Dhaka-UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on Monday expressed concern over the dramatic rise in the incidents of murder in Bangladesh.“I’m very concerned about the dramatically increased number of brutal murders in Bangladesh that target freethinkers, liberals, religious minorities and LGBT activists,” he said.
In a wide-ranging opening speech to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Hussein sheds a light on ‘preventable calamities’ and worrying trends in human rights around the world, including detailed concerns about the situation in more than 50 countries.
He urged the Bangladesh authorities to ensure full respect for human rights in investigating and prosecuting the perpetrators of recent vicious crimes, according to a message received here from Geneva.
“I note recent reports of police arrests, and I urge that investigating and prosecuting the perpetrators of these vicious crimes be made a priority, with full respect for human rights,” said the rights body chief.
He also urged all government officials and political and religious leaders to “unequivocally” condemn these attacks on freedom, and to do more to protect affected groups.
Meanwhile, ahead of the UN Human Rights Council that convened in Geneva, international groups working on press freedom and freedom of expression, including the Committee to Protect Journalists, made a joint submission to the council calling for urgent and concrete steps to reverse the deteriorating climate for free expression in Bangladesh.
A ‘string of murders’ of bloggers and publishers since February 2015, for which no one has been convicted, has produced an “atmosphere of fear”.
The mainstream press, meanwhile, continues to face an array of challenges, ranging from the imprisonment of journalists to legal threats, according to a message received here from CPJ.
The submission was made under item four of the council’s agenda saying Bangladesh must address the ‘worsening spiral of violence’, according to which the council can look into human rights abuses in specific countries.
The joint written submission was made by PEN International, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, Center for Inquiry, Committee to Protect Journalists, Dansk PEN, English PEN, European Humanist Federation, Finnish PEN, Freemuse, Icelandic PEN, Index on Censorship, International Humanist and Ethical Union, International Publishers Association, Norsk PEN, PEN America, PEN Bangladesh, PEN Melbourne, Reporters Without Borders, PEN Sweden.
In the submission, they said the recent years have seen a serious decline in respect for freedom of expression and the associated rights of freedom of association, assembly and of religion or belief in Bangladesh, a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Deeply entrenched and widening political differences between the ruling Awami League, the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party and their allies are contributing to a government crackdown on freedom of expression, with Bangladesh’s vibrant civil society also under attack, the statement read.
It said legislative changes, poor law enforcement, lack of governmental support for the principle of freedom of expression, attempts to undermine independent media and a justice system ill-equipped to provide recourse to victims of rights violations have all contributed to the silencing of dissenting voices, through murder, imprisonment, self-censorship or exile.
Urgent and concrete steps are needed to reverse this trend and to ensure a climate where political, religious and other views may be debated and discussed in safety and where civil society is respected and enabled to fulfill its vital function of holding government to account, they observed.
The signatories to the statement urged the Council to press the government of Bangladesh to thoroughly investigate the murders of bloggers, publishers, academics, civil society activists and religious minority figures.
They want an end to the ‘culture of impunity’ for human rights abuses, whether committed by state or non-state actors; ensure police provide adequate protection for all dissenting and minority voices, however controversial, particularly those who have been publicly targeted for attack; and ensure that all those requiring protection are able to access information about available measures and to request them with ease.
The signatories urged Bangladesh to unequivocally uphold the right of all to freely express their views, in accordance with the Constitution, including of those who disagree with or question the government.
They also urged Bangladesh to release immediately and unconditionally anyone held solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression, including anyone imprisoned for expressing views about religion.