While the constitution provides for the rights to life and personal liberty, members of the security forces committed numerous abuses and there were numerous reports of arbitrary or unlawful killings in Bangladesh, the US Department of State said in a report released on 30 March.
The government usually described these deaths as "crossfire killings", "gunfights", or "encounter killings" and the media also used these terms to describe legitimate uses of police force, it said.
The 2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Bangladesh touched upon human rights issues including extrajudicial killings, forced disappearance, torture by the government or its agents; arbitrary arrests of journalists and human rights activists, rights of peaceful assembly.
Freedom of association, freedom of movement, political participation, corruption and violence against women and girls, workers' rights and child labour are other areas covered in the report.
"There were reports of widespread impunity for security force abuses. The government took few measures to investigate and prosecute cases of abuse and killing by security forces," says the US state department in its latest report.
It quoted Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK), a domestic human rights organisation, reporting 196 incidents of alleged extrajudicial killings between January and 28 July in 2020.
It cited the killing of "Sinha" Md Rashed Khan, a retired army major, at a police vehicle checkpoint on 31 July in Cox's Bazar as an instance of law enforcement excesses, and suspension of 21 police officers and charging nine police officers in this connection after an official investigation.
The report referred to reported disappearances and said the government made limited efforts to prevent or investigate such acts and did not respond to a request from the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances to visit the country.
It cited disappearance of photojournalist Shafiqul Islam Kajol and his being "rescued" near Indian border and released on bail in December after 237 days in prison on defamation charges.
Although the constitution and law prohibit torture in custody, security forces reportedly used torture to gather information, it said, adding that politicisation of crimes was a factor in impunity for custodial torture.
It remembers the government's 2019 statement to the UN Committee against Torture (CAT) of "zero tolerance" policy against custodial death, and states that allegations of such tortures and mistreatments were not investigated.
However, the US state department's report mentioned the first ever verdict of a Dhaka court in September last year under the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act sentencing three police officers to life imprisonment and two others to seven years in prison over the 2014 custodial death of Ishtiaque Hossain Jonny.
It referred to the police's cruel treatment and extortion of university student Imran Hossain in Jashore and an investigation report saying three police officers had taken "unethical benefits" from Hossain's father in exchange for releasing him from custody.
The US report mentioned that journalist Faridul Mostafa was released after an 11-month detention following news coverage of a Teknaf police official and local drug cartels. Mostafa was arrested in September 2019 and according to his wife, tortured in custody with his hands and legs broken, fingernails pulled out and eyesight badly affected. Mostafa was released in August last year only after the police officer was arrested in connection with the Sinha killing case.
The law provides for an independent judiciary, but corruption and political interference compromised its independence, the US state department report noted.
Corruption and a substantial backlog of cases hindered the court system, and the granting of extended continuances effectively prevented many defendants from obtaining fair trials, it added, referring to a High Court verdict penalising a bank and cautioning the Anti-Corruption Commission for flawed inquiries causing wrongful imprisonment of Jahalam.
Non-implementation of the 2001 act to accelerate the process of return of land to primarily Hindu individuals and the 2016 amended law for land restitution for indigenous persons living in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) also came up in the report.
The constitution provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, but the government sometimes failed to respect this right, the US report says.
"There were significant limitations on freedom of speech. Many journalists self-censored their
The report pointed out that during the COVID-19 outbreak, the government widely used the 2018 Digital Security Act (DSA) against persons questioning the government's handling of the pandemic.
During the week of May 3, press outlets reported at least 19 journalists, activists, and other citizens were charged under the DSA.
"The DSA was viewed by human rights activists as a government and ruling party tool to intimidate journalists. The Editors' Council, an association of newspaper editors, stated the DSA stifled investigative journalism," reads the report.
The HR report referred to restrictions on the right to organize and bargain collectively for the nearly 500,000 workers in export processing zones (EPZs) and reported resistance against workers seeking to form unions in the ready-made garment sector.
Women's rights to property, insufficient mechanisms for preventing child labour, discrimination against female workers in the tea industry and some discriminations reported by religious, ethnic and other minorities particularly in the private sector also appeared, among other issues, in the report.
As the United States and Bangladesh discuss common challenges, promoting democracy, good governance, and human rights will remain paramount, as discussed by Secretary of State Blinken and Bangladesh's Foreign Minister Abdul Momen in their February 21 phone call, the state department said in a release while making the human rights report public. The United States and Bangladesh remain partners in addressing these matters together, it adds.