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Bangladeshi Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) stand on guard at the Central Shaheed Minar in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
© 2021 Piyas Biswas / SOPA Images/Sipa USA (Sipa via AP Images)
(New York,) – Governments joining the celebrations to mark the 50th founding anniversary of Bangladesh and to honor the birth centenary of independence leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on March 26, 2021, should know that Bangladeshis are enduring an escalating crackdown on human rights by the Awami League-led government, a group of human rights groups said today.
Against the backdrop of events purportedly intended to “transform Bangladesh into a safe and peaceful home for our next generation,” Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is instead leading an authoritarian administration plagued with corruption, election obstruction, violence, and repression of civic space.
One clear example is the continued use by authorities of the draconian Digital Security Act (DSA) to harass and indefinitely detain activists, journalists, and others critical of the government, resulting in a chilling effect on any expression of dissent. Bangladesh is soon to be poised to undertake even more prosecutions of DSA cases, as the Law Ministry has approved a proposal to expand the number of special tribunals specifically for these types of cyber “crimes.” Contrary to supporting safety and security for the next generation, Bangladesh’s security forces have a history of arresting and detaining students and children under this Act.
March 26 marks not only the Golden Jubilee of Bangladesh, but also the 17th year since the establishment of the notorious Rapid Action Battalion (RAB). This paramilitary law enforcement and counterterrorism unit face serious allegations of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and torture.
Over the last decade of Awami League-led rule, these abuses have increased, with hundreds of enforced disappearances and thousands of extrajudicial killings by security forces including RAB. Many of those targeted are political opponents or government critics. Yet, the government refuses to acknowledge that enforced disappearances occur. Near-complete impunity continues to be the norm in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh is the top troop contributor to peacekeeping in the world. The United Nations and member states should unequivocally call on the Government of Bangladesh to put an immediate end to the practice of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and torture, and enable serious investigations of, and accountability for, those responsible for these grave human rights abuses.
The international community should also call on Bangladesh to protect fundamental freedoms including the right to freedom of expression; repeal the Digital Security Act; and release journalists, critics, and activists who are in detention for speaking out.
The undersigned organizations specifically call on:
The US, Canada, UK the European Union, and Australia to pursue individual, targeted sanctions on those responsible for past and ongoing grave human rights violations in Bangladesh.
The U.N. Department of Peace Operations to review the participation of Bangladesh’s security forces and law-enforcement agencies in multilateral institutions, and flag all RAB personnel for increased screening under the UN Human Rights Screening Policy, which requires verification that anyone serving the United Nations has not committed any “violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law.”
The U.N. Human Rights Council to pass a resolution building on extensively documented abuses and the recent statement by High Commissioner for Human Rights Michele Bachelet in which she remarked on the “long-standing concern” over allegations of torture by RAB, called for an “overhaul” of the DSA, and urged the release of all prisoners charged under it.
The Bangladesh government should not be enabled to use this celebratory moment to lay the groundwork for another 50 years of rights violations, or to hide its abuses by presenting itself on the world stage at variance with how it acts against its own citizens. Instead, the United Nations and member states should take the Golden Jubilee as a key opportunity to affirm through actions its commitment both to Bangladesh civil society and in support of victims of serious human rights violations.
Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD)
Asian Human Rights Commission
Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL)
Capital Punishment Justice Project (CPJP)
Eleos Justice, Monash University
Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND)
Human Rights Watch
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
World Organisation Against Torture