The United Nations human rights office has expressed concern over the rising levels of political violence rippling across Bangladesh amid fears of a return to a state of destructive brinkmanship seen in the run up to the country's 2014 elections.
“The deepening political violence in Bangladesh, resulting from the failure of the two major political parties to resolve their differences peacefully, is very disturbing,” Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said today at a press briefing in Geneva.
“We are concerned about the potential for the violence, which already led to deaths, injury and disruption, to spiral,” she added.
In late 2013, as Bangladesh prepared for its imminent elections, supporters of the country's major parties clashed with each other and with security forces, leaving scores of people dead, hundreds injured, and causing extensive damage to property.
The incidents prompted former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, to urge the country's political leaders to set their differences aside, immediately halt the “destructive brinkmanship” and use their influence to ease the unrest.
According to a press release issued by OHCHR earlier this morning, the current the bout of unrest began on 5 January when the opposition Bangladesh National Party, otherwise known as the BNP, called on its supporters to launch a transport blockade to mark the anniversary of last year's elections which the opposition had boycotted. The Government, for its part, imposed a ban on demonstrations and prevented senior members of the BNP from attending the protest. Since then, the UN agency explained, over a dozen people have reportedly been killed and hundreds injured in ongoing clashes between supporters of the two parties, as well as with security forces. A number of opposition leaders have also been arrested.
Amid the escalating violence, OHCHR said the “rampant use” of arson attacks on vehicles was “particularly disturbing,” citing a recent incident in which a crowded public bus was set on fire, resulting in the immolation deaths of four people including one child. The same day, a senior BNP advisor was shot at and his car set on fire.
“We urge all political parties to show restraint and to bring an immediate end to the violence,” Ms. Shamdasani continued. “We also call on the authorities to ensure the prompt, impartial and effective investigation of all killings committed – irrespective of whether they were committed by State or non-State actors.”
The OHCHR spokesperson also urged the Government to ensure that all arrests and detentions of key opposition leaders were “not arbitrary,” and that all measures taken to restore law and order are “conducted in line with the parameters set by international human rights law, including respect for the freedoms of peaceful assembly, movement and speech.”