Bangladeshi human rights organisations have written to the UN human rights council to counsel the Bangladesh government to put an end to extrajudicial killings, torture and arbitrary arrest and hold perpetrators accountable for their actions.
In a joint written statement submitted to the 49th session of the UN human rights council today, leading NGOs and human rights defenders have drawn the council’s attention to the track record of the Bangladesh government in escalating human rights violations.
“For decades, torture, ill-treatment, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, along with detention and harassment of human rights defenders (HRDs) and journalists have been a part of the modus operandi of law enforcement in Bangladesh,” the organisations say in their letter.
Culture of Impunity
Human rights abuses by security forces, including enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and torture, remain pervasive throughout the country, taking place in an environment of absolute impunity. In a 2019 report, the Geneva-based World Organisation Against Torture highlighted more than 300 reported torture incidents in a nine-year span in Bangladesh.
The elite force Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) is particularly notorious for widespread abuses. UN human rights experts have voiced concerns about allegations that members of the unit engaged in torture, enforced disappearances, and other human rights violations.
“The RAB is operating de facto outside the control of any civilian and judicial authority rendering the prospect of accountability illusionary,” the organisations say. “Trade-offs between the government and the RAB and the suppression of dissenting voices in order to gain or remain in power in a politically difficult environment are some of the root causes for torture and the ensuing impunity.”
The letter to the human rights council draws attention to the US government holding RAB responsible for “serious human rights abuse” on 10 December 2021 and imposing sanctions on present and former RAB officials. These sanctions have reignited calls for the UN to ban RAB members from deployment in peacekeeping operations.
“In response to these sanctions, the Bangladeshi government has intensified reprisals against human rights defenders, victims of human rights violations, and their families,” the signatories said.
The letter says that some relatives have faced repeated visits and questioning by the authorities and have been taken to the police station at night for several hours of questioning. These family members have continued to live in a cycle of fear without justice.
Defenders, journalists under attack
NGOs point to the government passing several laws that have limited their work in recent years and that these are being used to silence government critics, journalists, lawyers, and political opponents. For an example, they point to the foreign donation regulation act of 2016 that enables government officials to inspect, monitor, and evaluate the activities of NGOs and their members, and requires anyone receiving foreign contributions to get approval from the NGO affairs bureau. This is stifling, the organisations say, and many organisations have had to close down or stop their activities as a result of such actions by the Bangladesh government.
“Instead of taking steps toward reform and addressing rampant human rights violations, the Bangladesh government systematically cracks down on victims’ families, human rights defenders and journalists who speak out against violations,” the NGOs say.
An instance that the human rights organisations point to is that of Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK), an organisation that documents gross human rights abuses in Bangladesh, was subjected to police interrogation shortly after the US sanctions against RAB members.
The organisations have urged the human rights council to counsel the Bangladeshi government to put an end to extrajudicial killings, torture, and arbitrary arrest, and hold perpetrators accountable for their actions. They have also asked the council to impress on the government to put an end to all acts of harassment against human rights defenders and to release those who have been detained.