Bangladesh: Human rights situation grim, defenders urge NHRC to play effective role

Around 30 human rights defenders from across Bangladesh joined the discussion titled “Civil Society Dialogue with National Human Rights Commission Bangladesh” and urged the country’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to play effective role for protection of human rights, especially in cases of violations by the law enforcement personnel, the Daily Star reported.

Human rights defenders said the situation of human rights is grim in the entire country and alleged that law enforcers harass people by filing false cases and picking them up.

Abdur Rahman, a rights defender from Jhenidah, observed that human rights defenders are fearful of enforced disappearances or being killed in crossfire by the law enforcement agencies while Rashed Ripon from Rajshahi, another rights defender, claimed that harassment by police was on the rise.

Human rights non-government organization Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) organised the one-day event at the Centre on Integrated Rural Development for Asia and the Pacific in Dhaka.

ASK placed a position paper at the discussion highlighting the limitations of NHRC in investigating allegations against law enforcement agency members, the role of the commission in protecting the rights of minorities, its initiatives to stop extrajudicial killing and enforced disappearance and also to demand a law for the protection of rights defenders.

Echoing similar views, the rights defenders criticized the NHRC for not playing an effective role in protecting human rights.

About cases of enforced disappearances, killings in crossfire and other violations of rights allegedly by law enforcement agencies, the defenders urged the commission to play a stronger role in the investigation of such cases to identify the perpetrators.

They also asked the commission to initiate more independent investigations into the cases.

Referring to section 18 of the National Human Rights Commission Act 2009 which bars the NHRC from directly investigating against any security personnel, the ASK said although there is no obligation for the commission to investigate allegations against law enforcement agencies, the section is often misinterpreted to mean that the commission cannot investigate such cases.

ASK further demanded that the government allow NHRC to directly investigate the cases where the law enforcement agencies are involved.

Rights defenders said they want NHRC to work at grassroots by expanding its activities.

A participant from Naogaon, Zakaria Al Mamun, said there is a huge gap between the expectation and returns from the NHRC. “The activities of the NHRC should be visible on a field level.”

NHRC Chairman Kazi Reazul Hoque, who also addressed the gathering, said that they proposed to open an office at divisional levels. He said appointment for the new positions was tough given the bureaucratic hiccups in the country. He informed that the NHRC had proposed an organogram of 139 officials to open offices at divisional levels.

The NHRC chairman lamented on the lack of cooperation from the police. He said the police do not give them investigation reports in cases where law enforcers are allegedly involved.

On enforced disappearances, Reazul said they write demi-official letters to home minister and inspector general of police for every such incident, requesting them to find the victims and punish the perpetrators. Some of the missing people have already returned, he added.

NHRC has independently investigated a few sensational cases but cannot investigate them all, he said, adding that they take cases, which have merit, and help the victims until a charge is framed.

The gathering of the rights defenders requested NHRC to form an independent commission on extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances and organise public hearings on the issues.

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