State Of Governance And Human Rights In Bangladesh – OpEd


Human rights violations, commonly acknowledged as transgressions against the fundamental principles every person is entitled to, are particularly disconcerting when perpetrated by the state. Deliberately aimed at specific groups such as political opposition parties, including members of Jamait Islami and Bangladesh Nationalist Party members, intellectuals, critics, and journalists, these violations have a detrimental effect on democratic values and the rule of law.

This issue is notably relevant in the context of Bangladesh, where concerns have been raised about the occurrence of human rights abuses. As these violations in Bangladesh continue to raise concerns regarding the infringement of fundamental principles and freedoms, instances of such violations have occurred, prompting worries about the state of human rights in the country.

The involvement of state actors in Bangladesh in perpetrating and supporting these abuses implies that the violations are not isolated incidents but rather a systematic approach endorsed or condoned by the government. Such state-sponsored violations often target specific groups, including opposition parties, intellectuals, critics, and journalists, with the intention of silencing dissent and stifling freedom of expression.

Since coming to power in 2009, Shaikh Hasina Wajid has launched a crackdown against opposition political parties. The deliberate targeting of these opposition parties undermines the democratic principles of political pluralism and fair competition. It restricts the ability of individuals and groups to express their dissenting views, participate in political activities, and contribute to the democratic process. By suppressing opposition parties, the government is limiting the diversity of opinions and hampering the development of a vibrant and inclusive political landscape.

Similarly, the increasing attacks in Bangladesh on journalists and others exercising their right to freely criticize government policies and practices are alarming. Widespread restrictions on freedom of expression undermine conditions for open political debate ahead of elections scheduled for January 2024. In the first three months of 2023, 66 journalists have been targeted by the government and its supporters. The targeting of critics and journalists has a distressing effect on freedom of expression and the right to information. Intellectuals play a vital role in shaping public discourse. They are being subjected to harassment, intimidation, or violence, and custodial torture stifles intellectual debate, eroding the foundations of a democratic society. Critics and journalists serve as watchdogs, holding those in power accountable and informing the public about important issues. However, they have become targets of state-sponsored violations, creating an atmosphere of fear and self-censorship. Journalists are facing threats, arrests, and even physical harm, leading to a decline in investigative reporting, transparency, and the flow of information to the public.

These targeted violations are encroaching on the human rights of individuals and undermining the principles of democracy, the rule of law, and freedom of expression. It has created an environment of fear, suppressing dissenting voices and impeding the development of a vibrant civil society. Addressing these concerns is crucial for upholding human rights and ensuring the establishment of a robust democratic system in Bangladesh.

These violations pose significant challenges to the democratic norms and values upheld in Bangladesh. A healthy democracy thrives on the principles of pluralism, inclusivity, and the ability to voice differing opinions. However, when the state suppresses or targets individuals or groups based on their political beliefs or criticisms, it undermines the democratic fabric of the nation. Moreover, human rights violations have a detrimental impact on the rule of law. The rule of law guarantees equal protection and fair treatment for all individuals, irrespective of their affiliations or perspectives. When human rights abuses occur, it erodes trust and confidence in the legal system and weakens overall governance structures. This, in turn, hampers efforts to build a just and equitable society. Additionally, human rights violations also disrupt social cohesion within Bangladesh. A society that respects and upholds human rights is more likely to foster harmonious relationships among its citizens. However, when certain groups face targeted abuses, it breeds fear, division, and resentment. This undermines the unity and solidarity required for a cohesive society.

In Bangladesh, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), an anti-terrorism force, has been utilized against opponents and critics of the government. This raises serious concerns about the misuse of RAB’s power and its impact on human rights. While the primary purpose of RAB is to combat terrorism and maintain public security, there have been instances where this force has been allegedly deployed to target individuals who are political opponents or vocal critics of the government. This includes activists, journalists, and members of opposition parties. There have been extrajudicial killings, torture, and enforced disappearances, and RAB enjoys impunity under the aegis of Hassina Wajid’s government.

The utilization of RAB against opponents and critics is a clear violation of democratic principles, as it undermines the fundamental rights of individuals to express their opinions and participate in political activities without fear of reprisal. It creates an atmosphere of intimidation, silencing dissenting voices and obstructing the democratic process. The government is harnessing this elite force for political gains, with tacit approval from the highest offices of Prime Minister Shaikh Hasina Wajid.

Furthermore, the misuse of RAB raises concerns about accountability and transparency. When an anti-terrorism force is employed to suppress political opposition, it compromises the impartiality and credibility of the institution. There is a need for effective oversight mechanisms in Bangladesh to ensure that RAB operates within the boundaries of the law and respects the human rights of all individuals. It is essential for the Bangladeshi government to address these concerns and ensure that RAB operates in accordance with international human rights standards. Upholding the principles of democracy, the rule of law, and freedom of expression requires the protection of individuals’ rights, regardless of their political affiliations or opinions. This includes safeguarding against any misuse of security forces for political purposes and promoting an environment where peaceful dissent is valued and respected.

In Bangladesh, the Digital Security Act (DSA) of 2018, an anti-cybercrime law, was enacted with the objective of curbing propaganda and extremist content online. However, there have been concerns about the misuse of this law, as well as the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act of 2006. While the intention behind these laws is to ensure a safe and secure digital environment, there have been instances where they have been misused to stifle freedom of expression and target individuals for their online activities. The broad and vague language of the laws has provided authorities with wide-ranging powers that can be used to suppress dissent and silence critical voices.

The misuse of the DSA and ICT Act poses a significant threat to freedom of speech and undermines the principles of a democratic society. These laws should be applied in a manner that respects standards of human rights, including the right to express opinions, engage in peaceful assembly, and access information. It is essential for the Bangladeshi government to review and amend these laws to ensure they are not used as tools to silence political opponents, activists, journalists, or any individuals expressing their legitimate opinions online. Safeguards should be put in place to prevent abuse of power, and mechanisms for independent oversight and accountability should be strengthened.

Bangladesh being a democratic state must foster an inclusive and democratic society where individuals can freely express themselves, access information, and participate in online discourse without fear of reprisal. Addressing human rights violations in Bangladesh requires an approach that involves the government, civil society organizations, and the international community. It is essential to hold accountable those responsible for these violations, ensure impartial investigations, and provide reparations to victims. Strengthening institutions, promoting transparency, and fostering a culture of respect for human rights are crucial

Shaikh Moazam Khan

Shaikh Moazam Khan is an Islamabad based expert of strategic affairs.

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