Change course after polls, UN rights chief urges Bangladesh government

UN rights chief Volker Turk said the environment for yesterday's poll was marred by violence and repression of opposition candidates and supporters.


UN rights chief Volker Turk called on Bangladesh's newly elected government to take steps to renew the country's commitment to democracy and human rights. PHOTO: THE DAILY STAR

January 9, 2024

DHAKA – The UN rights chief today condemned the violence and repression during the election in Bangladesh, which were boycotted by the opposition, urging the country to shift course and strengthen democracy.

“I implore the Government to take the necessary steps to ensure that the human rights of all Bangladeshis are fully taken into account, and to strengthen the underpinnings of a truly inclusive democracy in the country,” Volker Turk said in a statement.

Türk said the environment for yesterday’s poll was marred by violence and repression of opposition candidates and supporters.

He called on Bangladesh’s newly elected government to take steps to renew the country’s commitment to democracy and human rights.

“In the months leading up to the vote, thousands of opposition supporters have been detained arbitrarily or subjected to intimidation. Such tactics are not conducive to a truly genuine process,” said Türk in the statement.

The statement said, mass arrests, threats, enforced disappearances, blackmailing, and surveillance were all methods reportedly used by law enforcement officials prior to the ballot, which was boycotted by the main opposition, Bangladesh Nationalist Party.

“Acts of political violence, including arson attacks allegedly committed by opposition groups, have also been reported.”

Volker Türk said around 25,000 opposition supporters have been arrested, including key party leaders, since 28 October. At least 10 opposition supporters reportedly died – or were killed – in custody in the last two months, raising serious concerns about possible torture or harsh conditions of detention.

He said many human rights defenders in the country have been forced to go into hiding, and some have fled the country, while dozens of suspected enforced disappearance cases have been reported, mostly in November.

“These incidents must be independently investigated, and those responsible must be brought to justice in fair and transparent trials,” Türk said.

“Violations and irregularities during the campaign and on election day itself should also be thoroughly and effectively investigated.”

“Democracy was hard won in Bangladesh and must not become cosmetic,” said the high commissioner.

“Bangladesh has been a role model of development, and I fervently hope this will translate into the political and institutional spheres too. The future of all Bangladeshis is at stake.”

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