(June 22, 2016 | Washington, D.C.) Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights welcomes the decision by the Bangladesh Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) to abandon its groundless investigation into Odhikar, one of the most prominent, independent human rights organizations in Bangladesh. Last month, the ACC made completely untrue allegations against Odhikar and opened an investigation into the organization. The allegations appeared to be aimed at harassing Odhikar for working to promote and protect human rights in Bangladesh. This week, Mr. Adilur Rahman Khan, General Secretary of Odhikar and 2014 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award Laureate, received a notice from the ACC that after conducting its investigation, “it has been found that the allegations have not been proved and the matter has been kept on record as ‘resolved’.”
“The ACC’s allegations were an obvious effort to harass and intimidate human rights defenders in Bangladesh; the government is absolutely right to abandon its investigation into Odhikar,” said Kerry Kennedy, President of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “This is a symbolic victory for Odhikar, but the fight is not over. Instead of attacking human rights organizations, the Government should embrace and support the work done by Odhikar and other human rights organizations to build a more peaceful and prosperous Bangladesh.”
The effort by the ACC is part of a broader crackdown on civil society in Bangladesh, particularly human rights organizations. Since 2014 the Bangladesh Parliament has been considering the Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act. If passed, the law would prevent individuals and organizations from receiving foreign funding without prior approval from the Government, would require organizations to register with the NGO Affairs Bureau before receiving foreign funding, and would provide the NGO Affairs Bureau the authority to approve or deny foreign funding for all projects carried out by an NGO. Just last month, a Parliamentary Panel recommended adding an additional provision to the bill to empower the NGO Affairs Bureau to shut down organizations if they make “insulting or derogatory” remarks about the Parliament or other constitutional bodies.
“The ACC’s decision to abandon its investigation into Odhikar is an excellent result; it is also the only correct result,” said David McKean, Asia Program Officer. “Given the baselessness of the charge, the ACC could come to no other legitimate conclusion. But beyond this administrative harassment, the legal impediments to NGOs operating in Bangladesh violate Bangladesh’s obligations under international human rights law. The Government must reverse its efforts to shrink space for civil society and work with human rights NGOs to constructively move the country forward.”