Bangladesh: The Bangladesh Human Rights Commission (BHRC), including their mandate, structure, and activities in Bangladesh; role of volunteers in the organization and whether members have been targeted due to their human rights work; types of cases investigated by the BHRC, including sexual assault allegations, particularly if the police are unwilling to investigate; whether volunteers play a role in such investigations (2020-March 2022) [BGD200926.E]

Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada

1. The BHRC
1.1 Mandate

According to the by-laws of the BHRC, approved by the BHRC National Standing Committee on 25 November 2000, the BHRC was established in 1987, carries out work as an "[v]oluntary [i]nternational human rights and peace bod[y]" in the Asian and "Intercontinental" region and has "over" 2,000 branches in Bangladesh and abroad (BHRC 25 Nov. 2000, c. 1). The same source indicates that the BHRC was "registered" by the Government of Bangladesh in 1987 (BHRC 25 Nov. 2000, c. 1).

1.2 Alternate Names and Registration

According to a registration certificate posted on the BHRC website, which was issued by the Bangladesh Office of the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies and Firms (RJSC) [1], the BHRC registered with the RJSC under the name "Society of Bangladesh Manobadhikar Commission (Bangladesh Human Rights Commission-Bhrc)" (Bangladesh 7 July 2013). A Bengali-language certificate, posted under the "NGO Bureau Registration" tab in the "BHRC Legal Status" section of the BHRC website (BHRC n.d.a), displays the English name "BANGLADESH MANOBADHIKAR COMMISSION" (Bangladesh 2 Feb. 2002). Bangladesh's NGO Affairs Bureau (NGOAB) [2] indicates that the "Bangladesh Manabadhikar Commission" was registered with the NGOAB on 2 January 2001 (Bangladesh 14 Feb. 2022).

Sources indicate that on 2 July 2020, the NGOAB cancelled the registration of the Bangladesh Manabadhikar Commission (Bangladesh 14 Feb. 2022) or the BHRC (Daily Sun 23 Aug. 2020). An article by the Daily Sun, an English-language daily newspaper published in Dhaka, notes that a June 2020 High Court case resulted in an injunction ordering five private human rights organizations, including the BHRC, the Society of Bangladesh Manobadhikar Commission and the Bangladesh Manabadhikar Commission, to cease using the word "'commission'" in their names (Daily Sun 23 Aug. 2020). According to media sources, in July 2020, the Supreme Court upheld the high court order directing the BHRC to change their name, since by law private organizations cannot use the word "'commission'" in their name (Daily Sun 23 Aug. 2020; The Daily Star 15 July 2020). The Daily Sun article notes that the BHRC did not comply with the Supreme Court order (Daily Sun 23 Aug. 2020). The same source, citing a response from the Secretary General of the BHRC, Saiful Alam [Islam] Dildar, indicates that the BHRC intended to continue with their activities "as usual" and would amend their name "if other bodies d[id] so" (Daily Sun 23 Aug. 2020).

The Daily Sun article cites law enforcement agencies sources as indicating that the word "'commission'" was used to "cheat people" and also cites the NGOAB and the National Human Rights Commission of Bangladesh (NHRCB) [3] as stating that "some" private human rights bodies were adding the word "'commission'" "for their own interests" (Daily Sun 23 Aug. 2020). The same source further references an embezzlement case against Dildar [see Section 3 of this Response] (Daily Sun 23 Aug. 2020). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

1.3 Leadership and Structure

According to undated information on the BHRC website, the National Executive Committee of the BHRC Board is composed of the following individuals:

  • Founder and Secretary General - Saiful I. Dildar
  • President - Kazi Rezaul Mustafa [Rezaur Mostafa]
  • Member – S.N. Goswami
  • Member – Rokeya Nurun Nessa (BHRC n.d.b).

The same page of the BHRC website lists the following "late" chairmen under the heading "National Advisory Council":

  • "First Chairman" – K.M. Sobhan
  • "Second Chairman" – A.K.M. Sadeque
  • "Third Chairman" – Amirul Kabir Chowdhury [4] (BHRC n.d.b).

According to a post on the BHRC Facebook account dated 10 January 2022, the leadership also includes the following individuals:

  • President of BHRC Dhaka Division – Akhteruzzaman Babul
  • Governor of BHRC Headquarter – ASM Badruddoza
  • Deputy Governor of BHRC – Anwar Farazy Emon
  • Deputy Governor of BHRC – Mustak Ahmed Bhuiyan
  • Deputy Governor of BHRC – Syed Azmul Haque
  • Deputy Governor of BHRC – Mosharraf Hossain
  • Deputy Governor of BHRC – Jasmin Ara Kabir
  • Deputy Governor of BHRC – Gollam Kibria Molla (BHRC 10 Jan. 2022).

According to the BHRC by-laws, the organization's activities are divided between the National/International Executive Committee, branch programs, and affiliated organizations (BHRC 25 Nov. 2000, c. 2). The same source indicates that the National/International Executive Committee administers all head office programs, supervises branch committee activities throughout Bangladesh, receives rights violation complaints, carries out investigations at the national and international level, and takes arbitration and legal action against human rights abuses (BHRC 25 Nov. 2000, c. 2.1). The same source further notes that the branch committees perform duties related to the "development and preservation of the human rights" on behalf of the National/International Executive Committee, including the following:

  • preventing torture of women and detainees
  • preventing trafficking of women and children
  • settling family problems through arbitration
  • preventing "illegal tortur[e]" by law enforcement
  • "preserv[ing]" the rights of "minorities and tribal people"
  • providing humanitarian assistance during natural disasters (BHRC 25 Nov. 2000, c. 2.2).

1.4 Affiliation with International Human Rights Commission (IHRC)

The BHRC website indicates that the IHRC was established under the BHRC and states that the IHRC is a "complementary body to the BHRC" (BHRC 25 Nov. 2000, c. 3.21). The same source indicates that the IHRC was created with a separate constitution and that "IHRC branches [are] deemed to be … BHRC branches and BHRC[-]related activities may be conducted under IHRC branches" (BHRC 25 Nov. 2000, c. 3.21). According to a post published by the BHRC Twitter account on 13 February 2021, the IHRC was established on 24 December 2003 in Geneva, Switzerland, by Dildar (BHRC 13 Feb. 2021).

In correspondence with the Research Directorate, the Comptroller of an organization called the International Human Rights Commission, which is based in Zurich, Switzerland, stated that their organization is not aware of the BHRC and has never cooperated with any of their members (Comptroller 15 Mar. 2022). Information on an organization called International Human Rights Commission affiliated to the BHRC could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

1.5 Affiliation with International Organizations

According to the BHRC website, the BHRC is

  • "accredited" by the US government and the UN
  • "[a]ffiliated" with the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ);
  • a "[m]ember with [o]bserver [s]tatus" of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR); and
  • a "member" of the SOS-Torture network of the World Organization Against Torture (Organisation mondiale contre la torture, OMCT) (BHRC 25 Nov. 2000, c. 1).

In a post from the BHRC Facebook page published on 12 March 2022, the BHRC states that it "received formal approval from the session 1997/31 of the United Nations Human Rights Commission (Council) on 16 November 2000" (BHRC 12 Mar. 2022a). According to a 16 November 2000 letter from the UN posted on the BHRC website, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights informed the BHCR that their organization had been "accredit[ed]" to participate in the November 2000 World Conference Against Racism (UN 16 Nov. 2000).

According to a 2016 certificate from the New York Department of State posted on the BHRC website, the BHRC is registered as a not-for-profit corporation under the name "Bangladesh Human Rights Commission of USA, Inc." in the State of New York (New York 22 Aug. 2016).

According to a letter posted on the BHRC website from the ICJ dated 23 December 1998, the BHRC was approved as an ICJ-affiliated organization (ICJ 23 Dec. 1998).

An ACHPR letter dated 11 June 2001, which was posted on the BHRC website, informed the BHRC that their application for observer status at the April/May 2001 ACHPR session had been deferred pending acceptance of various conditions (ACHPR 11 June 2001).

A letter posted on the BHRC website from the OMCT notes that the BHRC became a member of the SOS-Torture network of the OMCT on 12 May 2000 (OMCT 12 May 2000). The OMCT website lists the BHRC as a member of the SOS-Torture network (OMCT n.d.).

1.6 Activities in Bangladesh

According to a BHRC Facebook post dated 12 March 2022, the BHRC's activities include the following:

  1. Organizing monthly meetings of the branch committee at least once a month.
  2. Resolving common people's problems through arbitration / legal aid activities (arbitration or court assistance).
  3. Rescue of endangered women and men from illegal detention, torture and oppression with the help of [the] administration.
  4. Ensuring proper treatment of men and women injured in attacks by miscreants.
  5. Ensuring treatment of patients in [hospitals] …
  6. Taking initiative to build resistance with the help of [the] administration in [preventing the] adulteration of food items.
  7. Raising awareness and strengthening human rights activities through discussion meetings, rallies, workshops and conferences.
  8. The BHRC has been monitoring elections in the country and abroad since its inception in 1987. [It] has been observing all the national and local elections in the country.
  9. Protesting against any human rights violations at home and abroad…
  10. Strengthening the BHRC and its respective branches by making … people of the society members of [the BHRC].
  11. Celebrating 14 International Human Rights Days, including World Human Rights Day, the founding anniversary of the BHRC.
  12. Awareness and motivation in human rights activities through publications, posters, banners, memorabilia and leaflets.
  13. To advance in the service of humanity through blood donation programs and medical assistance to [persons in need].
  14. To assist [persons] affected by any disaster in the country such as: cyclone, flood, tidal wave, epidemic, fire and refugee problem.
  15. Assistance to [people in need] in various religious ceremonies including holy Eid, Puja, Christmas and other major religious ceremonies respectively. (BHRC 12 Mar. 2022b)

According to a brochure appearing on the BHRC website, the BHRC operates the following programs:

  • Legal aid for victims of torture, including cases of rape and sexual harassment
  • Medical aid for victims of torture
  • Legal literary and publication
  • Investigation and fact finding
  • Protecting minorities and tribal rights
  • Research
  • "Urgent [a]ction" against torture
  • Legal training
  • Election monitoring
  • Disaster management (BHRC n.d.c).

Sources indicate that [in August 2019 (IANS 31 Mar. 2021)] a former official of City Bank in Bangladesh was dismissed from her job after filing a police complaint of sexual harassment against three senior managers at the bank (Daily Sun 29 Oct. 2019; IANS 31 Mar. 2021). A Daily Sun article notes that her case was dismissed by a Dhaka court in October 2019 (Daily Sun 29 Oct. 2019). An article by the Indo-Asian News Service (IANS), an English and Hindi news agency, reports that a BHRC letter dated 21 March 2021, which was sent to the Bangladesh Home Ministry, Finance Ministry, City Bank Chairperson and Prime Minister's Office, requested the Home Ministry to investigate the City Bank case "thoroughly," noting that "'to punish a woman physically [and] mentally and to terminate her from [her] job unethically is a serious offence'" (IANS 31 Mar. 2021). Further and corroborating information on the involvement of the BHRC in the City Bank case could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

An article in the United News of Bangladesh (UNB), a private sector news agency in Bangladesh, cites a BHRC press release as noting that the BHRC appealed to local authorities in April 2020 to extend the hours of operation of a market in Dhaka to lower the number of people congregated together and to promote social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic (UNB 18 Apr. 2020). A copy of the press release could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

Another UNB article cites a BHRC monthly report as indicating that 248 persons were killed in March 2022, including 18 who died in incidents of "family violence," and that 12 incidents of rape also took place (UNB 2 Apr. 2022). A copy of the BHRC March 2022 monthly report could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this report.

According to an article in the Financial Express (FE), an English daily publication in Bangladesh, the Bangladeshi Information and Broadcasting Minister attended the biennial conference of the BHRC Rangunia Upazila [sub-district] branch as a guest speaker (FE 14 Jan. 2022). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

2. Role of Members and Volunteers

Information on whether the BHRC has volunteers and if members or volunteers have been targeted due to their work in sexual assault investigations could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

The BHRC website indicates that members in the head office and branches include "[e]minent persons of the country," such as "educationalists, lawyers, journalists, physicians and other notable social work[ers]" (BHRC 25 Nov. 2000, c. 1).

According to the BHRC website, members are involved in the following activities:

  • Implementing the Commission's programs
  • Resolving problems through arbitration
  • Investigating human rights violations
  • Preparing and submitting "impartial" reports to the relevant authorities
  • Publishing magazines, booklets, leaflets, and posters on human rights
  • Filing lawsuits on behalf of "oppressed people"
  • Arranging seminars, workshops and training to raise awareness of human rights
  • Observing elections
  • Providing assistance to people affected by natural disasters
  • Offering free legal consultations (BHRC 25 Nov. 2000, c. 1).

According to the BHRC website, life members oversee human rights activities in their registered area (BHRC n.d.d). The same source indicates that life members who do not wish to be involved with a BHRC branch can take part in the following:

  • Taking action to resolve issues faced by an "oppressed" person or helping those in need access the courts
  • Forwarding human rights violation inquiry reports to the BHRC headquarters
  • Informing, in writing or by telephone, government officials, such as Deputy Commissioners and police officials, of any illegal activities
  • Attending national ceremonies and participating in any national or international programs (BHRC n.d.d).

2.1 Membership

The BHRC website states the following regarding membership applications:

Men and women who are aged 18 years may [obtain] membership of a branch after filling in the membership form prescribed by the commission if such member declares his allegiance to the constitution/[i]nternational guideline of [the] BHRC. … Relevant branches shall receive the money of admission fees of the members and monthly subscriptions. (BHRC 25 Nov. 2000, c. 3.19)

The same source notes the following regarding life members:

There will be three grade[s of] life membership. They are Grade 'A', 'B' and 'C'. The Headquarter[s] can directly [grant] life members[hip] and the recommendation of branches for life members will be granted by the Headquarter[s]. Life members get an identity card, certificate and BHRC coat pin. The Secretary General of BHRC will sign the life membership certificate. (BHRC 25 Nov. 2000, c. 3.18)

A life member registration form for Grade A membership, published on the Twitter account of the BHRC headquarters on 3 January 2022, states that life membership is open to "foreign donors" upon payment of 120 pounds (GBP) [C$197], 215 euros (EUR) [C$299], or US$260 (BHRC 3 Jan. 2022). The same sample indicates that a life membership certificate is offered to "respected and famous personalities" and that "[t]his" membership includes a BHRC pin (BHRC 3 Jan. 2022). Samples of a life member ID card and a life membership certificate are available on the BHRC website (BHRC n.d.d).

3. Treatment of Members by the Authorities

Information on the treatment of BHRC members by the authorities in Bangladesh was scarce among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

A 2015 article by the Dhaka Tribune, an English-language daily newspaper, reports that the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) filed a corruption case against Dildar and also planned to register a police complaint against him; according to an ACC inquiry, Dildar "misappropriate[d]" 1,243,545 Bangladeshi taka (BDT) [C$18,178] from the Institute of Rural Development [an NGO opened by the BHRC (Daily Sun 23 Aug. 2020)] (Dhaka Tribune 17 Feb. 2015). According to the Daily Sun, Dildar was arrested by police in Rupganj, Dhaka, for embezzling 4,215,000 BDT [C$61,569] through the "Institute Rural Development" (Daily Sun 23 Aug. 2020). The same article reports that Dildar denied the accusations in a response for comment from the paper (Daily Sun 23 Aug. 2020).

According to other media sources, Dildar appeared on a list released in February 2022 by the Cabinet Division of Bangladesh that included the names of 322 individuals who were nominated to be the Chief Election Commissioner and to other election commissioner positions in Bangladesh (The Daily Star 15 Feb. 2022; The Daily Observer 15 Feb. 2022). The same sources indicate that some of the names appearing on the list were proposed by political parties (The Daily Star 15 Feb. 2022; The Daily Observer 15 Feb. 2022) and professional associations, as well as "some" individuals tendering their own names for consideration (The Daily Star 15 Feb. 2022).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

Notes

[1] The Office of the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies and Firms (RJSC) is the government department responsible for registering private, public and foreign companies, as well as trade organizations, societies and partnership firms (Bangladesh 18 Jan. 2021).

[2] The NGO Affairs Bureau (NGOAB) is a government department and regulatory body facilitating the activities of NGOs in Bangladesh and providing services to NGOs operating with foreign assistance and registered pursuant to the Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Ordinance, 1978 (Bangladesh 7 Mar. 2018).

[3] The National Human Rights Commission of Bangladesh (NHRCB) is enshrined in the Constitution of Bangladesh and was created in 2009 as a "national advocacy institution" for the promotion and protection of human rights (Bangladesh 2 Nov. 2020).

[4] According to the Daily Star, Justice Amirul Kabir Chowdhury passed away on 1 May 2018 (The Daily Star 2 May 2018).

References

African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR). 11 June 2001. Your Application for Observer Status with the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights. [Accessed 5 Apr. 2022]

Bangladesh. 14 February 2022. Prime Minister's Office, NGO Affairs Bureau (NGOAB). "List of Cancelled NGOs." [Accessed 17 Mar. 2022]

Bangladesh. 18 January 2021. Office of the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies and Firms (RJSC). "About RJSC Mission Vission." [Accessed 6 Apr. 2022]

Bangladesh. 2 November 2020. National Human Rights Commission of Bangladesh (NHRCB). "Introduction." [Accessed 17 Mar. 2022]

Bangladesh. 7 March 2018. Prime Minister's Office, NGO Affairs Bureau. "NGOAB at a Glance." [Accessed 23 Mar. 2022]

Bangladesh. 7 July 2013. Office of the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies and Firms (RJSC). Certificate of Registration of Societies (Act XXI of 1860). [Accessed 6 Apr. 2022]

Bangladesh. 2 February 2002. NGO Affairs Bureau. Registration certificate. [Accessed 6 Apr. 2022]

Bangladesh Human Rights Commission (BHRC). 12 March 2022a. Facebook. "Become a Life Member of BHRC." [Accessed 3 Mar. 2022]

Bangladesh Human Rights Commission (BHRC). 12 March 2022b. Facebook. "BHRC Branches in 15 Subjects Conducting Human Rights." [Accessed 3 Mar. 2022]

Bangladesh Human Rights Commission (BHRC). 10 January 2022. Facebook. "Bangladesh Human Rights Commission-BHRC." [Accessed 3 Mar. 2022]

Bangladesh Human Rights Commission (BHRC). 3 January 2022. BHRC Headquarters. "Life Membership Registration Form-A." Twitter. [Accessed 3 Mar. 2022]

Bangladesh Human Rights Commission (BHRC). 13 February 2021. Twitter. "A Human Rights Activist Who Has Been Working for 38 Years." [Accessed 3 Mar. 2022]

Bangladesh Human Rights Commission (BHRC). 25 November 2000. "International Guideline/By-Laws." [Accessed 4 Mar. 2022]

Bangladesh Human Rights Commission (BHRC). N.d.a. "BHRC Legal Status." [Accessed 6 Apr. 2022]

Bangladesh Human Rights Commission (BHRC). N.d.b. "BHRC Board." [Accessed 4 Mar. 2022]

Bangladesh Human Rights Commission (BHRC). N.d.c. "BHRC Brochure." [Accessed 4 Mar. 2022]

Bangladesh Human Rights Commission (BHRC). N.d.d. "Life Member." [Accessed 4 Mar. 2022]

Comptroller, International Human Rights Commission (IHRC). 15 March 2022. Correspondence with the Research Directorate.

The Daily Observer. 15 February 2022. "Search Panel Publishes 322 Names for CEC, ECs Selection." [Accessed 4 Mar. 2022]

The Daily Star. 15 February 2022. Mohammad Al-Masum Molla. "Names to EC Search Panel: Ex-Bureaucrats Figure High." [Accessed 24 Mar. 2022]

The Daily Star. 15 July 2020. "No Private Rights Organisation Can Use 'Commission' in Its Name: SC." [Accessed 4 Mar. 2022]

The Daily Star. 1 June 2019. "168 Murdered in Last Month: BHRC." [Accessed 24 Mar. 2022]

The Daily Star. 2 May 2018. "Ex-SC Judge Aminul Kabir Passes Away." [Accessed 8 Apr. 2022]

Daily Sun. 23 August 2020. Mahabub Alam. "Pvt Rights Bodies Use 'Commission' Illegally in Their Names." [Accessed 4 Mar. 2022]

Daily Sun. 29 October 2019. "Sexual Abuse Case Against City Bank High-Ups Rejected." [Accessed 5 Apr. 2022]

Dhaka Tribune. 17 February 2015. "ACC Approves Case Filing Against BHRS Gen Secy." [Accessed 6 Apr. 2022]

The Financial Express (FE). 14 January 2022. "HRW's Statement Unacceptable, Politically-Motivated, Says Hasan Mahmud." [Accessed 24 Mar. 2022]

Indo-Asian News Service (IANS). 31 March 2021. "Bangladesh's MeToo Moment: Rights Panel Asks Govt to Launch 'Thorough' Probe." [Accessed 4 Mar. 2022]

International Commission of Jurists (ICJ). 23 December 1998. Adama Dieng. Letter to the Bangladesh Human Rights Commission (BHRC). [Accessed 5 Apr. 2022]

New York. 22 August 2016. Department of State. Certificate of Incorporation. [Accessed 5 Apr. 2022]

Organisation mondial contre la torture (OMCT). 12 May 2000. Your Candidacy to Become a Member of the SOS-Torture Network. [Accessed 5 Apr. 2022]

Organisation mondial contre la torture (OMCT). N.d. "Bangladesh Human Rights Commission (BHRC)." [Accessed 5 Apr. 2022]

United Nations (UN). 16 November 2000. Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). "Accreditation of Your Organization to the World Conference Against Racism." [Accessed 4 Apr. 2022]

United News of Bangladesh (UNB). 2 April 2022. "BHRC: Road Accidents Claim 166 Lives, COVID 85 in March." [Accessed 5 Apr. 2022]

United News of Bangladesh (UNB). 18 April 2020. "Social Distancing: BHRC for Extending Kitchen Market Duration." [Accessed 4 Mar. 2022]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights; assistant professor of public administration at a university in Bangladesh; Bangladesh – National Human Rights Commission of Bangladesh, NGO Affairs Bureau; Bangladesh Human Rights Commission – Canadian branch, Central London branch, headquarters; Bangladeshi Canadian Community Services; International Human Rights Commission – Middle East Region; International Commission of Jurists; National Bangladeshi-Canadian Council; Organisation mondiale contre la torture; Search of Light Humanity Organisation.

Internet sites, including: Asian Human Rights Commission; Awaz-The Voice; bdnews24.com; CIVICUS; DTNext; Factiva; Fédération internationale pour les droits humains; Financial Times; Human Rights Watch; law firm in Bangladesh; The New Nation; Odhikar; UN – Refworld, ReliefWeb, UN News; US – Department of State; University of New South Wales.