Killing of Buet student: UN concerned over shrinking civic space

DHAKA (The Daily Star/ANN) - UN Resident Coordinator Mia Seppo said there has been concern about shrinking civic space and the ability of people, to express freely their opinions on political and other matters of public interest.

The United Nations (UN) has expressed grave concern over the pattern of campus violence in Bangladesh that affected and claimed too many lives over the years, with apparent impunity for those bearing responsibility.

It has called for quick and independent investigations into such killings, and an end to impunity and tolerance to such violence.

“Freedom of speech is a human right, and nobody should be harassed, tortured or killed for exercising it,” the UN said in a statement yesterday.

It comes after Buet student Abrar Fahad was beaten to death late night Sunday, allegedly by some Chhatra League leaders for freely expressing his views. 

The Daily Star inquiry found that no one was brought to book for at least 151 killings that took place at universities since independence.

Deploring the killing of Abrar, UN Resident Coordinator Mia Seppo said it is horrific and nightmarish for her, a mother of two children going to university.

“Parents need to be able to trust that their children are safe in studying in university just as they need to trust that people are safe in public places…” she said at a talk organised by the Diplomatic Correspondents Association of Bangladesh (DCAB) at BIISS auditorium in the capital Wednesday.

Seppo said there has been concern about shrinking civic space and the ability of people, whether they are academics, students or the persons in the street, to express freely their opinions on political and other matters of public interest.

“Attention to abuse of rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association and peaceful assembly has been urged by the international mechanisms,” Seppo said. 

It involves systematic changes, such as reviewing the Digital Security Act, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act, Foreign Donations Act and their implementation, she added, hoping that the new chair and members of the National Human Rights Commission will make the body more effective.

Space of civil society and freedom of speech are some of the foundations for achieving sustainable development goals (SDGs), which speak of inclusive society, she said. 

The UN official lauded Bangladesh for its impressive economic growth, contribution of 6,500 Bangladeshis to UN peacekeeping, and shaping SDG agenda, Global Compact for Migration, and climate debate. 

However, she said Bangladesh faces a number of challenges that include lower budget allocations for education, health and social protection, slow poverty reduction in urban areas, and unplanned urbanisation.  

International benchmark is 20 percent for education, but it is 11.4 percent in Bangladesh. Also, international benchmark for health is 15 percent of budgetary allocation, but it is 3.4 percent in Bangladesh, she said.  

To reap the benefits of the demographic dividend, children must become 3-4 more times more productive than today’s adults, she added. 

Turning to the Rohingya issue, Mia Seppo said it is a “common failure of all of us” that no repatriation took place in the last two years and that Myanmar has not created conducive conditions for Rohingya return.

She requested media not to create negative narratives about the Rohingya, including the ones that they are security threats and potential criminals. “Let’s not forget they are human beings with dreams and aspirations just like you and me.”  

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