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UN rights chief ‘deeply concerned’ over abuse allegations in Bangladesh

UN rights chief ‘deeply concerned’ over abuse allegations in Bangladesh
Michelle Bachelet also worried over safety of Rohingya refugees in camps

By Md. Kamruzzaman

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AA) - The UN high commissioner for human rights expressed deep concern Wednesday over allegations of extrajudicial killings, torture in police custody and enforced disappearances in Bangladesh.

"I raised my deep concern about these serious allegations with government ministers and highlighted the need for an impartial, independent and transparent investigation into these allegations accompanied by security sector reform," said Michelle Bachelet, speaking at a press conference in the capital, Dhaka.

Bachelet, the first UN rights chief to visit Bangladesh, told journalists that despite progress in the country on some issues like migration and climate change, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings are “still a matter of great concern” for international rights defenders, including the United Nations.

She added that during her four-day visit, she met with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and several ministers, including the home and foreign ministers, as well as officials of the National Human Rights Commission, representatives of civil society, members of the diplomatic community and academics.

“I had raised the concerns in all meetings,” Bachelet said, adding the delegation from her office had also met with other stakeholders, including trade unions and political parties.

- Various forms of enforced disappearances

Bachelet pointed out that despite being a party to all the core UN human rights treaties, Bangladesh is not part of the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

“I have called on the government to ratify (this stance),” she said, adding that various UN human rights mechanisms including the UN Committee Against Torture have been raising concerns for several years over allegations of enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings and torture.

Referring to Bangladesh’s elite force, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), she said many of the enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings have been attributed to the RAB and there is a lack of accountability for such violations.

She highlighted the need for “an impartial, independent and transparent investigation into these allegations accompanied by security sector reform.”

Analyzing the types of human rights violations in Bangladesh, she said “there are continued, alarming allegations of both short-term and long-term enforced disappearances and concerns about the lack of due process and judicial safeguards.”

“I encouraged the government to create an independent, specialized mechanism that works closely with victims, families and civil society to investigate allegations of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings,” she added.

- Upcoming national election a test for Bangladesh

“The election period will be an important time for Bangladesh to maximize civic and political space, including freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly of political activists, human rights defenders, opposition parties and journalists,” she noted.

The UN rights chief also underscored the importance of the necessary training of Bangladeshi law enforcers to manage protests without resorting to the excessive use of force.

On rights violations under a controversial digital law, especially ahead of national elections in 2023, she added that her office and the Bangladeshi government have engaged in dialogue over a review of the Digital Security Act.

Bangladesh enacted the law shortly before the 2018 parliamentary elections. Critics have labeled it as “draconian,” as it has the potential to silence government critics.

“We have submitted our recommendations for the repeal and revision of certain provisions of the Act, with a view to ensuring their compliance with international human rights laws and standards and preventing arbitrary application or misuse,” she said.

- Concerns over safety of Rohingya

Regarding the more than one million Rohingya refugees in Bangladeshi camps, Bachelet expressed concern over safety and security issues.

She said it is the fundamental right of Rohingya to repatriate to their home country of Myanmar with rights and dignity. But before their peaceful repatriation, she called on the Bangladeshi authorities to create a more comfortable environment for them in both Cox's Bazar and on the distant island of Bhasan Char.

Bangladesh is currently hosting more than 1.2 million stateless Rohingya, mostly of whom fled a brutal military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. Bangladeshi authorities have shifted nearly 20,000 Rohingya to the remote island of Bhasan Char in the Bay of Bengal on the grounds of better living conditions.

“Many (Rohingya) I spoke to were fearful of the security situation both in terms of the activities of armed groups and criminal gangs but also the vulnerability of women and girls. The security and freedom of expression of Rohingya civil society and human rights defenders also needs to be protected on that island,” Bachelet said.

“I am very worried about increasing anti-Rohingya rhetoric in Bangladesh, stereotyping and scapegoating Rohingyas as the source of crime and other problems.”

She warned that the situation may worsen in future.

“I am particularly concerned that a pre-electoral context, combined with economic difficulties and uncertainties, will mean more hate speech against these vulnerable communities.”

source: News Feed
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