What Bangladesh will do during the upcoming Universal Periodic Review


As Bangladesh approaches its national election, international stakeholders are closely watching for signs of an independent and equitable electoral process. Amid this attention, another critical event is on the horizon: the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) before the UN Human Rights Council, which every United Nations member state must undergo every four years. Scheduled for early November in Geneva, this international review is poised to assess Bangladesh’s progress in civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights, raising crucial questions about the state of human rights in the country.

While Bangladesh has indeed achieved significant milestones in terms of socioeconomic development, increased life expectancy, and literacy rates, the UPR process goes beyond socioeconomic indicators. It delves into human rights records, specifically examining civil and political rights, an area where Bangladesh faces substantial challenges.

Bangladesh’s press freedom ranking stands at a concerning 163rd out of 180 countries on the 2023 Freedom of the Press Index. Tragically, two journalists have lost their lives, and numerous others have been imprisoned since the beginning of the year. Furthermore, the number of individuals on death row has risen steadily, from around 1,500 in 2018 to at least 2,000 by 2022.

Reports suggest deplorable conditions in prisons and police stations, characterized by overcrowding, life-threatening health hazards, and allegations of torture.

Despite public denials by Bangladeshi authorities, reports of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings persist. This climate of fear has led to self-censorship among artists, journalists, human rights defenders, and freethinkers, as they face persecution rather than protection from law enforcement agencies. Violence against women and minorities remains widespread, with victims encountering significant obstacles to seeking justice and redress, particularly in the absence of a witness protection law.

Additionally, the Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act of 2016 further restricts the work of human rights organizations by criminalizing foreign-funded NGOs engaged in “anti-state activities” or criticism of the constitution and constitutional institutions. The NGO Affairs Bureau (NGOAB) possesses broad powers to inspect, monitor, and evaluate the activities of NGOs receiving external funds, with the authority to file complaints without providing the NGOs an avenue for appeal.

Given this challenging context, the UPR examination of Bangladesh by the UN Human Rights Council may raise critical questions about avenues for justice in the face of human rights violations.

The Bangladeshi legal system grapples with numerous deficiencies, including a lack of accountability, extensive backlogs of pending cases (numbering in the millions), an insufficient number of judges, and deeply entrenched discriminatory and patriarchal attitudes. The judiciary often finds itself inundated with frivolous cases triggered by political or personal rivalries.

Furthermore, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of Bangladesh can only file complaints against state authorities with the consent of those same authorities, highlighting a lack of political independence and functional autonomy. Consequently, victims of human rights violations often rely on legal NGOs such as Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST), and Bangladesh National Woman Lawyers’ Association (BNWLA), but even these organizations operate under significant constraints in the current political climate.

As Bangladesh’s official delegation prepares for the upcoming UPR examination, it will be compelled to address the country’s poor track record in safeguarding civil and political rights. The anticipated narrative will likely include Bangladesh’s hosting of over a million “forcibly displaced nationals from Myanmar,” its achievements in economic development and natural disaster management, and its success in reducing terrorist threats and attacks through law and order policies. However, mere rhetoric is unlikely to sway the UN council. As a state party to eight of the nine core human rights treaties, Bangladesh is expected to demonstrate tangible progress rather than offering empty assurances to the UN.


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