Citing ‘dangerous decline’ of human rights, experts urge key reforms — Global Issues

The Human Rights Council-appointed experts’ call follows on from the election victory of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina earlier this month, who secured a controversial fourth term with the main opposition party deciding to boycott the poll.

Ms. Hasina and her Awami League party won 223 of the 300 parliamentary seats being contested amid violent protests that left scores dead, including some opposition party members.

Around 25,000 opposition leaders and supporters were arrested, while some were tortured and denied treatment, said the rights experts. Journalists and other media workers were also attacked.

Some voters were reportedly pressured to cast their ballots by ruling party members and threatened with violence and loss of their social protection benefits if they failed to do so.

There have been no independent investigations into the allegations, the experts noted.

Alarming situation

“We are alarmed at reports that widespread attacks, harassment and intimidation of civil society, human rights defenders, journalists, and political activists, which marred the recent elections,” the independent experts said.

They have written to the Government, urging officials to conduct full, prompt and independent investigations into the numerous allegations of rights abuses and violations.

“We urge the Government to prioritize human rights reforms in its new work programme and to create an enabling environment for the free and safe exercise of fundamental freedoms and political participation, to restore public trust in the democratic process,” they said.

This would also reassure foreign investors in the Bangladesh economy and send a clear message to the world that it is committed to upholding its international legal obligations, the experts added.

Action points

The experts called on the authorities to Immediately and unconditionally release all civil society and political activists detained without charge, ensure fair trials, and bring about “substantial reforms” to guarantee the integrity and independence of the judicial system.

They also underscored the need to ensure freedom of expression and of association, as well as respect for a pluralistic, diverse and independent media.

Independent experts

The experts voicing their concern included Special Rapporteurs on the freedom of peaceful assembly, on the independence of judges and lawyers, on human rights defenders, and on the freedom of opinion and expression.

The Chair and members of the Working Group on arbitrary detention also joined the call for reform.

Special Rapporteurs, Working Group members, and other independent experts are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council and form part of its Special Procedures.

They are mandated to monitor and report on specific thematic issues or country situations and work on a voluntary basis. They serve in their individual capacity; are not UN staff and do not receive a salary.

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