UN's Call to Action: Protecting Human Rights Defenders in Bangladesh
East and South Asia Human Rights Researcher
Global Human Rights Defence
In recent years, Bangladesh has faced mounting international concern over a distressing pattern of legal harassment targeting human rights defenders (HRDs) and civil society leaders (UN, 5 September 2023; Aljzeera, 5 September 2023). Its human rights defenders and civil society leaders are facing a relentless storm of legal harassment, threatening not only their individual rights but the very essence of justice and democracy (UN, 5 September 2023). This alarming situation has drawn the attention of the United Nations, as voiced by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk (UN, 5 September 2023; Aljzeera, 5 September 2023). The world cannot remain silent as the principles of justice and human rights are at stake.
Against the backdrop of Bangladesh's rich heritage, a troubling trend has emerged. HRDs and civil society leaders are being systematically targeted through legal proceedings, creating a chilling atmosphere of fear and intimidation (UN, 5 September 2023; Aljzeera, 5 September 2023). Nobel laureate Mohammad Yunus, renowned for his groundbreaking work through Grameen Bank, is among those ensnared in this web of legal harassment (UN, 5 September 2023; Aljzeera, 5 September 2023). Yunus, who has dedicated himself to alleviating poverty, now finds himself embroiled in two trials, one involving labor laws and the other alleging corruption. The scale of this issue is vast, with numerous other activists and leaders facing similar ordeals (UN, 5 September 2023). Extrajudicial killings have also cast a shadow over the country, with the Odhikar organization's leaders, Adilur Rahman Khan and Nasiruddin Elan, being charged for their fact-finding report on these grave incidents a decade ago (UN, 5 September 2023). Such violations of fundamental human rights have caused deep concern not only in Bangladesh but also across the international community (UN, 5 September 2023).
The United Nations, as a beacon of human rights advocacy, has not remained silent in the face of these distressing developments (UN, 5 September 2023; Aljzeera, 5 September 2023). UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, has emphatically called on the authorities in Bangladesh to create a "safe and enabling environment" for activists and civil society leaders (UN, 5 September 2023; Aljzeera, 5 September 2023). The UN's concern extends beyond Yunus and Odhikar; it encompasses all those who dare to stand up for justice and human rights (UN, 5 September 2023). The international community, including former US President Barack Obama, former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and more than 100 Nobel laureates, has echoed these concerns (Aljzeera, 5 September 2023). They have called for the suspension of legal proceedings against Professor Mohammad Yunus and urged the government of Bangladesh to address the ongoing judicial harassment (Aljzeera, 5 September 2023). It is a unified cry for justice and the protection of those who have dedicated their lives to upholding human rights (Aljzeera, 5 September 2023).
In conclusion, the situation in Bangladesh demands immediate international attention and action. The legal harassment of HRDs and civil society leaders is not just a national issue; it is a global concern. The world must unite to ensure that the principles of justice, fairness, and human rights are upheld. We must stand in solidarity with those facing injustice in Bangladesh and urge its authorities to cease this campaign of harassment. The time for action is now, as we strive to create a world where human rights are cherished and protected for all.
(5 September 2023). Bangladesh legal harassment of HRDs and civil society leaders. Available at < https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-briefing-notes/2023/09/bangladesh-legal-harassment-hrds-and-civil-society-leaders>.
Aljazeera. (5 September 2023). UN ‘concerned’ by harassment of human rights defenders in Bangladesh. Available at < https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/9/5/un-concerned-by-harassment-of-human-rights-defenders-in-bangladesh>.