BANGLADESH: Rights groups urge the international community to make UPR a meaningful process

(Dhaka/Hong Kong: 17 February 2013): After a series of consultations held in Dhaka, Bangladesh, the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) and Odhikar has urged the international community to participate in their fullest during the upcoming Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Bangladesh. The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva will hold the UPR in April, this year.

The participants discussed key issues concerning democracy, rule of law and fundamental human rights in Bangladesh that should be reviewed in the UPR. The participants reviewed documents, including the state party report filed in advance to the UPR.

Reiterating the importance of the UPR, the participants agreed that the process could be made more effective through mutual cooperation between the two organisations, seeking also support from other international entities, including states. The participants urged that the troika that would assist the UPR on Bangladesh should play a proactive role when the Working Group prepares the report and the outcome document. The ALRC and Odhikar urged the state representatives who attended the consultations that their respective states should take constructive steps to make the interactive dialogue an encouraging experience for Bangladesh, for it to play an honest role in realistically implementing in Bangladesh, the promises the state has made through its voluntary pledge to the UN Human Rights Council. Of particular concern was the state of the justice institutions in the country.

Since 2006, even after Bangladesh became a member of the UN Human Rights Council, it has failed to cooperate with the Special Procedure Mechanisms of the UN, most importantly the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions to facilitate a state visit. In one of the recent statements on Bangladesh released on February 7, 2013, the UN Special Rapporteur, Mr. Christof Heyns, has said that ‘trials in Bangladesh often fail to guarantee fair trail procedures’. The UN Special Rapporteur on independence of judges and lawyers, Ms. Gabriela Knaul, added to the statement that ‘witnesses and lawyers in Bangladesh are often intimidated and threatened’, and the ‘basic concept of equality before the law is often not followed in criminal trials’ in Bangladesh. “Due process requires at a minimum that defendants are able to speak freely with their counsel, have adequate time to conduct their defence, and the ability to call witnesses to speak on their behalf,” Ms. Knaul said.

Other UN mandates also have made requests to the state to undertake state visits, which Bangladesh has not accepted so far. Of particular concern was Bangladesh’s failure to file state party reports to the UN on Convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The period during which, according to the statement of the foreign minister of Bangladesh – February 3, 2009 to February 12, 2013 – that the country has announced “zero tolerance” to extrajudicial executions, 425 cases of extrajudicial executions in Bangladesh have been documented by Odhikar. So far, the home ministry has investigated only two cases from this list.

Bangladesh is yet to ratify the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances. Due to the culture of impunity, and the non-cooperation by the office of the Attorney General in cases of extrajudicial executions and disappearances, the high courts often refuse to accept habeas corpus petitions. Most victims due to this fail to evoke the courts’ interventions in such cases and often complaints of disappearances are not registered.

A delegation of diplomats stationed in Dhaka attended the consultations, organized at Odhikar’s office. Odhikar’s President Prof. C. R. Abrar chaired the sessions. Mr. Md. Ashrafuzzaman, on behalf of the ALRC, an organization with the General Consultative Status of the ECOSOC, and its sister organisation, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), and Odhikar’s Secretary, Mr. Adilur Rahman Khan, participated in the consultations.

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The Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) works towards the radical rethinking & fundamental redesigning of justice institutions in Asia, to ensure relief and redress for victims of human rights violations, as per Common Article 2 of the International Conventions. Sister organisation to the Asian Human Rights Commission, the ALRC is based in Hong Kong & holds general consultative status with the Economic & Social Council of the United Nations.

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