Bangladesh: Odhikar’s Six-Month Human Rights Monitoring Report

Executive Summary

The human rights situation of Bangladesh in the first six months of 2016 was cause for grave concern. After the controversial and farcical Parliamentary elections, political intolerance, lack of effective institutions and wide-spread and varied human rights violations were the main obstacles to the exercise of democracy in Bangladesh. The Caretaker Government system was incorporated in the Constitution through the 13th Amendment, as a result of people’s movement led by the then Opposition Awami League and its alliance between 1994 and 1996. However, in 2011 the caretaker government system was removed unilaterally by the Awami League government through the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, without any referendum, and ignoring the protests from various sectors; and a provision was made that elections were now to be held under the incumbent government. As a result, the controversial 10th Parliamentary elections were held on January 5, 2014 despite boycotts by a large majority of political parties. The election was not only farcical. It was a hotbed for election- related crimes such as ballot-box stuffing, capturing of polling stations, intimidation of voters and violence. Since then, all local government polls have been marred with widespread and widely reported irregularities, violence and vote rigging. The ruling party leaders and activists lack accountability to the people and use the administration for political interests. The criminal activities of Chhatra League1 and Jubo League2 activists increased across the country in these six months. They attacked the leaders and activists of the opposition parties, government officials and ordinary citizens and are also engaged in internal conflicts among themselves for their vested interest. Due to this conflict, Chhatra League and Jubo League activists were involved in several altercations.

At present, the human rights situation in Bangladesh has badly deteriorated. Human rights violations on citizens belonging to religious minority communities are taking place; and the rights of the religious majority are also being violated. People are not safe under the present situation. Hindrances to freedom of expression and repression on the ordinary people and leaders and activists of the opposition political parties continued. Human rights defenders have repeatedly cautioned about the possibility of rising extremism in Bangladesh. Despite this, the government continues acts of suppression. During this period, attacks on people belonging to religious minority communities and others with dissenting voices, took place and many were killed. Responsibility for some of the killings was acknowledged by an ‘extremist’ group. During this time, allegations of enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, torture and shooting in the limbs were made against the government by victims; and a mass arrest operation was conducted in the name of curbing ‘extremists’. As a result of the mass arrest, ordinary people were arrested, even pedestrians and children; and the prisons were overcrowded with inmates. In this current, alarming scenario, human rights violations have been perpetrated against every class of citizen regardless of religion, gender or profession. No one is ‘safe’. Government interference on the media also increased. In six months, incidents of arrest of journalists, detaining them in jail for a long time and taking  them into remand continued. The government’s surveillance on the social media increased and incidents of arrest and filing of cases against people, due to writing against high officials of the government, became common. From January to June 2016, incidents of killing, torture and other human rights abuses against Bangladeshi citizens continued by the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) at the India-Bangladesh border areas, of which no measures were taken to claim adequate compensation and prevention of further violations. Furthermore, in the first six month of 2016, various human rights violations, including bars on meetings and assemblies, public lynching, violence against women and children; and attacks on citizens belonging to religious minority communities occurred. Hindrance to human rights monitoring activities also continued during this period. Harassment on Odhikar was renewed and a local human rights defender associated with Odhikar was shot in the leg by police while observing local government polls. During this six month period, repressive laws were also drafted, that might be used to harass opposition, journalists and civil society organisations in the future. Violations of human rights have already occurred through the imposition of existing repressive laws. The law and order situation also deteriorated during this reporting period. In general, the human rights situation in the last six months has created an environment of fear all around. Odhikar has released this six-monthly human rights monitoring report from January to June 2016, despite facing persecution and continuous harassment and threats to its existence.V

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