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Unhr commissioner stresses holding national dialogue before election to prevent unrest

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UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet on Wednesday underscored the need for a national dialogue ahead of elections ‘to prevent grievances from building and erupting in social unrest’.  

“There needs to be space for more dialogue among political parties and with a wide range of civil society actors to prevent grievances from building and erupting in social unrest,” she said while addressing a press briefing held to wrap up her four-day visit to Bangladesh. 

“Bangladesh is also entering an election cycle, with general elections due next year, which tends to be a time of increased polarisation and tension” she added.

 “The election period will be an important time for Bangladesh to maximize civic and political space, including freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly of political activists, human rights defenders, opposition parties and journalists,” the former Chilean President said.

She prescribed to ensure that law enforcement forces have the necessary training to ‘manage protests without resorting to the excessive use of force’. 

She also presented a dismal picture of human rights situation saying that successive UN human rights reports have documented a narrowing of civic space, increased surveillance, intimidation and reprisals often leading to self-censorship.

Laws and policies over-regulating NGOs and broadly restricting the freedom of expression make it difficult – and sometimes risky – for them to function effectively.” 

She mentioned that various UN human rights mechanisms – including the UN Committee Against Torture, have been raising concerns for several years about allegations of enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killing and torture, many of which have been attributed to the Rapid Action Battalion.

“ I raised my deep concern about these serious allegations with ministers and highlighted the need for an impartial, independent and transparent investigation into these allegations accompanied by security sector reform” 

“There are continued, alarming allegations of both short-term and long-term enforced disappearances, and concerns about the lack of due process and judicial safeguards” 

“Particularly given the long-standing frustrations at the lack of progress in investigations and other obstacles to justice, I encouraged the Government to create an independent, specialised mechanism that works closely with victims, families and civil society to investigate allegations of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings” she noted.

My Office is ready to provide advice on how such a body could be designed in line with international standards.” 

“Inviting the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances to visit Bangladesh would also show a commitment to decisively address this issue,” Ms Bachelet said. 

She also felt that as the biggest contributor of uniformed personnel to UN peacekeeping missions, Bangladesh should ensure it has a robust system in place to ensure the careful human rights screening of security personnel. 

The Human Rights Commissioner noted that democratic and civic space, as well as effective checks, balances and accountability, are essential as Bangladesh aims for the next levels of development. 

“It also contributes to decreasing the risk of corruption and other hurdles to sustainable economic development and sound fiscal management.” 

She also stressed the importance of protecting minority groups, such as Hindus and indigenous peoples from violence or land encroachments. 

About CHT situation she said, the peace accord in the Chittagong Hill Tracts 25 years ago was an important achievement but given the continued allegations of human rights violations, linked with land disputes and the need for demilitarization, I called for full implementation of the peace accord and unrestricted access for independent actors to visit the area.
On the DSA she said, my Office and the Government have engaged in dialogue on review of the Digital Security Act. 

We have submitted our recommendations for repeal and revision of certain provisions of the Act, with a view to ensuring their compliance with international human rights laws and standards and preventing arbitrary application or misuse” she informed. 

On Rohingya issue she said the current situation across the border means that the conditions are not right for returns. 

“Repatriation must always be conducted in a voluntary and dignified manner, only when safe and sustainable conditions exist in Myanmar.”

Talking about security situation inside the camp she said, “I am very worried about increasing anti-Rohingya rhetoric in Bangladesh, stereotyping and scapegoating Rohingyas as the source of crime and other problems”.

“I am particularly concerned that a pre-electoral context, combined with economic difficulties and uncertainties, will mean more hate speech against these vulnerable communities.”


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