Govt must respect rights, investigate violation

Human Rights

RIGHTS group Ain O Salish Kendra, which made public its annual rights situation report in Dhaka on December 31, has described the outgoing year of 2022 as ‘horrifying’ in terms of rights abuse, urging the government to respect civil and political rights, including the right to peaceful assembly, and to form an independent commission to investigate allegations of rights violation that includes extrajudicial killing, involuntary disappearances and unspecified detention. The rights group, which has listed at least 2,249 cases filed under the Digital Security Act with the police in Dhaka, Chattogram and Rajshahi in 2022, has also urged that the government should uphold the freedom of expression and should repeal the law that has been abused to contain dissent and punish any opposition. The number of cases filed under the law is, in fact, much higher as the group says that it has failed to collect the number of cases filed with five other divisional cyber tribunals. The report says that at least 70 people died and 6,914 became injured in 479 incidents of political violence in the year. The administration ordered Section 144 imposing restrictions on assembly and movement at least 36 times. The report further notes that 19 people died either in ‘gunfight’ or in police custody and five fell victim to enforced disappearance.

But what remains a problem with the resolution of incidents of rights violation is that the government and other relevant agencies are reluctant at acknowledging that rights violation takes place, which is largely seen by activists and experts as a ploy to sidestep the issue. While ranking government leaders claim that claims of rights violation are ‘baseless’ and are meant to malign the government, the government appears to believe that any such claims are tools of the quarters opposed to the government or the ruling party. It is in this context that the rights group has put out a call, which has been in discussion for a long time now, for the establishment of an independent commission to investigate all rights violation incidents. Ain O Salish Kendra, which has put forth 14 recommendations to improve on the rights situation, says that it endorses all the recommendations that the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, who visited Bangladesh in August 14–17, 2022, has made. The UN rights chief emphasised the need for an impartial, independent and transparent investigation of such incidents accompanied by judicial reforms and talked about the lack of due process and the absence of judicial safeguards. But the government has later said that the call for an independent and specialised mechanism for the investigation of rights violation allegations is not logical.

Incidents of rights abuse have all along been criticised mostly by the section of society that values critical thinking and the responsible media on the home ground. And, there is, therefore, no space for the authorities concerned for being rhetorical about the allegations of rights abuse. The government must investigate all such allegations after acknowledging the commission of such incidents. An independent commission, a non-departmental public body operating under statutory powers and duties defined by an act to oversee the system for handling rights violation complaints made against the law enforcement agencies, therefore, appears pertinent.

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