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BANGLADESH: States Must Call Out Violations Of Civic Freedoms At Upcoming UN Review


November 09, 2023

A Joint Statement by CIVICUS, a global human rights alliance and the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) call upon states to use the upcoming human rights review of Bangladesh at the UN Human Rights Council to call out its ongoing failure to fully implement previous recommendations related to civic freedoms. This lack of action raises questions on how serious the government is about upholding its international human rights obligations.

Bangladesh's human rights record is going to be reviewed at the 44th session of Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on 13 November 2023. CIVICUS and AHRC submitted a stakeholder submission for the UPR in April 2023 where our organisations highlight a range of issues. Out of the 29 recommendations Bangladesh received during the previous cycle of the UPR related to civic space, it has only partially implemented one.

In the submission we highlight how the Bangladesh government continues to use the Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act - that is inconsistent with international human rights law and standards - and the NGO Affairs Bureau (NGOAB) that sits under the prime minister's office to restrict and harass civil society organisations.

Our organisations also raised concerns about the harassment of critical human rights groups as well as the criminalisation and harassment of and threats and attacks on human rights defenders, journalists and critics, with impunity. The submission highlighted the judicial harassment of human rights group Odhikar, especially its leaders Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasiruddin Elan under the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act, 2006. In recent years, the authorities have also targeted the families of activists, especially those in exile.

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The submission also noted the ongoing restrictions on press freedom and the targeting of journalists who have been criminalised, harassed and attacked for their reporting. This has severely intensified through the systematic use of the Digital Security Act to silence online dissent. While the Digital Security Act has been repealed and replace with the Cyber Security Act 2023, there are serious concerns that restrictive provisions that can be used to criminalise free speech are retained in the new legislation.

Our organisations also highlighted the increased trend of the police using excessive and disproportionate force to crackdown on protests including against students and youth, workers as well as the political opposition. At times, the student wing of the ruling party, the Bangladesh Chhatra League have also been mobilised to attack protesters. Our organisations have seen an escalation of such actions around recent protests by the opposition in the run up to the national elections, in January 2024

Bangladesh was added to the CIVICUS Monitor "Watchlist" in September 2023 due to the rapid decline of civic space in the country and to call for more international attention.

We call on UN Member states to make the following recommendations to the government of Bangladesh:

  • Take measures to foster a safe, respectful and enabling environment for civil society, including by removing legal and policy measures that unwarrantedly limit freedom of association. This includes amending the Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act, 2016 and laws and regulations related to the operations of civil society groups to remove undue restrictions and to bring them into compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) articles 21 and 22.
  • Provide civil society members, human rights defenders and journalists with a safe and secure environment in which to carry out their work without fear or undue hindrance, obstruction, or legal harassment and immediately and unconditionally drop all charges against detained for exercising their fundamental freedoms.
  • Review the Cyber Security Act and other provisions in order to bring them into line with international law and standards in the area of freedom of expression.
  • Adopt best practices on freedom of peaceful assembly, as provided for under international law and standards and immediately and impartially investigate all instances of extrajudicial killing and excessive force committed by security forces in the context of protests.

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