Use of public funds for political gains and pervasive corruption in Bangladesh has made the United Nations concerned.
This concern was expressed in a report published by the UN committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on Tuesday, following a two-day meeting in Geneva on 14-15 March. State minister for foreign affairs ShahriarAlam presented a country report there.
The UN committee further expressed concern over the proposed Digital Security Act, Child Marriage Restraint Act 2017 and a few other matters including disparity in society and enforced disappearance.
The report appreciated Bangladesh’s attainments in poverty alleviation, increase of per capita income, improvement in life expectancy, and meeting criteria for graduation into developing country. The UN also lauded the country for women’s development, women’s participation in politics, and reservation of parliamentary seats for women in parliament.
However, the UN committee emphasised the importance to enforce of anti-corruption laws with no concession for high officials and politicians.
The committee was particularly concerned over pervasiveness of bribes for basic services and use of public funds and services for political objectives.
Backward and marginalised people were found to be the worst victims of corruption, according to the UN committee.
It also tacitly criticised the government tax policy, opposing the rampant imposition of value added tax (VAT) that is believed to affect the poor.
As the state minister is abroad, he could not be reached for his comments on the matters as reflected in the UN report.
Transparency International Bangladesh’s (TIB) trustee board chairperson Sultana Kamal told Prothom Alo that a few things that are being put forth in the name of economic development, do not represent the actual state of the country’s people.
“Economic development is certainly important, but more important are people’s rights and a democratic environment,” she said.
“It is said that per capita income has increased, but it is essential to discuss who are benefitting from this.”
The UN committee also called on the state party to endorse legal provisions to ensure social, economic, and cultural rights of the people.
The committee had nearly 70 recommendations for Bangladesh. These included strengthening human rights, addressing gender disparity, ensuring workers’ rights, fixing minimum wages, recognising minority communities, and resolving land disputes in Chittagong Hill Tracts.
The committee urged Bangladesh to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
It expressed concern over shrinking space for journalists, labour leaders and representatives of the civil society.
It called on the government to remove oppressive provisions in the article 57 of the Information Technology Act and the proposed digital act.
The UN committee pointed out that the National Human Rights Commission does not enjoy enough freedom.
It insisted that the state investigate every single allegation of discrimination, threats, dismissal of trade unionists and also bring those responsible to book.
“The concern is that the government has no initiative to improve the situation. The tendency to use criminal procedure as weapon to harm the political oppositions is another cause of concern. I apprehend the misuse of criminal procedure will increase in the coming days,” said Supreme Court lawyer Shahdeen Malik.
The UN committee requested the government to scrap the special provision in child marriage law, arguing that such provision has made the law rather weak.
Former caretaker government adviser Rasheda K Chowdhury said it is a matter of concern that the state has not addressed the matter despite acknowledging the problem.
*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Toriqul Islam