UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet is visiting Bangladesh on a four-day official tour from 14th to 17th August. This is the first time a UN rights chief is officially visiting Bangladesh. During the visit, Bachelet will meet Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the National Human Rights Commission, several concerned ministers, concerned human rights advocates, and civil societies. She will also visit the Rohingya camp in Cox’s Bazaar to talk with the Rohingya, the camp authority, and the non-governmental organizations working there.
On this significant event, let’s revisit Bangladesh’s human rights situation and the country’s commitment to human rights.
Bangladesh’s Human Rights Situation
Since its independence, Bangladesh took part in almost all universal human rights agreements. As the country has a long experience of foreign oppression and struggle for independence, Bengali as a nation is sympathetic to rights issues all over the world. The constitution also upholds the same spirit in article 25 that reiterates Bangladesh’s believe in global peace, security and solidarity through supporting disarmament, UN human rights, and denouncing oppression anywhere in the world.
However, the democratic backsliding worldwide also affected Bangladesh in 21st century and the country also suffered from various rights issues. Minority repression is a constant narrative about Bangladesh’s human rights. It is worth mentioning that the narrative is also exaggerated as many of the claims do not have any substantial grounds. For instance, even though Bangladesh witnessed attacks on minority as a recurring event, it has little to do with the broader politics. Instead, it is the spill over effect of growing communal politics in South Asia and the wrongdoings of the fundamental quarters. The government also has a firm stance against the religious fanatics.
Another strain in the human rights situation in Bangladesh is the alleged enforced disappearance and extrajudicial killings. Country’s top law enforcement agency, Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and 7of its former and current official also faced the US sanction in December 2021. The issue also became an international sensation. But since the December 2021, the country gradually started to do better and there is hardly any case of enforced disappearance and extrajudicial killing. The government also claimed that the claims are baseless and there is no involvement of law enforcements. And it also urged the global stakeholders to visit and assess the ground realities themselves. The current visit of the UN Rights Chief can provide the international community to assess the situation themselves apart from relying on secondary data.
The country’s human rights narrative is also characterized by misuse of Digital Security Act. But even though the act is subject to misuse quite often, there is a significance of the act as it is aimed to protect the citizens against the misuse of digital means. The government is also working to stop the misuse of the act.
Apart from these issues, overall human rights issues are up to the mark with considerable improvement in Child rights, woman rights and labour rights. The religious rights are also praiseworthy as the Pope himself remarked the country to be an example of religious freedom.
Bangladesh’s commitment to Human Rights
Bangladesh provides shelter to the stateless Rohingya community- most persecuted community of our time on humanitarian ground. Bangladesh has received three exoduses of the Rohingya refugees in 1978, 1992, and 2017. Bangladesh also runs the largest refugee camp in the world in Cox’s Bazaar.
Moreover, the country also built temporary shelter in Bhasanchar with own finance to provide better living standard to the Rohingya. Bangladesh also plays the role of guardian for the Rohingya in the international arena.
In international arena, Bangladesh is also contributing to global peace through providing largest troops in UN peacekeeping missions.
In domestic aspect, the country is also improving rights scenario. The country has significantly improved women rights as the number of women are increasing in the workforce. Besides, the country has acknowledged transgenders as third gender and has ensured voting rights for them. Hijra culture or the culture of transgenders has a long history in Bengal yet was neglected for a long time as it was considered a taboo. The acknowledgement is a step towards inclusion.
As a contribution to human rights, the universities of the country have also introduced bachelor and master’s degree on peace and conflict studies and human rights studies. During the last decade, many universities in the country have opened these courses and are offering education to understand the global standard. These subjects are also becoming popular among the young aspirants.
In conclusion, upholding human rights is a continuous process and Bangladesh is continuously working on it. The global democratic backsliding and growing majoritarian politics adversely affected the country like most others worldwide. But it is not the end and the country has not reached abyss. As Bangladesh has a historic and cultural commitment towards global human rights, cooperation from global stakeholders can contribute to Bangladesh’s human rights. In return, Bangladesh can also play a crucial role in upholding global human rights. Bachelet’s current visit has the potential to accelerate this process.
Shafiqul Elahi is a former government official who is currently writing his first book on Institutional Development and Bangladesh