UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has called for an independent and specialised mechanism to work closely with victims, families and civil society to investigate allegations of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings.
She said there are continued, alarming allegations of both short- and long-term enforced disappearances, and concerns about the lack of due process and judicial safeguards in Bangladesh.
"My office is ready to provide advice on how such a body could be designed in line with international standards," Bachelet told reporters at a crowded press conference in Dhaka on Wednesday.
The UN high commissioner for human rights said inviting the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances to visit Bangladesh would also show a commitment to decisively address this issue.
The UN human rights chief said as the biggest contributor of uniformed personnel to UN peacekeeping missions Bangladesh should ensure it has a robust system in place to ensure the careful human rights screening of security personnel.
She also discussed law reforms to bring domestic legislation in line with international human rights laws.
According to Bachelet, as the country is entering an election cycle with the general elections due next year, the election period will be an important time for Bangladesh to maximise civic and political space.
She also mentioned that freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly of political activists, human rights defenders, opposition parties and journalists are important.
"There needs to be space for more dialogue among political parties and with a wide range of civil society actors to prevent grievances from building and erupting in social unrest," she added.
Bachelet told reporters that it is also important to ensure that law enforcement forces have the necessary training to manage protests without resorting to the excessive use of force.
She thanked the government of Bangladesh for inviting her to visit the country, the first by a High Commissioner for Human Rights.
On the four-day visit, Bachelet arrived in Dhaka on Sunday. During the visit, she called on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and met with several ministers and other government officials.
She also met with the National Human Rights Commission and representatives of civil society as well as members of the diplomatic community and academics.
Bachelet said her exchanges with civil society representatives were rich and insightful.
"But successive UN human rights reports have documented a narrowing of civic space, increased surveillance, intimidation and reprisals often leading to self-censorship. Laws and policies over-regulating NGOs and broadly restricting the freedom of expression make it difficult – and sometimes risky – for them to function effectively," she noted.
Bachelet stressed the importance of protecting minority groups, such as Hindus and indigenous peoples from violence or land encroachments.
Her office and the government have engaged in dialogue on review of the Digital Security Act.
"I acknowledge the need to regulate the online space, addressing online hate speech, disinformation and combating cybercrime," Bachelet said, adding that addressing these concerns is not simple as regulating communications always creates risks for the protection of freedom of expression.
She said they have submitted their recommendations for repeal and revision of certain provisions of the Act, with a view to ensuring their compliance with international human rights laws and standards and preventing arbitrary application or misuse.
On the Rohingya issue, the UN high commissioner said the international community must sustain its support to Bangladesh in its response, and press Myanmar to create conditions for return, address the root causes and pursue accountability.
She said Rohingya repatriation must be safe, voluntary and dignified, but "unfortunately the current situation across the border means that the conditions are not right for returns".
"I am very worried about increasing anti-Rohingya rhetoric in Bangladesh, stereotyping and scapegoating Rohingyas as the source of crime and other problems. I am particularly concerned that a pre-electoral context, combined with economic difficulties and uncertainties, will mean more hate speech against these vulnerable communities," she noted, urging the government to be more vigilant.
'Climate emergency demands political goodwill'
Joining an event titled "Young Scholars' Meet" arranged by the Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS) in Dhaka Wednesday, Michelle Bachelet said Bangladesh is one of the nations who are more exposed to climate change vulnerabilities.
She noted that social and economic structures make already disadvantaged people, marginalised or the vulnerable groups more exposed to adverse climate changes.
She said the disadvantaged groups include indigenous peoples, local and rural communities, farmers, migrants, children, women and persons with disabilities.
"For many indigenous peoples, climate change threatens food security, traditional livelihoods, cultural practices and their effective right to self-determination."
She stressed on political goodwill to counteract the climate challenges. The UN human rights chief said the United Nations will work with Bangladesh to counter the climate change losses.
BIISS Director General Maj Gen (Retd) Mohammad Maksudur Rahman delivered the welcome remarks while State Minister for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam joined the occasion as a special guest.
The event was joined by teachers and students of public and private universities, young activists working on environmental issues and representatives from civil society and businesses.
BNP meets UN delegation
A BNP team, including the son of missing BNP leader Ilias Ali, held a meeting with the Dhaka-visiting UN delegation on Wednesday noon at a city hotel.
No official statement was issued by the BNP about the details of the meeting.
BNP's delegation included the party's Human Rights Secretary Asaduzzaman Asad, Executive Committee Member Tabith Awal and Ilias Ali's son Abrar Ilias.
After the meeting, BNP's Organising Secretary Shama Obayed said, "The UN delegation was briefed about the overall human rights situation in Bangladesh."
She said the BNP met the delegation as the UN team invited them.
In reply to a query about BNP's human rights observation, Shama Obayed, "There is nothing new to say about it. BNP's observation about the rights issue is similar to the local media."