Following the recent violence and civil unrest in Bangladesh over the summer https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-45069935 some of the country’s leading human rights activists attended a one-day civil society research workshop organised by WISERD and BRAC University in Dhaka on August 30. It was held as part of the project ‘Exploring Effective Practice in Civil Society Organisations: Promotion of Human Rights, Good Governance and Social Justice, a’ project funded by the Academy of Medical Sciences and the Global Challenges Research Fund. The research is led by Professor Paul Chaney (WISERD), Dr Seuty Sabur (BRAC) and Professor Sarbeswar Sahoo (Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi).
Professor Chaney argued that, in the light of recent developments, there was a need to complement human rights indicators and case law with civil society accounts of the challenges of holding states to account in relation to their international rights obligations.
The workshop was hosted by the Department of Economics and Social Sciences (ESS). It heard detailed accounts of the challenges facing those concerned with promoting and upholding human rights in Bangladesh. Khushi Kabir, coordinator of Nijera Kori, noted that whilst in the past civil society primarily existed as a buffer to rights violations its role is becoming increasingly important due to the fact that the mass media, with their overarching economic and political affiliations, are no longer reporting key social issues and throwing a critical spotlight on rights observance.
Leading barrister Sara Hossain also lamented the collective silence on critical social issues. She said social media, the last remaining space for citizens to voice their concerns, was being targeted by mobs replicating their violent practice on the streets. Citing harassment faced for speaking out on Chittagong Hill Tracts issues https://www.amnesty.org.uk/groups/wirksworth-and-district/hidden-bangladesh-violence-and-brutality-chittagong-hill-tracts Meghna Guhathakurta, executive director of Research Initiatives Bangladesh, suggested NGO networking and unity and taking lessons from recent social justice movements is needed to curb current rights violations. Professor ATM Nurul Amin, chairperson of the Department of Economics and Social Sciences, questioned whether personal freedom had been traded off in the struggle for nationalism.
Overall, the workshop discussions identified a series of core challenges faced by NGOs working on these issues. Yet, it also pin-pointed several aspects that were positive – suggesting the way towards inclusive citizenship rights - not only in Bangladesh – but further afield.As well as working with NGOs, this project is creating an academic research network to further understanding of international citizenship rights and disseminate project findings in the form of non-technical policy briefings and blogs.