UN rights chief investigates disappearance, DSA, press freedom, CHT

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, visiting on Sunday in separate meetings with four ministers, inquired about reports of serious human rights abuses in Bangladesh, including enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, torture in detention and abuse of the digital security law and the poor state of press freedom.

In the first-ever visit by a UN rights chief to Bangladesh, Bachelet arrived in Dhaka in the morning and spent busy hours on the first day of her four-day trip holding meetings with business ministers. Foreign, Law, Home Affairs and Education who defended the actions of the government.

The UN rights chief also asked about widespread brutality in Bangladesh, the protection of Rohingya rights and abuses at Chattogram Hill Tracks and their land rights, attacks on religious minorities, the harmony and the delisting of Bangladeshi rights group Odhikar in June, among other issues.

Bachelet also asked about the training modalities for Bangladeshi UN peacekeepers.

Bachelet avoided questions from the press about his meetings with Bangladeshi ministers.

Interior Minister Asaduzzaman Khan told reporters that Bachelet inquired about the list of 76 victims of enforced disappearance.

The minister said he informed the high commissioner that two of them remain in prison, 10 others were found in their respective homes and 32 others are wanted in various cases.

Asaduzzaman said he told the UN human rights chief that three categories of people had gone missing.

Asaduzzaman said he told Bachelet the following: the first category of missing persons committed heinous crimes and tried to escape justice, the second category of people escaped loan sharks after suffering a loss in business or went bankrupt, and the third category of people disappeared after a conjugal marriage. quarrels, Asaduzzaman says he told Bachelet.

“We showed video footage of people killing police officers and destroying public property. We have porous borders and many have fled and taken refuge in India, Myanmar or elsewhere. “We have the rest with us,” he said.

“There was no reason for these 76 people to have been forcibly disappeared by law enforcement,” he said.

He said the government had prosecuted members of the Rapid Action Battalion for seven killings in Narayanganj in 2014 and police officers from Cox’s Bazar had also been prosecuted for one murder.

Rights group Odhikar said that between 2009 and March 2022, a total of 613 people were subjected to enforced disappearance and many of them were found killed, arrested, imprisoned or released. Of these, the fate of 86 others could not be confirmed, Human Rights Watch said.

Asaduzzaman said he told the UN rights boss that Bangladeshi media enjoys the highest level of freedom and he placed a list of 3,154 newspapers, 50 TV stations, 27 FM radio stations and other media.

He said that social media disseminates information about everything they have and that is why the Digital Security Act was enacted.

“Only 3% of the cases were filed by the state,” he said, adding, “As the Minister of Justice has instructed us to use the law more carefully and we are following the instructions.”

The UN rights chief inquired about the CHT, and the minister replied that the government was delivering on the promises made in the 1997 agreement by gradually resolving the land dispute through consultation and employing the police to maintain peace and order in the region.

According to Asaduzzaman, the NGO provided falsified information on missing persons during the Hefajat-e-Islam protest in May 2013, and it also failed to share the audit report with the government.

During his meeting, Minister of Justice Anisul Huq briefed the High Commissioner on the progress made in revising the Digital Security Law.

After his meeting with Bachelet, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen said the UN rights chief raised issues relating to press freedom and civil society.

He said that the UN side had stressed that there was no freedom of the press and there was no civil society.

“They think the press has no freedom here and the government is imposing censorship,” Momen said.

Education Minister Dipu Moni briefed Mme Bachelet on the measures taken by the government to ensure quality education.

Later, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in a press release, said High Commissioner Bachelet appreciated Bangladesh’s regular reporting to human rights treaty bodies and suggested a mechanism to further streamline this.

Bachelet is expected to hold a series of meetings with government officials, youth representatives, civil society leaders and academics in Dhaka and meet forcibly displaced Rohingya in Cox’s Bazar during his visit.

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