The Universal Periodic Review Hearing

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The Bangladesh Report, under the Universal Periodic Review mechanism of the United Nations Human Rights Council, must reflect the true prevailing status of the human rights situation, without distortion or half-truths. On 3 February 2009, the Bangladesh report was discussed by the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Odhikar believes that the imposition and continuation of the State of Emergency for a long time was the single most important incident of human rights violation. The Emergency deprived the people of their fundamental rights.

UPR recommendations from the Odhikar and FIDH8 joint submission are given below:

Rein in the security forces and stop all extrajudicial killings and refrain from using murder as a policing tool.

Set up an independent body to deal with complaints against members of security forces for violation of rights, with adequate powers to investigate and where necessary, recommend prosecution.

Stop the use of torture in all its forms by law officers once an individual is in custody or under effective control of a member of the law enforcement agencies.

Ratify the Rome Statute of 1998 establishing the International Criminal Court that Bangladesh is a signatory to and adopt implementing legislations.

Legislate the outlawing of torture in line with the Government's obligation as a Party to the UNCAT, on a priority basis and put in place lawful interrogation procedures including the interrogation of people remanded in custody in glass-partitioned rooms and in the presence of relatives or lawyers, as ordered by the High Court in April 2003 and amend the Code of Criminal Procedure accordingly.

Provide compensation to victims of torture.

Incorporate and ensure fundamental rights and freedoms in counter terrorism

legislation including guaranteeing internationally recognised fair trial rights.

8 FIDH: International Federation for Human Rights, based in Paris, France

• Reorganize the justice system to make it women friendly, including legislation on victims and witness protection.

• Amendments should include making recommendations of the UN Human Rights Commission binding, and awarding the Commission its "right" to be consulted by the Government in legislations with human rights implications.

Suggestions and Recommendations

2009 has been an 'eventful' year for those who perpetrate abuse on human rights. In order to uphold the rights of the people as guaranteed by the Constitution and the laws of the land, Odhikar has placed here some suggestions for a safer, more democratic Bangladesh.

As per the election manifesto of the present Government and the UPR declaration of the United Nations, extra-judicial killings must come to an end. The Government must bring before trial those involved in these killings.

The Government must refrain from narrowing down the path to democratic rights and cease the practice of coming down on political groups holding a different political opinion.

Torture during interrogation or remand must be stopped immediately and the recommendations placed by the High Court Division in 2003 must be implemented.

Freedom of the media must be ensured. A proper investigation is needed into the incidents of repression and torture towards journalists.

Independent and fair investigations must be carried out in relation to the deaths of the BDR members who were in custody. Transparency and accountability must be upheld in the treason cases involving the BDR Jawans. For the sake of justice and upholding the rights of the accused, the accused in the BDR mutiny should be allowed to be represented by a legal counsel of their choice.

The Government must take effective steps to stop violence against women. Those involved in such violence must be brought under the purview of the law and the victims must also be provided with necessary assistance including adequate compensation. The victims and witnesses must be provided protection so that the perpetrator cannot exert fear upon them or inflict violence on them again. Odhikar also urges the Government to create a special fund for treating the physical and mental consequences of such violence.

The wages of the workers of the readymade garments factories must be paid in time. The Government must watch over the garments factories to ensure that the workers are being paid regularly and that the issues concerning wage raises

The Government must pay more attention to its citizens working as overseas labourers. The policy on overseas migration and overseas labour must be strictly implemented. Bangladesh Embassies abroad must be more diligent in safeguarding the rights of its workforce in foreign countries.

The Government must also be active in obtaining adequate compensation for the families of the deceased and the tortured labourers.

The government should take immediate steps to stop political violence. Those who are engaged in such violence must be brought to justice. Law enforcement agencies should be strengthened to stop the violence.

The Government must take effective steps so that the killings of Bangladeshi citizens by the BSF come to an end.

The Anti-Terrorism Act 2008, a tool for committing human rights violations, must be scrapped.

Rights of the ethnic and religious minority communities must be guaranteed and security to their property and belongings must also be provided, as per legal and constitutional provisions.

The Government must follow the Paris Principles regarding human rights defenders and their protection.

The National Human Rights Commission

The Government of Bangladesh passed the National Human Rights Commission Bill on July 9, 2009. The Bill provides for a selection procedure of members to the National Human Rights Commission by a seven-member Selection Committee. This will allow direct intervention by the Government, since four members of the Selection Committee have come from the ruling party. The three remaining members are - a Government nominated retired Justice, who is also the Chair of the Law Commission and another is a Secretary of the Cabinet. Keeping room for only one member from the Opposition party has reduced the proposed National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) into an entity subservient to and controlled by the Government. The National Human Rights Commission will be a toothless tiger, as it has not been given the power to take measures against an accused person or against law enforcement agencies.

While the Commission itself should be given the power to file cases against human rights violators, the provision in the Bill only allows the NHRC to make suggestions to the Government to take steps against persons against whom accusations have been proven. The Commission has no visible functional capacity. It is a caricature of what the human right defenders have been demanding for a long time and therefore totally inadequate and unacceptable.

Parliament:

The prevailing formal institutional structure of the political system in Bangladesh appears handicapped in checking the unbridled power and authority of government and ill-equipped in calling the government to account. All the major characteristics of a strong legislature are virtually absent in Bangladesh. State power is highly centralized rather than dispersed. The president is a titular head of state and he performs according to the advices of the prime minister and plays into the hand of the ruling regime. All the major political institutions including the Speaker of the parliament have been politicized and used against the major opposition parties in the country. Major local government institutions have been dysfunctional for over a decade. The parliament and parliamentary committees have been dominated and monopolized by the ruling government. No space has been left for the opposition political parties to participate and con­tribute to the governance system. The opposition is thus left out to the street. Thus the external environment of the parliament and parliamentary committees has largely determined the way parliament and committees have performed in Bangladesh.

Executive:

The domination of the ruling party is evident in the structural and functional arrangement of the committee system in Bangladesh. Structurally the committee is arranged in such a way that without the assent of the party in power no action can be taken to make the executive accountable. The stalwarts (including the party chief) of the ruling party have enormous influence from the formation of committees to the implementation of committee recommendations. The institu­tional domination of the ruling party has also been reflected in the real-world functioning of the committee in securing executive accountability in Bangladesh. Prime ministers in the 1990s have been seen interfering in the operations of committees.

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