The Bangladeshi government’s failure to accept 73 recommendations on key human rights issues following the country’s third Universal Periodic Review (UPR), denotes its lack of commitment to protecting human rights, FIDH said today, on the occasion of the adoption of the UPR report of Bangladesh by the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council.

The Bangladeshi government accepted 178 of the 251 recommendations it received from other UN member states, up from the 167 recommendations it accepted immediately after the third UPR of Bangladesh, which was held on 14 May 2018 in Geneva, Switzerland.

Dhaka provided vague justifications for its refusal to accept recommendations related to enforced disappearances, extra-judicial killings, the death penalty, the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals, marital rape, child marriage, and freedom of expression.

The government refused to accept all the recommendations that called for the ratification of the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED), and justified its rejection based on the nonsensical argument that there was no definition of enforced disappearance in the domestic law. The government also reiterated its disagreement with the proposition that enforced disappearances “occur frequently.” However, research by NGOs proves that enforced disappearances continue to occur at an alarming rate in Bangladesh, with perpetrators operating with almost complete impunity. According to human rights NGO Odhikar, at least 27 people have been subjected to enforced disappearance between January and August 2018. [1] This number is consistent with trends from previous years: at least 86 reported enforced disappearances in 2017, 90 in 2016, and 65 in 2015. [2]

The government also failed to accept all the recommendations related to the abolition of the death penalty and provided no evidence for its claim that capital punishment remained “a valid form of punishment and deterrence for the most serious and heinous crimes.” The government also maintained that it had been “gradually edging out [the] death penalty with other forms of punishments.” However, this statement is contradicted by recent data, which in fact shows a gradual increase in death sentences in recent years: 197 death sentences were handed down in 2015, 245 in 2016, and at least 273 in 2017. [3]

Dhaka also justified its position on recommendations related to the rights of LGBTI individuals by arguing that the government was taking into account the “views, aspirations, sentiments and religious belief of the majority of its people.” Similarly, the government cited a lack of “necessary social conditions” for criminalizing “marital rape” in domestic law, and the consideration of “socio-economic realities” as a justification for exceptions to legal prohibitions on child marriage. Regrettably, these justifications deliberately deflect attention from the government’s responsibility to protect minorities and those most vulnerable to human rights abuses.

Moreover, FIDH remains concerned about the ongoing use of the Information Communication and Technology (ICT) Act 2006 (amended in 2009 and 2013) as a tool of repression against online and civil society activists, as well as by the Digital Security Bill, which was approved by Parliament yesterday. Despite Dhaka’s claims to the contrary, input from the media, civil society, and online activists were largely ignored by the government, with the final version of the Bill retaining extremely worrying provisions that are likely to lead to further violations of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The Bill also includes a provision that allows police to search or arrest anyone suspected of violating the new law without a warrant.

Finally, the government’s response to recommendations that called for amendments to the 2016 Foreign Donation (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act is inadequate, because it fails to address concerns that the regulation mechanisms put in place by the Act are susceptible to misuse and abuse by the government to silence NGOs that are critical of the government’s policies and actions. For example, FIDH notes that the NGO Affairs Bureau, which falls under the control of the Office of the Prime Minister, has frequently abused its powers to curtail the activities of NGOs, including through the denial of certain NGOs’ requests for registration or the failure to approve their proposed projects.

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