UN experts released a statement on Tuesday raising concerns about the escalating human rights situation in Bangladesh. The statement, issued as the UN Human Rights Council concludes its periodic review of Bangladesh’s human rights record, points to a severe crackdown on human rights across multiple fronts.
The experts highlighted a disturbing surge in political violence, the arrest of senior opposition figures, and the widespread arbitrary detention of political activists in the lead-up to the national elections slated for 2024. The weaponisation of the judicial system against journalists, human rights defenders, and civil society leaders was underscored explicitly in the statement, with notable figures like Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus and human rights defenders Adilur Rahman Khan and Nasiruddin Elan referenced as targets of such measures.
After backlash against the Digital Security Act (DSA), which was criticised for containing ambiguous and overbroad provisions that allow authorities to police online space, the government pledged significant legal changes in response to concerns raised by human rights organisations. However, the UN experts noted that thousands of cases related to freedom of expression remain pending under the DSA. Furthermore, the statement pointed out that the draft Cyber Security Act does not effectively address all the threats to freedom of speech, leaving significant gaps in safeguarding this fundamental right.
The UN experts also drew attention to the recent crackdown on workers demanding fair wages in Bangladesh. Protests by workers seeking better pay, prompted by an increase in the minimum wage, have been met with violent responses from the police.
As Bangladesh faces scrutiny in the upcoming Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by the UN Human Rights Council, the statement calls for pressure on Bangladesh to address these human rights concerns. Amnesty International also echoed the need for UN member states to use the UPR to hold the Bangladeshi government accountable for the escalating crisis. Bangladesh is set to be one of the 14 states reviewed by the UPR Working Group in its upcoming session from November 6 to 17, marking the country’s fourth UPR.