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UN concerned by ‘shrinking space’ for rights activists

UNB NEWS

Tuesday 03 April, 2018 11:09:40 pm

UN concerned by ‘shrinking space’ for rights activists

Dhaka, Apr 3 (UNB) - The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has published its findings on the rights record of Bangladesh it examined during its latest session expressing concerns in a number of areas.

The Committee is concerned at repeated reports of shrinking space for human rights defenders (HRDs), including journalists, trade union activists, civil society activists, and for dissenting voices generally, reads the concluding observation.

It is particularly "concerned" at overbroad restrictions on the activities of HRDs imposed by certain provisions in legislation or proposed legislation of the State party, including the Information Communication and Technology Act (ICTA, as amended in 2013), the draft Digital Security Act 2018, the Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act of 2016, and the Special Powers Act, 1974, it said.

The Committee recommended that the State party ensure a safe and favourable environment for human rights defenders; review the abovementioned legislation in close consultation with them with a view to removing restrictive provisions, including particularly Section 57 of the ICTA and similar provisions in the draft Digital Security Act, 2018; and to repeal the Special Powers Act, 1974. 

It drew the attention of the State party to its statement on human rights defenders and economic, social and cultural rights. 

The findings, officially termed concluding observations, contain positive aspects of the respective State’s implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and also main matters of concern and recommendations. 

The Committee said the rights enshrined in the Covenant have not been fully incorporated into the domestic legal order and, in particular, that the Constitution of the State party recognizes economic, social and cultural rights only as fundamental principles of state policy not as fundamental rights, and they are not justiciable.

The Committee recommended that the State party fully incorporate the Covenant rights into its domestic legal order with a constitutional rank equal to that of civil and political rights.

These rights are applied by the domestic courts at all levels. 

It also recommendeed that the State party enhance training for judges, lawyers and public officials on the Covenant and the justiciability of the rights therein. 

Members of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights are independent human rights experts drawn from around the world, who serve in their personal capacity and not as representatives of States parties. 

The Committee’s concluding observations are an independent assessment of States’ compliance with their human rights obligations under the treaty. For more information, according to information UNB obtained from Geneva.

The Committee acknowledged the progress that the State party has made in many areas relating to the rights enshrined in the Covenant since its accession to the Covenant, particularly in poverty reduction. 

Between 2006 and 2016, the poverty rate was reduced from 38.4 percent to 24.3 percent, per capital income has increased substantially, and life expectancy has increased to 71.6 years. 

The Committee also noted the State party’s forthcoming graduation from the category of least-developed country to the status of middle-income country.

It acknowledged the progress made by the State party in advancing gender equality in the sphere of public life, including initiatives to improve women’s representation in political decision-making through the bill for the 17th Amendment to the Constitution (approved by Cabinet) and the reservation of one-third seats for women candidate in elections to local government bodies. 

The Committee noted with appreciation that the State party is close to achieving 100 percent enrolment and gender parity in primary education.

The Committee recommended that the State party strengthen the independence of Commission, including by allocating an adequate level of funding in a separate budget line and amending the Recruitment Rules to enable the Commission to recruit its own staff for all its positions. 

It also recommended that the State party review the National Human Rights Commission Act of 2009 with a view to expanding the mandate of the Commission to directly deal with the rights enshrined in the Covenant. 

The body welcomed the establishment of the Bangladesh Climate Change Trust Fund and the Bangladesh Climate Change Resilience Fund and the adoption of the Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan of 2009. 

However, it is concerned at the adverse effects that climate change has on the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights by people in Bangladesh, despite the negligible contribution of the State party to the phenomenon.

The Committee recommended that the State party ensure that strategies and action plans on climate change and disaster response and risk reduction are formulated and implemented based on human rights with meaningful participation of affected communities and civil society. 

It also recommended that the State party further strengthen international cooperation in order to mobilize the financial and technological support to which it is entitled in mitigating and responding to the effects of climate change.