National Seminar on One year after UPR 2018: Where are we?
October 16, 2019
“If considerable space is not created to flourish healthy political practices, evil and crooked political agents will fill in the gaps. High level of political will and commitment is required for the implementation of UPR recommendations.” This was shared by Zahirul Islam Khan Panna, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court Bangladesh, and Chairperson, Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), during a plenary session on Civil and Political Rights at the National Seminar on ‘One Year After UPR 2018: Where Are We?’ which was organised by Human Rights Forum Bangladesh (HRFB) on 15 October 2019, at CIRDAP Auditorium.
Representatives from multiple human rights and development organisations, experts from relevant fields, lawyers, students, representatives of the sexual minority groups and indigenous groups were present and placed their valuable comments throughout the seminar. Besides the online and print media journalists, representatives from the Foreign Embassies were also present.
The introductory remarks were made by Sheepa Hafiza, Convener, HRFB and Executive Director, ASK where she introduced the participants and shared the inception of HRFB and Bangladesh’s history in the involvement of UPR cycle.
Following her, Nahida Sobhan, Director General-United Nations, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, shared that amongst others, the Government is hopeful that they can reach the desired destination but that it would take some time.
The National Seminar was divided into four broad thematic sessions which were moderated by experts from the relevant fields.
The first session on Civil and Political Rights was moderated by Tahmina Rahman, Human Rights Expert and Secretary-General, Executive Committee, ASK. Tamanna Hoq Riti, Coordinator, HRFB and Assistant Coordinator, ASK, gave a presentation summarising the recommendations and detailing out the progress and challenges in the implementation of such recommendations. She emphasised on the rise of extrajudicial killing and torture, violation of political rights, and curtailing of the freedom of expression through the enactment of the Digital Security Act 2018.
Sara Hossain, Honorary ED, Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST) shared her concern on the fact that although there are incidents of continuous violation of human rights, such as enforced disappearances, the Government continues to deny its existence. Recalling the students’ arrests during the Road Safety Movement, she shared, “Although the controversial Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology Act 2013 has been repealed, the cases filed under it is still ongoing. There seems to be no initiative from the Government to withdraw such cases. Rather, the Digital Security Act 2018 has been enacted, which incorporated few principle features of the repealed Section 57 of the ICT Act, which is contradictory to the right to Freedom of Expression. Moreover, it remains unclear as to the reason for the Government denying the recognition of enforced disappearance, although such is internationally recognised.”
In the second session on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Professor MM Akash, Department of Economics, University of Dhaka, stated that “Government relatively precedes itself in its ESC Rights achievement than the CP Rights achievements, but one must keep in mind that democracy goes hand in hand with ESC Rights. Besides, in the current context, the rich are getting richer and the poor getting poorer.”
Shaheen Anam, ED, MJF, shared that for the purpose of development and industrialisation, the environment is facing the backlash. The lack of monitoring is resulting in the lack of good governance which in turn is resulting in the increasing rise of inequality, creating conflict disturbing the social fabric.
In the third session on the Independence and Effectiveness of National Institutions, Iftekharuzzaman, ED, Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) shared his concern on the weak mandate of the Commission in the 2009 founding Act. Regarding the Anti-Corruption Commission, he shared that despite the positive initiates taken by the Government, internal corruption needs to be addressed as well.
AKM Sohel, Director General, Anti-Corruption Commission stated that the Commission has been arranging multi-dimensional training for their team and are engaging them with international trainers in order to strengthen them.
Hiranmaya Barai, Secretary, National Human Rights Commission, Bangladesh, shared that the newly formed Commission are working gradually to address the gaps in its effectiveness. With the new team, he shared his hopes of working to establish human rights in the country.
Sheepa Hafiza, ED, ASK, shared her concern on the inability of the NHRC to stand up to the expectation of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) after nearly a whole decade. The Commission should have effective dialogue with the CSOs in order to create a mechanism for accountability and transparency. Lastly, regarding the effectiveness and independence of the judiciary, she shared her concern on the delay in ensuring justice to the pending cases as well as the effect that political influence has on the speed and result of a case.
In the last session of the Seminar was on the Rights of the vulnerable and disadvantaged groups, Md. Abdul Wahed, Executive Council, Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies, shared his concern on the discrimination that women garments workers face as against women government workers regarding maternity leave.
Shale Ahmed, ED, Bandhu Social Welfare Society, shared that, “confusion continues to remain for the identity of the Transgender Community especially with regards to the different procedures for passports and Voter ID Cards. Although there are many educated and talented people in this sector, they are not given the opportunity in prestigious positions the industrial/service sector of labour market.”
Falguni Tripura, Kapaeeng Foundation, shared her concern on the compelling steps that the government has taken to not use the term ‘Adibashi’ although they want such as their identity.
Shirin Akhter, Women with Disabilities Development Foundation, shared that, “although the government is taking initiatives to make public institutions accessible to Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) but these are not enough.”
Ranjan Karmaker, ED, Steps Towards Development shared, “Although there exists a strong legal framework to prevent violence against women and children in Bangladesh, and the Government has taken multiple initiatives with regards to violence against them, there is a lack of implementation in every sector.”
Finally, in the concluding remarks, HRFB shared the following recommendations towards the government of Bangladesh for its effective implementation of the UPR recommendations:
- Prepare a time-bound and specific national plan of action for the implementation of the accepted recommendations;
- Discuss with concern experts and civil society organisations at different levels of implementation and during the adoption of the national plan of action;
- Establish an effective monitoring mechanism to monitor the progress of implementation of the national plan of action. Take initiatives to form an inter-ministerial coordination team to review the status of implementation;
- Involve parliamentarians in the implementation process and discuss the implementation progress in parliament;
- Identify the challenges faced by the government for the implementation of the recommendations in consultation with the civil society organisations;
- Submit mid-term report on the implementation of UPR commitments to the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2020;
- Increase communication with civil society organisations regarding UPR.