UNABATED human rights violation in the forms of extrajudicial killing, enforced disappearance, custodial torture and illegal detention appears to have overshadowed Bangladesh’s progress made in many economic and development indicators. While the country has achieved remarkable advancement in terms of growth in gross domestic product and per capita income, it has largely failed to protect human rights. Even though the nature of leadership has changed, successive governments have gradually undermined the human rights situation for political benefits since independence. Successive governments appear to have forgotten the birth-time promises of the country to ensure equality, human dignity and social justice for all and have introduced repressive laws to muzzle political dissent and curtail freedom of expression. When extrajudicial killing, enforced disappearance, custodial torture, illegal detention and other forms of human rights violations came to mark the human rights situation shortly after the independence, such violations appear to have intensified in recent years. Laws such as the Special Powers Act, 1974, the Joint Drive Indemnity Act, 2003, which was scrapped in 2015, and the Digital Security Act, 2018 have been used and abused, as lawyers and rights activists say, by law enforcers to violate human rights.
Studies and reports by local and foreign human rights organisations paint a bleak rights situation in Bangladesh. The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, for example, in a report in August 2020, mentioned that since the ruling Awami League and its allies returned to power in December 2018 rights situation has deteriorated in most indicators in Bangladesh. The report also mentioned a rising incidents of extrajudicial killing, enforced disappearances, gender-based violence and attacks on journalists. At least 2,000 people were killed, keeping to an Odhikar report, extrajudicially in 2009–2020 after the Awami League assumed power in 2009 with a pledge to ensuring the rule of law and stop extrajudicial killing. The highest number of 412 extrajudicial killings took place, keeping to an Ain O Salish Kendra report, in 2018. Extrajudicial killing went unabated in earlier years too. Enforced disappearance has also reportedly intensified in recent years. Twelve national and international rights organisations said in a joint statement, issued in August 2020, that at least 572 people were subjected to enforced disappearance by law enforcement agencies in Bangladesh in 2009–2020. Custodial torture and deaths, with at least 234 people reported to be killed in the custody of law enforcement agencies in 2004–2019, have also come to be major cause of concern.
Rights situation amidst the COVID-19 outbreak also looks bleak as the government has largely failed to address the issues. In some cases, the government appears to have used the COVID-19 outbreak as a context to silence political dissent. The detention of journalists and of people critical of the government has reportedly increased. The government must realise that economic development does not sustain unless human rights situation improves. It must, therefore, make a course correction to ensure a better rights situation. Human rights activists and organisations should also work together to make the government address the issue earnestly and at the earliest.
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