Our Voices

Experts call on the international community to engage in specific recommendations during the Universal Periodic Review on Bangladesh

­­Ahead of the 44th session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) scheduled for November 13, 2023, four experts called on U.N. member states to urge Bangladesh to cease the continuing violations faced by human rights defenders, journalists, and critical voices within the country, during a virtual panel by the Committee to Protect Journalists, the International Federation for Human Rights and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights.

The experts, who advocated for recommendations that prioritize the imperative of democratization and protection of human rights in Bangladesh, were: Mohammad Ashrafuzzaman, an exiled Bangladeshi human rights defender based in Hong Kong; Sonali Dhawan, an Asia researcher at the Committee to Protect Journalists; Andrea Giorgetta, the Asia Desk Director of the International Federation for Human Rights, based in Bangkok, Thailand; and, Tasneem Khalil, a Swedish-Bangladeshi journalist and editor-in-chief of Netra News.

Ashrafuzzaman focused on how the Government of Bangladesh silences critical voices with no guarantees for victims’ access to justice. He highlighted that victims of enforced disappearance are also completely deprived of any form of justice. “We need to expect that the international community plays a proactive role in bringing the pressing issues during the review process in order to hold the country accountable,” Ashrafuzzaman urged.

Dhawan spoke about how the Committee to Protect Journalists has documented a worsening state of media freedom in Bangladesh since its previous Universal Periodic Review in 2018. She noted that “Bangladeshi authorities are increasingly attempting to silence the media through arbitrary detention, legal harassment, and censorship. It is also implementing a series of measures impeding the media’s ability to report freely on the upcoming election.” Moreover, Dhawan noted that transnational repression against family members of critical exiled journalists is growing at an alarming rate in Bangladesh, and requires a response from the international community through mechanisms including the UPR.

“The practice of enforced disappearance in Bangladesh over the past decade has been well documented, and the only one that continues to deny it is the Bangladeshi Government.” said Giorgetta. According to the FIDH, “the patterns, trends and modus operandi or enforced disappearances allows to establish that they amount to a crime against humanity, as they are part of a governmental policy, it occurs in a widespread and systematic manner and as part of an attack to the civilian population.” Giorgetta urged member states to specifically recommend that Bangladesh criminalize enforced disappearance to eliminate the excuse that there is no legal provision to address it.

Khalil shared his personal experience as an exiled journalist, saying he has been targeted under the Digital Security Act for posting a “historical fact” about the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War on Facebook. However, he denounced that the primary victim is his mother, who resides in Sylhet, Bangladesh, and has been repeatedly visited and questioned by intelligence officers, mostly after midnight. He added that victims of human rights violations who speak to the press are also subjected to reprisals, noting the Digital Security Act case against former army general Hasinur Rahman following his testimony as a survivor of enforced disappearance to Khalil’s Netra News.

The panelists call on the Human Rights Council to consider the key findings and recommendations established in the alternative reports submitted in preparation for the 44th session of the Universal Periodic Review. The recording of the virtual panel is available here.