Bangladesh: Government must act to address rule of law crisis

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Paris, 22 December 2021 - A new report published by FIDH paints a grim picture of the rule of law in Bangladesh and calls upon the government to address the dire situation by urgently implementing tangible legal and institutional reforms.

The report, titled “Out of control - Human rights and rule of law crises in Bangladesh,” reveals a weakened rule of law characterized by a judiciary that lacks independence from the executive branch of government, widespread censorship of the press, repression of critical voices, and severe restrictions on freedom of assembly and of association.

The report is based on information gathered from online interviews with 20 individuals - including lawyers, journalists, NGO representatives, diplomats, and UN officials - and outlines Dhaka’s policies that have undermined the rule of law to the point of crisis.

“While the government has claimed that it adopts a ‘zero-tolerance’ policy towards human rights violations, which are a major contributor to the deterioration of the rule of law in Bangladesh, accountability for these abuses is almost non-existent. The lack of political will to hold perpetrators of human rights violations accountable and the denial of the recurrent commission of such violations indicates government complicity, or, at the very least, acquiescence, in these abuses.”

Guissou Jahangiri, FIDH Vice-President

In Bangladesh, serious human rights violations have often been perpetrated by law enforcement agencies, namely the police and the Rapid Action Battalion. Violations have included extrajudicial killings, 1,134 of which took place between January 2018 and June 2021. Torture has also been routinely used as a tool against political opponents as well as ordinary citizens. Other abuses by the authorities have included enforced disappearances, which FIDH argued amounted to a crime against humanity in a report published in 2019.

Over the past 15 years, the country’s judiciary has failed to bring justice to victims of human rights abuses. In face of this, the public has lost confidence in the judicial system, instead taking matters into its own hands, as illustrated by the 40 mob attack-related deaths that were recorded in 2020 alone.

Unfavorable press coverage of the Awami League-led government has also been systematically targeted. Relentless censorship of news outlets and persecution of journalists earned Bangladesh the lowest World Press Freedom Index ranking in South Asia in 2021.

The government’s assault on freedom of expression has left little or no room for individuals to express their dissent. The draconian Digital Security Act has been used to target those who have criticized the government on web and social media platforms. A mere “like” or “share” of a Facebook post critical of the Prime Minister can lead to arrest.

Political and civil society activity has been tightly controlled. The exercise of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly has been subjected to double standards - depending on political loyalty of those who have sought to exercise it. Moreover, restrictive laws have been used to curtail the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association of NGOs operating in Bangladesh.

The report concludes by issuing recommendations to address the government’s problematic practices that threaten to further erode the rule of law and the respect of human rights.

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