Why Michelle Bachelet’s Visit Is Significant to Bangladesh?

The U.N. high commissioner for human rights concluded her 4-day visit to Bangladesh on Aug. 17 afternoon with a press conference. Michelle Bachelet is the first UN human rights chief officially visited Bangladesh. The four-day visit was significant with various events including meeting Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the National Human Rights Commission, several ministers, concerned human rights advocates, and civil societies. She also traveled to Cox’s Bazar and visited Rohingya camps, where she talked with the Rohingya community and the management of the camp to learn about their situation. During the briefing to the journalists before her departure, she mentioned her findings, assessments, praised Bangladesh’s positive aspects and raised pressing human rights issues in Bangladesh. Her visit has significance to Bangladesh as the country’s human rights condition has become an important issue in the international arena. She expressed the willingness of the UN human rights body to cooperate with Bangladesh to uphold its human rights situation.

During the four-day visit from Aug. 14-17 Bachelet meet various stakeholders of Human rights in Bangladesh. She also met activists and advocates and listened to their allegations. During her meeting with several ministers, she asked about human rights issues. They expressed their stances against the allegations, such as extrajudicial killing, political violence, and enforced disappearance. Their discussions also covered Digital Security Act and the latest OTT act draft. She also visited the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar and discussed with Rohingya refugees and camp management. She tried to understand the camp people’s problems and assess the human rights situation in the camps.

Bachelet’s visit holds significant value to Bangladesh considering the worldwide democratic retreat and deteriorating human rights conditions. There are serious allegations of human rights violations against Bangladesh in recent years. Many organizations raised their voices against human rights conditions in Bangladesh. The sanctions against Bangladeshi law enforcement agency, RAB and its 7 top officials are recent instances of international concerns over Human rights conditions in Bangladesh. Allegations of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearance have sought the international community’s attention. The government frequently denied these allegations. The government repeatedly called for direct assessment of the international stakeholder rather than relying on secondary sources which has a tendency to be flawed. Hopefully, Bachelet got a clear view of the human rights situation in Bangladesh and would assess them with firsthand experience. She prescribed to establish a more specialized mechanism to investigate allegations of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings. Therefore, Bachelet’s visit holds immense significance to improve overall human rights conditions in Bangladesh.

Bachelet welcomed the Bangladesh government’s “impressive effort” in hosting hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees. Five years have passed since the latest Rohingya influx occurred and they have been living in the camps across the Southeast coastal area of Bangladesh. The internal camp situation is deteriorating day by day as repatriation is delaying leaving the Rohingya in despair. The international attention is also decreasing. Decreasing international aid is bringing new challenges for camp management. She learned about the internal gang rivalry and transnational crimes, which are making a serious security issue for the refugees. She learned about these situations and it would help the Rohingya retain international attention. However, she learned that gender violence had decreased significantly within the camp. The Rohingya told her that they are in better condition in Bangladesh than in the days of Rakhine. But they expressed their desire to go back to their homeland as soon as possible as this is not their country. They requested to ensure a peaceful Rakhine to accelerate their repatriation. 

She would get an opportunity to understand the ground realities by learning about the Rohingya’s conditions and their problems during this visit. The people also got an opportunity to express their problems. She mentioned her concerns about safe repatriation, while she said repatriation must be conducted only when safe and sustainable conditions exist in Myanmar. She also found that the Burmese curriculum education is bringing a deeper and positive impact to the Rohingya children as they are preparing their future opportunities.

Bachelet praised Bangladesh for many positive developments in Bangladesh’s Human Rights situation. She appreciated Bangladesh’s positive development in women’s rights, improvement in education, and increasing gender parity in education. She also praised Bangladesh for legally recognizing the transgenders also known as Hijras. She also mentioned that the Chittagong Hill Tract agreement in 1996 was a milestone for Bangladesh in protecting minorities and indigenous people. She also praised Bangladesh’s economic growth. 

Bachelet offered Bangladesh to assist in improving the discussed issues. During her visit with Law Minister, she also proposed a preliminary program to provide human rights training to law enforcement officials, the minister grabbed the opportunity. Moreover, as a top official of the UN human rights commission, her understanding and assessment presented an overall scenario of the country’s human rights conditions to the domestic and international arena. The UNHCR is also a key stakeholder in global human rights. Hence, it can also offer assistance to Bangladesh. Therefore, the visit would be fruitful for Bangladesh to improve the human rights conditions as it is a continuous process.

[Photo by Ministerio Bienes Nacionales]

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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