Bangladesh's dismal human rights record even murkier in 2019

Church figure says NGOs should play a role in promoting morality and human rights
Bangladesh's dismal human rights record even murkier in 2019

A suspect inside a vehicle following a court verdict last October that sentenced 16 people to death over the murder of a 19-year-old female student who was burned alive last April in a crime that provoked outrage across Bangladesh. (Photo: AFP)

Rights activists including a leading church official have blamed poor law enforcement, a culture of impunity and negligence by state agencies for the increasing violations of human rights in Bangladesh.

In 2019, Bangladesh faltered in stopping human rights abuses such as extrajudicial killings, rape and sexual violence and curtailing of freedom of expression, according to a report by Ain-O-Salish Kendra (ASK), a rights watchdog based in Dhaka, published Dec. 31.

The human rights situation overview was based on media reports and ASK investigations.

Bangladesh recorded 388 extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances in 2019, slightly lower than 466 cases in 2018, the ASK report said.

Rape cases almost doubled, from 732 in 2018 to 1,413. A total of 76 women were killed after being raped and 10 committed suicide, the ASK report revealed.

Some 487 children were killed and 1,696 were tortured in 2019, up from 419 and 1,011 respectively in the previous year.

A total of 1,087 children were raped or sexually assaulted, a massive rise from 444 cases in 2018.

Mob beatings claimed 65 people, most under the suspicion of being child kidnappers.

A total of 142 journalists were abused and harassed by law enforcement agency members, influential people, public representatives, miscreants and ruling party leaders and activists, mostly by exploiting repressive sections of the 2018 Digital Security Act.

Members of the ruling Awami League obstructed and halted rallies and meetings of opposition and leftist parties last year.

The poor state of human rights in Bangladesh results from poor rule of law, impunity and negligence, said Holy Cross Father Liton H. Gomes, secretary of the Catholic bishops’ Justice and Peace Commission.

“Bangladesh has made significant progress in social and economic indicators, but human development and rights continue to nosedive due to poor law enforcement, impunity and negligence. We prioritize more on knowledge, academic excellence and amassing wealth but too little on humanity and moral education in the family, the society and the state,” Father Gomes told ucanews.

Besides regular education in schools, colleges and universities, it is important to introduce and continue moral education in religious institutions such as mosques, temples and churches, the priest said.

“Non-government organizations should also play a role in promoting morality and human rights,” Father Gomes said.

Fast-tracking the legal justice system and pressuring state agencies to enforce the rule of law properly and neutrally can contribute to improving the situation, the priest added.

The National Human Rights Commission is fully committed to upholding human rights but it faces various challenges, said Dr. Kamal Uddin Ahmed, the only permanent member of the four-member autonomous state rights watchdog.

“Sometimes we face criticism that we are not doing enough to curb human rights violations, which is not true. We don’t finish our duty by passing on concerns and recommendations to various state bodies, but we actively take part in enforcement as well,” Ahmed told ucanews.

“We have taken action to probe alleged extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances and sexual harassment. However, we often cannot do enough due to the lack of evidence and witnesses.”

State security and intelligence agencies as well as the Home Ministry are supportive of the commission probing allegations of rights violations but often lack of evidence hinders the pursuit of justice, he said.

“We are fully committed to improving human rights but we have limitations and cannot be omnipresent and omnipotent,” he added.

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