The Platform

People walk in the rain in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. (United Nations)

Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, concluded her 4-day visit to Bangladesh on August 17 with a press conference. This is the first time any UN human rights chief has visited Bangladesh.

The four-day visit included meeting with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the country’s human rights commission, senior officials, and human rights advocates. She also traveled to Cox’s Bazar where she met with Rohingya Muslims. During her briefing to journalists before her departure, she praised officials but also said she raised the issue of human rights in the country.

During her visit, Bachelet met with various human rights activists and listened to their concerns. During her meetings with government officials, she pressed them on the issue of human rights. The discussions also covered the new draft Data Protection Law and OTT regulations, and her recommendation that these laws and regulations should meet international standards.

Bachelet’s visit is significant because of serious allegations of human rights abuses in the country. Many organizations have raised their voices against human rights conditions in Bangladesh.

Late last year, the United States imposed sanctions on the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), a paramilitary force, and several current and former officers for human rights abuses. The allegations included extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. The government has strenuously denied these allegations. Bachelet called for a more specialized mechanism to investigate allegations of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings in the country.

Bachelet welcomed the government’s efforts in hosting hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees. Conditions are deteriorating by the day leaving Rohingya to languish in squalid camp conditions. International attention is also decreasing and with it, humanitarian aid is decreasing.

Bachelet learned about criminal activities from gangs in the camps. She was also told that violence against women and girls is on the rise. The Rohingya expressed their desire to go back to their homeland as soon as possible as this is not their country.

Through her visit, Bachelet got an opportunity to understand the realities on the ground and not through reports from UN experts. The refugees also had an opportunity to express their problems. She also got the chance to assure them of efforts to safely repatriate them back to Myanmar. However, she stressed that this can only happen when the right conditions exist in Myanmar. She also found that the Burmese education curriculum is bringing a deeper and positive impact to Rohingya children as they prepare for the future.

Bachelet praised Bangladesh’s positive developments in women’s rights, improvements in education, and increasing gender parity in education. She also praised Bangladesh for legally recognizing hijras, transgender people.

Bachelet also offered Bangladesh assistance in improving the country’s human rights record. Bachelet proposed a preliminary program to provide human rights training for law enforcement officials.

Time will tell whether structural change can happen but the government seemed receptive which is a significant step.

Doreen Chowdhury is a Doctoral Researcher at University of Groningen. Her areas of interest are Comparative Politics, Globalization, South Asian Studies, and Migration Studies. Her works have appeared in The Geopolitics, Aequitas Review, Eurasia Review, and The Financial Express.