Bangladesh: Concerns over extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearance

Early marriages are one of the key concerns of the Human Rights Committee in Bangladesh. Photo credit: Girls Not Brides

On the 6th and 7th March 2017, the Human Rights Committee reviewed Bangladesh’s initial report on the implementation of the ICCPR. Introducing its report, the State delegation of Bangladesh indicated that the country had suffered numerous setbacks towards democracy and challenges in full protection of civil and political rights since gaining independence in 1971.It further pointed out that the submission of the initial report was delayed due to political obstacles. The State delegation also highlighted that the current government, elected into office for the second time in 2009, has taken several actions to effectively implement the ICCPR securing the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary among others. Nonetheless, a number of concerns were raised by the Committee during the review. The webcast of the review is available here: part 1 and part 2.

"The [Foreign Donation (Voluntary Activities) Regulation] Act appears to subject NGOs and civil society organizations to unreasonable government control and to restrict freedom of expression and association."

- Member of the Human Rights Committee

Counter-terrorism legislation

While the State party stressed that the counter-terrorism legislation in Bangladesh, including the Special Powers Act of 1974 and the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2009, are not in conflict with ICCPR, the Committee noted that such laws often contained extremely broad legal definitions, which were liable to improper interpretation. Committee members also expressed concern about the use of counter-terrorism legislation by the authority against human rights defenders and journalists. Furthermore, the Committee also expressed concerns that the respective amendments to the Anti-Terrorism Act in 2012 and to the Information and Communications Technology Act in 2006 had only exacerbated the situation.

Extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearance

The Committee noted that, despite State party’s efforts, information before it suggested a disturbingly high number of killings by both State and non-State actors as well as incidents of enforced disappearance, whereby the levels of investigation and accountability were reportedly low and families of disappeared persons were unable to obtain information and redress. In this regard, the Committee asked disaggregated statistics on the number of complaints alleging such incidents, investigations conducted, convictions secured, penalties imposed and compensation provided to the victims. Concerning the lack of definition of the enforced disappearance in domestic law, the Committee pointed out that it was a concept defined in international law and its existence in the State party was not dependent on whether or not there is a domestic definition. The Committee also requested information on the number of cases in which the provision of the Armed Police Battalion Act, stipulating that no legal action could be brought against any member of the police force for anything done or intended to be done in good faith, had been invoked as a legal defense by officials accused or suspected of unlawful killings or enforced disappearance. The Committee was also concerned about the fact that 84 bloggers had been tagged as anti-Islamic and blasphemous, of whom at least 7 had been hacked to death, and that complaints made to the police by a number of individuals, including those who were ultimately killed, were not investigated. Therefore, the Committee asked more detailed and up-to-date information about individual specific cases of such incidents as to how they were dealt with. 

Forced labour and labour rights

Notwithstanding the laws prohibiting them, the Committee noted that forced labour as well as child labour were still prevalent in the State party. Also, the majority of forced labourers comes from indigenous communities or communities designated as untouchable, who are reportedly also facing a significant problem of child labour. The Committee also referred to the report of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery that a number of people in the State party were still trapped in debt bondage. Therefore, the Committee wanted to know what measures were taken by the State party and what mechanisms were in place to address this issue, especially concerning the informal sector and the situation of domestic workers. Moreover, the Committee stated that, while commending the amendment to the Labour Act following the Rana Plaza accident in 2013, that the said Act did not appear to apply to some workers, such as those working in export processing zones, in non-profit education and training institutions and in farms. It was also raised that, based on the information received, many applications for trade union registration were rejected. Thus, the Committee sought information about measures taken to ensure that workers in practice exercise their right to form, register and participate in unions, about what charges could be brought against employers who obstructed their rights, and the number of unions that currently exist.

Recommendations of the Committee

The recommendations included in the Committee’s Concluding Observations, especially those urgent ones, for which the State should provide information on the implementation within one year, addressed:

  • Early marriages and harmful traditional practices:
    • Sharply reduce early marriage and prevent dowry practices through the implementation of legislation and by carrying out campaigns
    • Amend the Child Marriage Restraint Bill to maintain the legal minimum age of marriage for girls at 18 years
  • Extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances:
    • Take measures to protect the right to life of all persons
    • Revise legislation to limit the use of force by law enforcement officials, the military and special forces, incorporating international standards
    • Effectively criminalize enforced disappearance
    • Investigate and prosecute all cases of arbitrary killings, enforced disappearance and excessive use of force
    • Provide statistics on this issue in the next periodic report
  • Torture and ill-treatment:
    • End the practice of torture and ill-treatment
    • Ensure that no immunity provisions in other laws supersede the protection in the Torture and Custodial Death Prevention Act
    • Establish an independent complaint mechanism
    • Ensure prosecution of these cases and reparation to the victims

The next (second) periodic report of Bangladesh should be submitted by 29 March 2021.

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