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Last updated: 10th September 2023

Press Statement

Dhaka, 07 September 2023:
The Press Briefing Note issued by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on 5 September 2023 drew attention of the Government of Bangladesh. Through the Note, the High Commissioner for Human Rights and his Office expressed concern due to the ‘continued intimidation and harassment of human rights advocates and civil society leaders through legal proceedings in Bangladesh’ including Dr. Mohammad Yunus, and two officials of the so-called human rights organization- Odhikar. The content of the Note brings into question the way the Office of the High Commissioner for human rights upholds the principles of universality, objectivity, neutrality, impartiality and non-selectivity in the work of the promotion and protection of human rights. The Government is also appalled to note the way the OHCHR seeks to influence the independent functioning of the judiciary of a state, by making comments over sub-judice matters. The Government considers the concerns expressed through the Press Briefing Note as flagrant disrespect to the “Basic Principles of the Independence of the Judiciary” of a country that the OHCHR claims to promote elsewhere. While the cases against Dr. Yunus and Odhikar’s officials are sub-judice, the Government wishes to remind the OHCHR the basic principles that highlights that “respecting and observing the independence of judiciary is a duty of all governmental and other institutions” and that “there shall not be any inappropriate or unwarranted interference with the judicial process”.  
The Briefing Note mentioned that “Yunus has faced harassment and intimidation for almost a decade”. It must be pointed out that allegations of various malpractices, violations of appliable tax and other legal provisions and non-compliance to labour laws for over a decade have made Dr. Yunus the subject of investigations and legal examinations over a decade. That Mr. Yunus lost court cases in the apex court of the country, the Government wishes to be clarified as to what was being considered as ‘harassment’ and ‘intimidation’? Is equality before law being considered as ‘harassment’?  Is the fear of conviction being defined as intimidation? Does the OHCHR consider the due judicial process as a mechanism for harassment and intimidation? The Government reiterates that Dr. Muhammad Yunus is one of the nationals of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, upon whom the Constitution and the law is equally applicable. He is treated equally in the eyes of law, and is subject to equal protection of the law. In fact, he availed himself of every possible legal recourse without any restraint. 
By constitutional obligation as well as obligations from being party to 8 out of 9 core International Human Rights instruments, and most of the fundamental labour conventions of ILO, the Government continues to promote safe and enabling legal environment so that the victims enjoy the right to seek legal remedies when human rights are abused. Therefore, any double standard that speaks of defending human rights of the victims on one hand and makes veiled attempts to protect the alleged violator on the other is not acceptable at all to the Government of Bangladesh. In response to the concerns expressed regarding the two cases Dr. Yunus is facing, the Government hereby further clarifies the following: The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) of Bangladesh filed one case under specific provisions of the Bangladesh Penal Code and Anti-Money Laundering Act, 2012. The case was filed based on investigations concerning allegations of misappropriation of profits due to the workers and employees of Grameen Telecom Ltd. The ACC investigation team had found that Dr. Muhammad Yunus, Chairman of Grameen Telecom Ltd. along with the Managing Director and other Board members forged settlement agreement to misappropriate and illicitly transfer Tk. 252 million.
Further, the Department of Inspection of Factories and Establishments, Dhaka filed another case under Bangladesh Labour Act, 2006. The case was filed for multiple breaches, including for not setting up Workers’ Contributory Fund and Welfare Fund as well as for not depositing 5% share of net profits to the concerned workers’ welfare funds since 2006.
It needs to be further clarified that, in one of the tax evasion cases, Dr. Muhammad Yunus having lost in the High Court Division filed a petition at the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, the highest court of the country. The Appellate Division, having found no infirmity and illegality in the order of the High Court Division, rejected the petition, resulting in Dr. Yunus’ paying the overdue tax amount to the National Board of Revenue (NBR). There are now a few more pending tax evasion cases against him. 
In the cases of depriving the workers of their rightful share of profit, Dr. Muhammad Yunus went to the highest courts on two occasions, one challenging maintainability and another challenging framing of charge by the trial court. The highest court on hearing his lawyers passed judgments affirming that the first case had been properly initiated, and in the other, declared the framing of charge legal, proper and correct. 
In sum, Dr. Yunus faces legal accountability for his alleged violations of specific legal and labour provisions as well as for his persistent shortcomings in meeting obligations under relevant legal provisions. Given the clarification above, the allegation of ‘legal harassment’ is nothing but smear campaign against the Government of Bangladesh. The failure of the OHCHR to acknowledge the rights of the deprived workers, discounting the above-stated shortcomings and violations, is worrisome and goes against the spirit of ensuring justice. In regard to the cases against Mr. Adilur Rahman Khan and Nasiruddin Elan of an NGO, Odhikar mentioned in the briefing note, the Government of Bangladesh has been thoroughly engaged with the OHCHR and the UN human rights mechanisms and adequately clarified the allegations brought against Odhikar. The Government also sent detailed information explaining the background of financial irregularities that caused nonrenewal of registration of Odhikar. In relation to the extremely motivated and fabricated report, which the OHCHR termed as ‘fact-finding report’, the Government informed the UN mechanism that it lodged a case against Mr. Adilur Rahman Khan and Mr. Nasir Uddin Elan, the two Officials of Odhikar, under ICT Act 2006, section 57 for spreading falsified information. Odhikar has failed to provide evidence to support their claims despite having sufficient opportunities to do so. Odhikar also did not resort to domestic remedies, which is an obligatory requirement for any human rights organization before submitting any case to UN human rights mechanisms. The Government also requested the concerned UN special procedure mandate holders and other mechanism several times to check with the evidentiary standards and the credibility of reports generated by Odhikar. They were requested to ask why Odhikar, despite repeated requests of the Government, did not share with the Government the list they produced on reported victims of enforced disappearance and extra-judicial killings. 
It is interesting to note that the Briefing Note termed a non-complaint and dubious entity, with proven record of misinformation, and questionable fiduciary conduct, like Odhikar, as ‘respected’ human rights organization. We are not aware of any evidence of OHCHR’s verification of the claims made by Odhikar in its so called ‘Fact finding report’. Continuing to support and promote an organization like Odhikar in the name of promoting civic and democratic space is tantamount to adoption of a non-objective, selective, and biased approach by the OHCHR.
The Government expresses deep concern that the High Commissioner for Human Rights and his Office took an attempt to influence the outcome of the judicial process, saying, “these cases also represent an important test for the independence of the judiciary in Bangladesh”. The independent judiciary of Bangladesh continues to ensure that judicial proceedings are conducted fairly, and that the rights of the parties are fully respected.  In line with the basic principles of the Independence, the judiciary of Bangladesh decides matters before them impartially, based on facts and in accordance with the law, without any restrictions, improper influences, inducements, pressures, threats or interferences, direct or indirect, from any quarter or for any reason.