22 July 2017, Sat, 12:09

Inclusive Polls: UK to engage with all parties of Bangladesh

The UK has said it will “engage constructively” with all Bangladeshi political parties and their international partners to strengthen democratic accountability and capacity to hold participatory elections.

The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) stated this in the Bangladesh section of its Human Rights and Democracy Report on the situation in 2016.

The formation of the Election Commission provides a vital opportunity to build confidence that the political process can be free and fair, said the report published on Thursday.

“There was no improvement in the overall human rights situation in Bangladesh during 2016.

Pressure on freedom of expression persisted and extremist attacks and sectarian violence against religious and other minority communities continued,” reads the report.

The British government said they would press for zero tolerance against “inhumane treatment and abuse” of due process in the justice system and by law enforcement agencies.

“And we will encourage the Bangladeshi government to uphold the international human rights standards it has signed up to and to keep open the space for debate and challenge, including through our support to media and civil society.”

The FCO report said an increasing number of terrorist attacks, including at the Holey Artisan Bakery in Gulshan on July 1 last year, saw the government pursue a strict “zero tolerance” approach to terrorism.

It said there were allegations of extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests, torture and enforced disappearances involving law enforcement agencies.

According to the report, concerns about the treatment of women and girls remain, and the death penalty is still a legal punishment for a wide range of offences.

New laws were introduced that had the potential to restrict freedom of expression, the report said, adding civil society groups expressed concern that the Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) law passed in 2016 might hamper the ability of Bangladeshi NGOs to deliver vital programmes and hold government to account.

Last year, the UK had called upon the Bangladesh government to treat all arrestees in line with Bangladeshi law and international standards. It was also clear that there must be no impunity, irrespective of the individual circumstances of the victim or alleged perpetrator, said the report.

“We encourage the government to implement fully the Supreme Court's judgment on provisions of arrest without warrant and on interrogation on remand.”

The British High Commission in Dhaka had supported a review on implementing the “Rabat Principles” and how legitimate restrictions on freedom of expression to prevent hate speech should be applied in Bangladesh, read the report.

The UK also worked closely with international partners to link bloggers under threat from extremist attacks with organisations that provide shelter and support for human rights defenders.

Despite impressive progress towards middle-income status and promoting gender equality, Bangladesh continued to score poorly against some indices, the FCO said.

It mentioned that the 2016 Global Slavery Index (GSI) placed Bangladesh 21st out of 167 countries for the estimated percentage of people living in conditions which the GSI described as modern slavery.

The FCO supported work to help UK businesses in Bangladesh meet their obligations under the UK's Modern Slavery Act (2015).

“Through our partnerships with local human rights NGOs and projects in the justice sector, the UK pressed for improved implementation of policies protecting and promoting the status and empowerment of women and girls,” the report added.