Human Rights Situation in Bangladesh

Trends, Legal Status and Violations of Human Rights in Bangladesh

Human Rights in Bangladesh

Human rights in Bangladesh are enshrined as fundamental rights in Part III of the Constitution of Bangladesh. However, constitutional and legal experts believe many of the country's laws require reform to enforce fundamental rights and reflect the democratic values of the 21st century. Proposed reforms include strengthening parliamentary supremacy, judicial independence, the separation of powers, repealing laws that restrain freedom of the press and disbanding security agencies that violate civil liberties.

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Even though Bangladesh has Islam as its state religion and has constitutional references to Hindus, Christians and Buddhists; the political system is modelled as a secular democracy. Governments have generally respected freedom of religion, a cornerstone of the Bangladeshi constitution. However, police have been slow in responding to and investigating attacks against minorities and secularists. In southeastern Bangladesh, the Chittagong Hill Tracts remain a militarized region due to a historical insurgency. Tribal people in Bangladesh have demanded constitutional recognition.


According to Mizanur Rahman, the chairman of the National Human Rights Commission in 2015, 70% of allegations of human rights violations are against law enforcement agencies.  Torture and enforced disappearances are rampantly employed by Bangladeshi security forces. In recent years, free speech and media freedom have been repressed by the government through laws regulating newspapers, TV channels and the internet. Elected MPs in parliament lack voting freedoms. The future of elections is a concern among the population, with opposition parties alleging that free and fair elections are not possible under the incumbent government. Local government elections in 2015 were marred by widespread allegations of vote-rigging.

Capital punishment remains legal in Bangladesh. Worker's rights are affected by a ban on trade unions in special economic zones. The government has often targeted trade union leaders with persecution.


Human Rights in the Constitution of Bangladesh

Article 6: Citizenship

Article 6 of the constitution proclaims "the people of Bangladesh shall be known as Bangalees as a nation".The article discriminates against the country's significant non-Bengali population, notably the Chakma, Biharis, Garo, Santhal, Marma, Manipuri, Tripuri, Tanchangya, Bawm and Rohingya. The issue was addressed by Chakma politician Manabendra Narayan Larmaduring during proceedings of the constituent assembly of Bangladesh in 1972. Larma famously proclaimed that "Under no definition or logic can a Chakma be a Bengali or a Bengali be a Chakma. As citizens of Bangladesh, we are all Bangladeshis, but we also have a separate ethnic identity, which unfortunately the Awami League leaders do not want to understand".The substantial Bihari population also complain of discrimination.

Article 23A goes on to describe minorities as "tribes" and "minor races".

Preamble and Article 10: Socialism

The constitution's proclamation of a People's Republic and socialism in its preamble and Article 10 are at odds with Bangladesh's free-market economy, entrepreneurial class, diverse corporate sector and owners of private property. Six general elections were won by pro-market political parties, while four elections were won by left-wing parties.

Bangladesh ranked 128th out of 178 countries in the 2017 Index of Economic Freedom.


Article 11 and Human dignity

Article 11 proclaims that "the Republic shall be a democracy in which fundamental human rights and freedoms and respect for the dignity and worth of the human person shall be guaranteed". The government enacted the anti-torture law, called Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act, in 2013. However, torture is widely used by Bangladeshi security forces, including the police, paramilitary and military.  In 2017, the police asked the prime minister to scrap the anti-torture law.

Article 32: Right To Life And Personal Liberty

Article 32 proclaims "no person shall be deprived of life or personal liberty save in accordance with law".In reality, Bangladesh has a large number of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances each year. The Rapid Action Battalion is accused of being the leading perpetrator of such human rights abuses, followed by the Bangladesh Police, the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence and the Bangladesh Army.


Article 34: Prohibition of Forced Labour

Forced labour is prohibited under Article 34, but Bangladesh has significant challenges of human trafficking and modern slavery.

Article 37: Freedom of Assembly

Although there is general freedom of assembly] in Bangladesh, the political opposition is often restricted from holding public meetings and rallies by the government.

Article 38: Freedom Of Association

In spite of Article 38 calling for freedom of association, trade union leaders from the textile industry often face arbitrary arrests and politically motivated lawsuits. Forming trade unions are banned in export processing zones, but the government has pledged to remove the ban.


Article 39: Freedom Of Thought, Conscience And Speech

Free speech is enshrined under Article 39. During the 1990s and the first one and a half-decade of the 21st century, the Bangladeshi media enjoyed more freedom than at any other time in history. However, since the 2014 election in which the incumbent Awami League won a boycotted election, press freedom has dramatically declined. The ruling party has targeted the country's two leading newspapers The Daily Star and Prothom Alo with numerous lawsuits and has encouraged businesses to stop advertising in those papers. Pro-opposition journalists Mahmudur Rahman and Shafik Rehman were detained for prolonged periods. Nurul Kabir, the editor of the New Age, has faced threats to their personal life.  Mahfuz Anam, the editor of The Daily Star, has faced 83 lawsuits since 2016. Reporters without Borders ranked Bangladesh 146th out of 180 countries in its index of press freedom.


According to Amnesty International, independent media outlets and journalists have come under severe pressure by the government. Several journalists faced arbitrary criminal charges, often for publishing criticism of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, her family or the Awami League Government. Journalists reported increased threats from government officials or security agencies. The government continued to use a range of repressive laws to restrict the right to freedom of expression extensively. It increasingly used the Information and Communications Technology Act which arbitrarily restricted online expression. The human rights organization Odhikar reported increased arrests under the Act. Journalists, activists and others were targeted. Dilip Roy, a student activist, was detained for criticizing the Prime Minister on Facebook, but later released on bail. Parliament adopted the Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act which significantly increased government control over the work of NGOs and threatened them with deregistration for making “inimical” or “derogatory” remarks against the Constitution or constitutional bodies. Several other bills that threatened freedom of expression was proposed in parliament, including the Digital Security Act ad the Liberation War Denial Crimes Act. The government has also been slow to investigate attacks on secularists in Bangladesh.


Article 70: Free Votes In Parliament

Article 70 of the Constitution of Bangladesh is described as one of the most significant constraints on Bangladesh's democracy. The article restricts free votes in parliament. This means MPs have no voting freedom. According to the article, MPs will lose their seats if they vote against their party. Critics have argued that the article tramples free speech in parliament itself.  As a result, parliament has been termed a rubber stamp and a lame duck.

Part VII: Elections

In 2011, the Awami League-led parliament abolished the caretaker government of Bangladesh, which was intended to act as a neutral guarantor during general elections. The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party maintains that free and fair elections are not possible under the incumbent Awami League government, particularly after the League amended the constitution to have a sitting parliament while elections take place, in contradiction to Westminster norms.

In 2015, local government elections were marred by allegations of vote-rigging and intimidation of voters and the media. Opposition parties have demanded a neutral interim government during the election period. In response, the government has proposed to restrict its political activities while organizing and holding elections.


Part IXA: Emergency Powers

Part IXA of the constitution concerns a state of emergency. Emergency powers were increased in the second amendment. Three emergency periods have been declared in Bangladesh's history, including 1973, 1990 and 2007. Article 141 (B) and Article 141 (C) allow for the suspension of fundamental rights during an emergency period. The articles have been strongly criticized. In January 2007, when the 2006-2008 Bangladeshi political crisis saw a declaration of emergency rule, the New Age stated in an editorial " declaring a state of emergency to undo his mistakes, it is once again the people that the president is hurting by suspending their fundamental democratic rights. The citizens are not at fault for the existing political situation and therefore should not be punished for the failures of the caretaker government and the political parties. The president, therefore, should immediately restore the fundamental rights of the citizens." 


Capital Punishment

Capital punishment is a legal penalty in Bangladesh. There have been three executions in the country in 2015, and one in 2016 (as of July 5, 2016).

It can theoretically be applied to anyone over the age of 16, but in practice is not applied to those under 18. The death penalty may be used as a punishment for crimes such as murder, sedition, offences related to possession of or trafficking in drugs, offences related to trafficking in human beings, treason, espionage, military crimes, rape, hijacking planes, sabotage, or terrorism. It is carried out by hanging and firing squad; authorities usually use only hanging.

Bangladesh is not a state party to the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on abolishing the death penalty.


LGBT Rights

In 2014, the Bangladeshi government officially recognized hijras as a third gender. The British Raj-era penal code remains in force in Bangladesh. Section 377 of the code criminalizes homosexuality. Terrorist groups claimed responsibility for the murder of Bangladesh's first LGBTQ magazine editor Xulhaz Mannan and his partner Tanay Majumdar.


In 2008, the Dhaka High Court granted citizenship to the stateless Stranded Pakistani community. Bangladesh has been criticized for the poor living conditions in which Rohingya refugees from Myanmar are kept in the country's southeast. There was an international outcry after the army and government planned to relocate refugee camps to a remote island in the Bay of Bengal. There were an estimated 22,000 registered refugees and over 100,000 unregistered refugees until 2016. Following the 2016-2017 Rakhine State crackdown, 65,000 refugees entered Bangladesh from Myanmar. Bangladesh has not signed the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

Human Rights Violation in Bangladesh

Bangladesh's government is responsible for numerous violations of human rights, including unlawful killings and disappearances, arbitrary arrest and detention, and torture. Several of these have been in response to attacks carried out by armed groups claiming to be Islamic. Disappearances of supporters of opposition parties such as the Bangladesh National Party and Jamaat-e-Islami are occurring at an alarming rate. Unlawful arrests and torture in the custody of security forces occur frequently. The rights to freedom of expression and assembly are being eroded as the government enacts repressive legislation and files arbitrary criminal charges against journalists who publish critical articles about the government. Threats and intimidation have also been reported by other media outlets and civil society activists.


Armed groups have assassinated dozens of secular activists, members of the LGBTI community, and foreign nationals. Among these organizations are Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) and Ansar el Islam, which pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and al-Qaeda, respectively. In targeted killings, a number of secular activists and bloggers have been hacked to death.

Access to the Chittagong Hill Tracts remains restricted by the government. Journalists and human rights organizations' freedom of expression is restricted. In this area, women and girls face numerous forms of discrimination and violence.

The death penalty continues to be enforced. The International Crimes Tribunal (ICT), a Bangladeshi court established to investigate genocide and war crimes committed during the country's 1971 independence war, has convicted several individuals of war crimes and crimes against humanity, with several being executed. Although atrocities were committed during the 1971 war, UN human rights experts have expressed concern about the ICT trials' irregularities and fairness.


Rape, dowry-related violence, acid attacks, and domestic violence are all serious forms of violence against women and girls. Additionally, Bangladesh has one of the world's highest rates of child marriage. Inadequate enforcement of laws and ineffective investigations contribute to the perpetuation of a culture of impunity and a high rate of violence and discrimination.

A severe humanitarian crisis began in August 2017 when over 655,000 predominantly Muslim Rohingya fled Myanmar's northern Rakhine State for Bangladesh's Cox's Bazar district, fleeing violence inflicted by the Myanmar military. Rohingya refugees live in deplorable conditions and are not permitted to leave the camps. (Amnesty Internation)

The following report on the types and numbers of Human Rights violations that occurred in the last year are mentioned in the table. The following data has been taken from Odhikar yearly report on Human Rights Monitoring Report on Bangladesh. (From January to November 2018)


Type of Human Rights Violation
Extrajudicial killings (Crossfire; Shot to death; Torture to death)
Enforced Disappearances
Death in Jail
Attack on journalists (Injured; Assaulted; Threatened)
Dowry related violence against women
Sexual harassment /Stalking of females
Acid violence
Public lynching
The situation of workers (RMG workers: Killed+ Injured)
The situation of workers (Workers in other sectors: Killed + Injured)
Arrest under ICT Act 2006 (amended 2009 and 2013) + Digital Security Act 2018
39+9= 48


The present situation of human rights in Bangladesh 

According to Human Rights Watch and World Report 2021 (Bangladesh Chapter), Bangladesh's Awami League-led government has intensified its authoritarian crackdown on free expression, arresting critics and censoring the media. Arrests made under the draconian Digital Security Act (DSA) have skyrocketed. Impunity for security forces abuses remained widespread, including enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings.

Bangladesh, which hosts nearly 1 million Rohingya refugees from neighbouring Myanmar, adhered to international law's prohibition on forced returns and allowed ashore refugees stranded at sea after being pushed back by other governments. However, over the course of the year, policies violated refugee rights. Authorities arbitrarily detained over 300 refugees on Bhasan Char island, refusing to allow United Nations experts to conduct a safety assessment or protection visit.

The government took positive steps by restoring internet access to refugee camps following a nearly year-long blackout, and by promising to allow refugees to study under the Myanmar curriculum up to the secondary school level.

A court ordered the first conviction under the 2013 Torture Act, which activists hoped would pave the way for investigations and accountability for the dozens of documented cases of security forces torturing individuals.


Authorities released nearly 3,000 people convicted of misdemeanour offences and granted bail to more than 20,000 people held in pretrial detention in order to alleviate prison overcrowding and prevent the spread of Covid-19. Those detained for criticizing the ruling party, on the other hand, were not included in these releases. Juvenile detention centres granted bail to nearly 500 children in the aftermath of the pandemic, but more than 1,000 children awaiting trial or sentenced for misdemeanour offences remained in detention, according to UNICEF.

Freedom of Expression and Association

Authorities increasingly used the DSA to harass and jail activists, journalists, and others who were critical of the government and its political leadership for an undetermined period of time. A kid was even arrested for "defaming" the prime minister in a Facebook post, according to the statute.


The DSA has been consistently attacked by the international world, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN independent experts, and the European Union, as well as Bangladeshi journalists, for restricting free speech and violating international law. In May, 311 Bangladeshi civil society members signed a united statement urging the government to release people detained under the DSA.

Authorities also exploited the Covid-19 pandemic as a justification to limit free speech and the media, as well as threaten academic freedom, detaining artists, students, doctors, political opponents, and activists who spoke out against the government's response to the pandemic.

Healthcare professionals were silenced and those who spoke out about a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) and resources for treating Covid-19 were retaliated against by the government. The government published a circular in May prohibiting all government employees from posting, "liking," sharing, or commenting on anything that could "tarnishes the image of the state" or "important persons" in the administration.


The government suppressed the media by censoring news websites and removing them from the list of emergency services exempt from lockdown restrictions. The Cabinet adopted a draft revision to the 2017 National Online Media Policy in August, requiring all media outlets to seek government clearance before operating online media portals.

The government beefed up surveillance, including forming two groups to track down Covid-19 "rumours"—one under the Information Ministry and the other under the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), the country's principal counterterrorism unit, which is known for abuse and disregard for the rule of law. In practice, these activities mostly resulted in the arbitrary detention of people who spoke out against the government's reaction to the pandemic or were otherwise critical of the ruling party.


Disappearances and Extrajudicial Killings

The government continued to deny its illegal practice of enforced disappearances, ignoring the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, UN Committee Against Torture, and UN Human Rights Committee concerns. Authorities have continued to detain opponents and deny victims and their families justice.

Shafiqul Islam Kajol, a journalist, was kidnapped and held captive for 53 days before being "discovered" blindfolded and bound in a field. Authorities arrested him in three separate DSA instances rather than probing his disappearance.

Extrajudicial killings by security forces were carried out with near-total impunity. When a former military commander, Maj. Sinha Rashed Khan, was slain by police, authorities were forced to respond, and the number of "crossfires"—a euphemism for extrajudicial executions in Bangladesh—plummeted, showing that authorities can put a halt to these crimes at any time.


Right to Health

The Covid-19 outbreak swamped Bangladesh's healthcare system, exposing enormous gaps in healthcare access. Many persons who had symptoms that matched Covid-19 were initially turned away from hospitals. Healthcare personnel indicated that they did not have enough personal protective equipment (PPE) to offer safe medical care.

Doctors told Human Rights Watch that they were overburdened and under pressure to reserve a restricted number of intensive care beds for patients with power or influence. Essential sexual and reproductive health services have fallen by the wayside, putting the health of women and girls in danger.



Bangladesh continues to house over 1 million Rohingya refugees as Myanmar failed to provide conditions for their safe and voluntary return. However, as the government's welcome wore thin, it enacted policies that violated basic rights, such as erecting barbed wire fences around the camps and cutting off internet access for nearly a year, which violated freedom of expression and access to information and hampered aid workers' ability to coordinate emergency responses, conduct contact tracing, and share critical information about Covid-19.

The government promised in January that it would finally enable Rohingya children to attend formal school using the Myanmar curriculum, but the initial "pilot" plan to reach 10,000 children up to class 9 has yet to be realized.


In May, Bangladesh recovered two boats of Rohingya migrants who had been sent out to sea for months by other governments. The authorities, on the other hand, put the refugees in danger by keeping them on the distant silt island of Bhasan Char, originally claiming that it was simply a temporary quarantine to stop the spread of Covid-19. The government, however, had refused to allow the refugees to return to their families in Cox's Bazar or for UN authorities to undertake a protection visit more than six months later.

Refugees on the island claimed being detained without the ability to travel or proper access to food or medical treatment, with others alleging that Bangladeshi officials on the island abused them. UN Secretary-General António Guterres and humanitarian experts urged the authorities to securely repatriate the refugees to the camps in Cox's Bazar.


Labour Rights

More than 1 million garment workers, largely women, were laid off as a result of massive order cancellations during the epidemic, and many of them were not paid their owed wages. Retailers took advantage of the recession by demanding reduced producer pricing, forcing workers to return to work for lesser pay, frequently without proper PPE, trustworthy healthcare, or sick leave.

The government gave enterprises subsidized loans totalling US$600 million to help with wage payments to garment employees. However, it is unclear how back wages were paid to employees, particularly women who may lack financial control or access.


Women and Girls’ Rights

Women and girls were subjected to a great deal of violence. According to Ain O Salish Kendra, a Bangladeshi human rights organization, 975 women and girls were raped in the first nine months of 2020, with 235 women murdered by their spouses or their family. During the statewide lockdown imposed to stem the spread of Covid-19, NGOs reported a significant increase in instances of domestic abuse. Survivors, on the other hand, faced far fewer options for safe housing or other forms of protection, as well as considerable barriers to legal action.

The government failed to pass a long-overdue sexual harassment bill or reform the discriminatory rape statute, despite promises. Instead, to quell demonstrations sparked by the discovery of multiple gang-rape instances, the government hastily adopted an amendment allowing for the death penalty for rape.


Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina pledged to abolish marriage for girls under the age of 15 by 2021, but little progress was made during the year. Instead, a specific clause that permits child marriage in "exceptional instances" with the consent of their parents and a judge remained in place.

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

In Bangladesh, "carnal intercourse against the order of nature" is punishable by up to life in jail under Section 377 of the penal code.

Though the government took a significant step in acknowledging hijras as a third gender, access to health care and other government services remained difficult for hijras in practice, a concern that was aggravated during the Covid-19 outbreak. In Bangladesh, lesbian, homosexual, bisexual, and transgender people and advocates have continued to experience violence and threats without proper police protection.


The National Human Rights Commission established a committee to address issues affecting marginalized groups, including transgender persons, and Bangladesh's National Curriculum and Textbook Board agreed to include third gender topics in secondary school curricula.

Indigenous Rights

Activists in the Chittagong Hill Tracts have continued to demand that the Peace Accord be fully implemented.

The government has rejected petitions from Michael Chakma's family, as well as enquiries from the High Court, the National Human Rights Commission, and the United Nations Committee Against Torture, two years after he disappeared. In January, the police simply stated that they "could not discover anybody called Michael Chakma in any prisons in Bangladesh" in response to a High Court ruling.

Source:  Human Rights Watch, World Report 2021 (Bangladesh Chapter)


According to Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2019. United States Department of State. Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Bangladesh’s constitution provide for a parliamentary form of government in which most power resides in the Office of the Prime Minister. Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League (AL) party won a third consecutive five-year term, keeping her in office as prime minister, in an improbably lopsided December 2018 parliamentary election that was not considered free and fair and was marred by reported irregularities, including ballot-box stuffing and intimidation of opposition polling agents and voters. During the campaign, there were credible reports of harassment, intimidation, arbitrary arrests, and violence that made it difficult for many opposition candidates and their supporters to meet, hold rallies, and campaign freely. International election monitors were not issued accreditation and visas within the timeframe necessary to conduct a credible international monitoring mission, and only seven of the 22 Election Working Group nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) were approved to conduct domestic election observation. 


The security forces encompassing the national police, border guards, and counterterrorism units such as the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) maintain internal and border security. The military, primarily the army, is responsible for national defence but also has some domestic security responsibilities. The security forces report to the Ministry of Home Affairs and the military reports to the Ministry of Defense. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. 

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings; forced disappearance; torture; arbitrary or unlawful detentions by the government or on its behalf; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; arbitrary arrests of journalists and human rights activists, censorship, site blocking, and criminal libel; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, such as overly restrictive NGO laws and restrictions on the activities of NGOs; significant restrictions on freedom of movement; restrictions on political participation, where elections were not found to be genuine, free, or fair; significant acts of corruption; criminal violence against women and girls; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting indigenous people; crimes involving violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons and criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct; restrictions on independent trade unions and workers’ rights; and the use of the worst forms of child labor.


Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

b. Disappearance

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

c. Freedom of Religion

d. Freedom of Movement

e. Internally Displaced Persons

f. Protection of Refugees

g. Stateless Persons


Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Source: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2019. United States Department of State. Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor 

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