chittagong Hill Tract, expedite the withdrawal of all temporary military camps, enhance the powers of the civil administration by transferring all the agreed subjects and functions to the Hill District Councils and take all the necessary steps to ensure the full functioning of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Regional Council. It has also taken no steps to investigate or redress human rights violations in the CHT.

Workers’ rights: The Forum welcomes the move to constitute a tripartite commission to review the Labour Act 2006. Despite persistent demands from trade unions, the Government has taken no steps to declare a National Minimum Wage. The Privatisation Board has also declared privatisation of 10 state–owned enterprises, threatening the employment and livelihood security of workers. No specific action has been taken to adopt a national occupational safety and health policy to date.

Vulnerable Groups:

Migrant Workers: The death of 904 Bangladesh migrant workers in the past five months has given rise to concerns.11 While the Government has undertaken diplomatic negotiations to ensure that opportunities for migration are not reduced, it has done little to put in place effective legal protections for migrant workers, or to provide them with necessary information prior to their travel overseas or on return.

Rights of People with Disabilities: The Government has taken some important symbolic initiatives, such as the initiation of sign language on Bangladesh Television, and the
provision of training for visually impaired students at Dhaka university, as well as initiated a process for  review of the existing disability rights law. The recent reported withdrawal of World Bank funding for disability rights has given rise to concerns.
Dalit Rights: Caste discrimination remains widespread, despite the constitutional ban. The Government has taken no steps to enact laws or to adopt special measures to address the condition of Dalits, who live on an amount far below the poverty line with extremely limited access to health and education services, poor housing conditions and lack of employment opportunities.
Refugee Rights:The GoB has taken no steps for ratification of the Convention and in the absence of the Birth Registration Act of 2004 there is no express recognition of refugees under national law. However, the GoB has to date refused to allow birth registration of refugee children. Approximately 100- 200,000 refugees are still living outside camps managed by UNHCR in precarious conditions with no form of identification or registration.


The UPR FORUM urges the Government of Bangladesh to announce concrete measureable and time bound commitments to address human rights. This includes announcing clear plans of investigation into ongoing and past human rights abuses, including war-crimes, extra-judicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrests and detentions, and cases of violence against women and minorities and indigenous peoples; prosecution and punishment of those responsible following trials before independent, impartial and competent courts; and providing adequate reparation to victims and their families. The Government should take priority action to consider the pending private member’s bill on remedies for torture. It should also call for a clear roadmap regarding repeal of discriminatory laws, in particular those affecting religious minorities such as the Vested Property Act, amendment of gender-biased personal laws, amendment of laws affecting workers rights, juvenile justice and disability rights to bring them into line with international standards. It needs to prioritise enactment of the Domestic Violence Act, and action to implement the recent Court pronounced Sexual Harassment Guidelines. The Council should call for clear and concrete steps to be announced for the full implementation of the peace accord in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.

Human Rights Forum on UPR, Bangladesh

Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF), Bangladesh Mohila Parishad (BMP), Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS)Bangladesh Legal Aid & Services Trust (BLAST), Bangladesh Dalit and Excluded Rights Movement (BDERM), Centre for Rehabilitation of Torture Survivors (CRTS), D.Net (Development Research Network)Karmojibi Nari (KN), Nagorik Uddyog, Nari Uddoyog Kendra (NUK), Nijera Kori, Nari Pokkho, National Forum of Organizations working with the Disabled (NFOWD), Research and Development Collective (RDC), Steps Towards Development (Steps), Transparency International Bangladesh (TI-B)



1 During the Fourth UPR Session held during 2-13 February 2009.

2 ASK Statistics, May 2009.

3 See statement by State Minister for Home Affairs, Mr. Tanjim Ahmad, on 6 May that “. . . the government will not allow any kind of extra-judicial killings, but the law-enforcers have the right to self-defence as per the constitution”.

4 Samakal, 3 March 2009.

5 An Awami League MP Capt (Retd) Giausuddin Ahmed’s followers reportedly assaulted Abdullah Al Amin, Gaforgaon correspondent of Samakal (Samakal, 12 April 2009).

6 “Towards a new education policy”, The Daily Star, 13 April 2009.

7 Shorifuzzaman, “Prothom theke nobom sreni pojonto shobai binamulley boi pabey”, Prothom Alo, 10 May 2009.

8 “Primary school in every village by 2013”, The Daily Star, 31 March 2009.

9 Period covers January- March 2009.

10 Statement by Minister for Labour, Employment and Expatriate Welfare announced on 3 May.

11 “Bodies of 904 workers arrived in 5 months: 44% due to cardiac arrests”, The Daily Star, 13 May 2009.

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About AHRC: 
The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984. The above statement has only been forwarded by the AHRC.

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