Above: Bangladesh police crush student protests
by Zafar Iqbal Yousafzai 17 March 2023
Bangladesh is a densely populated country in South Asia that has a population of over 160 million people. It is the eighth-most populous country in the world and is also one of the poorest. While the country has made significant strides in reducing poverty and improving its economic growth in recent years, it has also struggled with gross human rights violations. Human Rights (HR) watchdogs across the world have expressed concerns over the situation in the country, which has deteriorated significantly in recent years.
The country has been plagued by gross human rights violations, including enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, torture, political victimization, and misuse of institutions against dissidents. In response to this alarming trend, several HR bodies such as the Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network, Capital Punishment Justice Project, Maayer Daak (Mother’s Call), Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances, Asian Human Rights Commission, Odhikar, and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights have expressed their concerns.
These watchdogs have highlighted a number of issues that they believe are contributing to the worsening situation in Bangladesh. These include the shrinking space for HR in the country, increasing political intolerance, undemocratic practices, and HR abuses, the absence of institutional cognizance strengthening rampant impunity, politicization of state institutions including judiciary and Election Commission, intensified crackdown on civil society organizations and HR defenders, and raids and indiscriminate arrest of opposition party leaders and activists.
One of the most concerning issues that has been highlighted is the prevalence of enforced disappearances in Bangladesh. In 2022, Maayer Daak submitted a list of 619 people who have been victims of enforced disappearances since 2009 in Bangladesh. This is a serious issue, and human rights defenders have been calling for a reliable and impartial investigation of these incidents for a long time.
The government’s treatment of opposition parties has also come under scrutiny. Prime Minister Shaikh Hasina has been particularly hard on the opposition, putting Khalida Zia, the main opposition leader of the Bangladesh National Party, behind bars and hanging a number of political leaders of Jamiat Islami. These actions have been criticized by HR bodies as being undemocratic and contrary to the country’s international obligations.
Bangladesh is a party to eight major international treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the United Nations Convention against Torture, and the ratified Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Despite this, the government has continued to disregard its obligations under these treaties. On International Human Rights Day in 2022, twelve HR watchdogs issued a joint statement expressing their concern over the worsening HR situation in Bangladesh. They called on the Sheikh Hasina Wazed government to take immediate action to improve the HR situation in the country.
In conclusion, the worsening human rights situation in Bangladesh is a cause for concern for HR watchdogs around the world. The prevalence of enforced disappearances, the crackdown on opposition parties, and the disregard for the country’s international obligations are just some of the issues that need to be addressed. It is important for the government to take immediate action to address these issues and to work towards ensuring that the rights of all citizens are respected and protected.