BANGLADESH: Alarming escalation of threats to human rights defenders

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As two members of prominent human rights NGO Odhikar will face trial tomorrow in Dhaka in relation to their human rights activities, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, an FIDH-OMCT joint programme, publishes today an international mission report on the situation of human rights defenders in Bangladesh.

NGO activists, lawyers, journalists and trade unionists trying to defend the victims of human rights violations remain inadequately protected and suffer repression for carrying out legitimate activities under international law ”, said Karim Lahidji, FIDH President. “ Presently, two members of Odhikar, a respected human rights NGO, are facing judicial harassment for publishing a report on police repression ”, he added.

Mr. Adilur Rahman Khan, Secretary of Odhikar and a member of the General Assembly of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), whose trial will resume tomorrow, was detained from August 10 to October 11, 2013. Mr. Nasiruddin Elan, Director of Odhikar, was sent to prison on November 6. Both have been harassed after Odhikar published a report on the repression of a demonstration of fundamentalists by the police last May.

In Bangladesh, the political atmosphere is fundamentally polarised, and the situation is becoming increasingly tensed in the lead-up to the general elections due to take place before the end of January 2014.

We are alarmed over the present situation and the risk of further repression of human rights defenders in the upcoming pre-election context. Human rights work is in the inherent interest of any nation, no matter who the victim may be. This voice needs to be heard even in times of political tension, declared Gerald Staberock, Secretary General of OMCT. There is a heavy burden on all actors, State authorities, political parties and the media alike, to withstand the temptation of labelling human rights defenders as pro-government or anti-government, depending on whom they criticise or which party is in power, he added.

The trade union environment is also generally polarised along party lines, and the few independent unions that exist face obstacles to their work, including daily harassment by the authorities. The enforced disappearance and extrajudicial killing of labour leader and human rights defender Aminul Islam in 2012 reminded the international community and human rights defenders on the ground how risky independent labour rights activities could be in Bangladesh. Authorities failed to launch any effective investigation about his assassination.

The Observatory concludes that as long as corruption is not curbed, and in the absence of a peaceful and constructive political environment, of legislation promoting human rights and of an independent judiciary, abuses of power and arbitrary practices will continue. These make the exercise of fundamental freedoms more difficult, hinder the strengthening of an independent civil society, and maintain human rights defenders in the trap of a disabling environment.

The Observatory Mission Report, titled “Human rights defenders trapped in a polarised political environment ”, outlines recommendations to the Bangladeshi authorities, the United Nations, the European Union and other foreign diplomacies.

Source: FIDH