Seventeen rights groups have called for formation of an inquiry commission under the umbrella of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to probe the murders of at least nine writers, bloggers, publishers, academics and activists in Bangladesh since February 2015.
PEN America led a group of sixteen other human rights organisations in issuing a statement on Tuesday, demanding establishment of such a commission.
The rights groups are seeking new avenues to accelerate “international pressure and assistance to put an end to the violence” after the spate of what they said as deadly attacks by Islamic hardliners against secular intellectuals has escalated with near impunity.
Sixteen other signatories to the statement are American Association of Publishers’ International Freedom to Publish Committee, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, Center for Inquiry, City of Asylum Pittsburgh (ICORN), Committee to Protect Journalists, English PEN, European Humanist Federation, Freedom House, Freemuse, Hague Peace Projects, Human Rights First, Index on Censorship, International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), International Media Support (IMS), and PEN Bangladesh.
In their statement, they called on “governments to support the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry” by the UNHRC to investigate the string of brutal killings by Islamic extremists of intellectuals, academics, writers, bloggers, and activists in the country.
They mentioned that dozens of other individuals face an imminent threat to their lives and livelihoods and live in a state of well-founded fear due to a lack of protection offered by the government.
According to the statement, many are in hiding and self-censoring their expression, while others have been forced to flee the country and are living in precarious circumstances.
“This rapidly escalating threat — 4 murders have occurred during the month of April 2016 alone — compounded by the government’s failure to ensure justice and prevent and deter future attacks, compels the call for an independent investigation authorised by the Human Rights Council,” read the statement.
It recalled that since the beginning of 2015, an escalating pattern of killings have accounted for the deaths of at least nine intellectuals, academics, writers, bloggers, and activists, all hacked to death in targeted assassinations.
In December 2015, PEN America led a coalition of organisations in sending a letter to US secretary of state John Kerry to consider granting humanitarian parole to Bangladeshi writers most at risk.
The rights groups observed that the Bangladeshi government has proved unable or unwilling to address these heinous crimes and hold their perpetrators and masterminds accountable.
“Top officials have instead condemned the targeted individuals for their writings, beliefs, or activism as grounds for offense,” they said.