Bangladesh is endowed with a rich tradition and culture of philanthropy. Religions that attempted to overcome social stratification and seclusion flourished there in past centuries. The civic tradition was reinforced following the devastating war for liberation in 1971, when a host of “self-help groups” emerged to provide relief and rehabilitation, and to support development. At the same time, however, given the legacy of colonial and authoritarian military administration, civil society remains in a formative stage.
Today in Bangladesh, mainstream civil society organizations (CSOs) are mostly philanthropic groups, citizen coalitions, and private voluntary agencies. Many CSOs seek to serve under-served or neglected populations, to expand the freedom of or to empower people, to engage in advocacy for social change, and to provide services. The exact number of CSOs in Bangladesh is unknown. According to one estimate, the number of CSOs registered with various governmental authorities totals 250,000. Among these, it is estimated that less than 50,000 organizations are active.
Bangladesh has a unitary government with a Westminster-style parliamentary system, governed by a Constitution that is the supreme law of the Republic.
|Organizational Forms||Societies||Trusts||Non-profit companies|
|Registration Body||Registrar of Companies||Registrar of Trusts||Registrar of Companies|
|Approximate Number||At least 21 members||At least 15 members||At least 11 members|
|Barriers to Entry||Foreigners, non-citizens, and minors prohibited from serving as founders.
Bureaucratic hurdles delay the registration process
|Foreigners, non-citizens, and minors prohibited from serving as founders.
Bureaucratic hurdles delay the registration process
|Foreigners, non-citizens, and minors prohibited from serving as founders.
Bureaucratic hurdles delay the registration process
|Barriers to Activities||All forms of CSOs are subject to termination for the non-submission of reports.
Annual reports are mandatory.
Government representatives may attend internal CSO meetings.
|All forms of CSOs are subject to termination for the non-submission of reports.
Annual reports are mandatory.
Government representatives may attend internal CSO meetings.
|All forms of CSOs are subject to termination for the non-submission of reports.
Annual reports are mandatory.
Government representatives may attend internal CSO meetings.
|Barriers to Speech and/or Advocacy||No legal barriers||No legal barriers||No legal barriers|
|Barriers to International Contact||No legal barriers||No legal barriers||No legal barriers|
|Barriers to Resources||A CSO seeking to receive or use foreign donations must obtain approval, known as FD Registration, from the NGOAB||A CSO seeking to receive or use foreign donations must obtain approval, known as FD Registration, from the NGOAB||A CSO seeking to receive or use foreign donations must obtain approval, known as FD Registration, from the NGOAB|
|Barriers to Assembly||Advance permission requirement with no appeal in case of rejection; arbitrary prohibitions on "political" meetings||Advance permission requirement with no appeal in case of rejection; arbitrary prohibitions on "political" meetings||Advance permission requirement with no appeal in case of rejection; arbitrary prohibitions on "political" meetings|
|Population||161,083,804 (2012 est.)|
|Type of Government||Parliamentary Democracy|
|Life Expectancy at Birth||Male: 68.21 years
Female: 71.98 years (2011 est.)
|Literacy Rate||Male: 54%
Female: 41.4% (2008)
|Religious Groups||Muslim 89.5%, Hindu 9.6%, others 0.9% (2004)|
|Ethnic Groups||Bengali 98%, other 2% (includes tribal groups, non-Bengali Muslims) (1998)|
|GDP Per Capita||$1700 (2011 est.)|
Source: The World Factbook 2009. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 2010.
|Ranking Body||Rank||Ranking Scale
(best - worst possible)
|UN Human Development Index||142 (2014)||1 – 182|
|World Bank Rule of Law Index||19 (2012)||100 – 0|
|World Bank Voice & Accountability Index||34 (2012)||100 – 0|
|Transparency International||136 (2013)||1 – 180|
|Freedom House: Freedom in the World||Status: Partly Free
Political Rights Score: 3
Civil Liberties Score: 4 (2014)
|Free/Partly Free/Not Free
1 – 7
1 – 7
|Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index||Rank: 32 (2015)||178 – 1|
International and Regional Human Rights Agreements
|Key International Agreements||Ratification*||Year|
|International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)||Yes||2000|
|Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1)||No||--|
|International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)||Yes||1998|
|Optional Protocol to ICESCR (OP-ICESCR)||No||--|
|International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD)||Yes||1979|
|Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)||Yes||1984|
|Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (OP-CEDAW)||Yes||2000|
|Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)||Yes||1990|
|International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICRMW)||Yes||2011|
|Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)||Yes||2007|
|Key Regional Agreements||Ratification*||Year|
|South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC)||Yes||1985|
|South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA)||Yes||1994|
* Category includes ratification, accession, or succession to the treaty
The Constitution of Bangladesh was adopted by the Constituent Assembly of Bangladesh on November 4, 1972. Relevant clauses corresponding to fundamental rights enunciated in the Constitution include:
- 37. Freedom of assembly: Every citizen shall have the right to assemble and to participate in public meetings and processions peacefully and without arms, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interests of public order health.
- 38. Freedom of association: Every citizen shall have the right to form associations or unions, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interests of morality or public order.
- 39. Freedom of thought and conscience, and of speech: (i) Freedom of thought and conscience is guaranteed. (ii) Subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interests of the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence (a) the right of every citizen to freedom of speech and expression; and freedom of the press, are guaranteed.
National Laws and Regulations Affecting Sector
Two broad categories of legislation – laws of incorporation and regulatory laws – make up the legal environment within which civil society organizations (CSOs) operate in Bangladesh.
Laws of incorporation, enabling organizations to function with a management structure and legal status, include the following:
- The Societies Registration Act, 1860;
- The Trust Act, 1882; and
- The Companies Act, 1913 (amended in 1994).
Regulatory laws have been introduced to encourage CSOs to register with government agencies irrespective of their legal status. A CSO that is denied registration under these regulatory laws remains a CSO, if it is duly incorporated under any of the previously mentioned Acts. Relevant “regulatory laws” include the following:
- The Voluntary Social Welfare Agencies Ordinance, 1961;
- The Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Rules, 1978;
- The Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act, 2014; and
- The Microfinance Regulatory Law, 2006.
A brief description of each law follows below.
Societies Registration Act, 1860
During British rule, CSOs were regulated as “literary, scientific and charitable societies” through the Societies Registration Act. The Act provides for registration with the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies under the Ministry of Commerce for the following types of societies:
- charitable societies;
- societies established for the promotion of science, literature or the fine arts;
- societies established for instruction, the diffusion of knowledge and political education;
- societies established for educational and medical services;
- societies established for the foundation or maintenance of libraries or reading rooms for use by members of the public; and
- public museums and galleries of paintings and other works of art, and collections of natural history, mechanical and philosophical inventions.
The Trust Act, 1882
This Act was designed to accommodate private trusts without affecting the already existing Muslim and Hindu laws for religious endowments. It is administered by the Registrar of Trusts and allows for autonomy of the organization as long as the trustees honor the terms and conditions of the Deed of Trust.
The Companies Act, 1913 (amended in 1994)
This Act provides legal status to non-profit companies. Some CSOs and foundations seek registration under the Act for the sake of convenience. The Registrar of Joint Stock Companies under the Ministry of Commerce is the registration authority.
Voluntary Social Welfare Agencies Ordinance, 1961
The Voluntary Social Welfare Agencies (Registration and Control) Ordinance was promulgated in 1961 “to expedite the registration and control of voluntary social welfare agencies and for matters ancillary thereto.” A “voluntary social welfare agency” is defined as an “organization, association or undertaking established by persons of their own free will for the purpose of rendering welfare services in any one or more of the fields mentioned in the schedule and depending for its resources on public subscriptions, donations or government aid.” The Director of the Department of Social Services (DOSS) under the Ministry of Social Welfare is the registration authority.
Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Rules, 1978
This law was first promulgated in 1978 to regulate the receipt and expenditure of foreign donations by CSOs. CSOs are required to submit certain information to the government in a prescribed form to obtain approval for undertaking projects with donations received from outside of the country or from aid-giving agencies of foreign origin working inside the country. Prior approval is also required if a CSO wishes to use the services of a volunteer from outside the country.
Microfinance Regulatory Law, 2006
CSOs involved in micro-credit operations are to be registered with the Microfinance Regulatory Authority (MRA) under this law.
1. In late June, it was reported that the government drafted the Cyber Security Law, 2015, which many human rights organizations believe the government will use to strengthen its ability to stifle dissenting voices online. Reportedly, it is awaiting approval from the Cabinet.
Compared to the current Information and Technology Act (ICT Act), 2006, amended in 2013, the Cyber Security Law would contain a broader scope of information-related crimes, as well as several crimes already in the ICT Act, such as defamatory and anti-state writings.
The Cyber Security Law reportedly would equally apply to persons and organizations even outside of Bangladesh if they threaten national security or state sovereignty with “anti-state” cyber-related activities. Hacking a sensitive information database could result in a 14-year prison sentence, a fine of Tk 1 crore (about $128,500), or both. Under Section 14 of the draft law, publishing and sharing compromising photographs of a person without consent is also considered a form of hacking and could result in 10 years of imprisonment, a fine of Tk 10 lakh (about $12,900), or both. Section 14 also would allow police to arrest anyone suspected of cyber-related offence at any time. The maximum punishment for a crime under the Cyber Security Law is reportedly life imprisonment.
The draft law also reportedly calls for the establishment of a national cyber security agency. In addition, according to the Asian Legal Resource Centre, the draft law would authorize police to break into a home suspected of hiding “cyber terror.”
Finally, the draft law would reportedly lead to amendment of the ICT Act in order to harmonize Sections 54-57 in the ICT Act to parallel provisions in the Cyber Security Law. According to a government official at the Controller of Certifying Authorities, which was involved in drafting the Cyber Security Law, the expected amendments to the ICT Act are intended to make them “more pro-people.” Section 57 continues to be a major concern with regard to freedom of expression, as it criminalizes the electronic publication of “fake, obscene, or defaming information,” that could “deteriorate law and order, prejudice the image of the State or person or causes to hurt or may hurt religious belief or instigate against any person or organization” (see also: http://www.southasianmedia.net/stories/bangladesh/english-language-media/govt-to-tighten-grip-on-social-media-story).
2. In-mid January 2015, the Cabinet approved the draft Youth Organisation (Registration and Operation) Act, 2015. According to the draft law, youth organization chiefs who fail to register their groups with the Youth Development Directorate could face six months of imprisonment or a fine of Tk50,000 (about $640 USD). The draft includes other obligations and penalties as well, including dissolution of groups violating the law. According to Cabinet Secretary M. Musharraff Hussain, the law was improved in principle last June, and after the bill is passed in the House, the government will promulgate rules to implement it. Currently youth organizations register under the Social Welfare Directorate, and within six months after the law is passed, youth organizations that were registered there would have to obtain a certificate from the Social Welfare Directorate confirming their previous registration (see also: http://bdnews24.com/bangladesh/2015/06/09/bangladesh-to-amend-law-on-ict-amid-criticism-it-curbs-freedom-of-speech-rights).
3. The Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act (FDRA) remains before the Parliament. The Cabinet of Ministers approved the draft Act in June 2014. Based on prior versions of the draft FDRA, the goal of the Act is to amend the 1978 Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Ordinance and to integrate the 1982 Foreign Contributions (Regulation) Ordinance into it. Prior versions of the draft Act preserved many of the existing barriers to the receipt of foreign donations and contributions. In particular, the draft Act, if enacted, would:
- Prohibit individuals and organizations from receiving foreign donations/contributions for the purpose of carrying out any voluntary activity without prior government approval.
- Require all organizations wishing to receive and use foreign donations/contributions to register with the NGO Affairs Bureau.
- Require all organizations seeking to carry out activities with foreign donations to secure advance project approval.
- Require every NGO registered with the Bureau to establish a board of directors (consisting of at least 7 members) and a general board (consisting of 21 members).
- Penalize NGOs if the Director General of the NGO Affairs Bureau believes that NGOs are engaged in activities which are "illegal or harmful for the country".
Civil society organizations (CSOs) in Bangladesh may be either membership organizations or non-membership organizations. Membership organizations include indigenous and community-based organizations (CBOs), such as village-level clubs, mass organizations, religious organizations, and trade organizations. Many of these organizations are not registered. Registered membership organizations are generally registered under the Co-operative Societies Act. Non-membership organizations may be organized as a trust or as a non-profit company.
All CSOs can be grouped into three categories corresponding to regulatory laws, source of funds, and sphere of activities.
- (a) The overwhelming majority of CSOs are recognized as voluntary social welfare organizations (VSWO). Typically, VSWOs are small and operate locally with funds mobilized from local donations and government grants. Activities are primarily implemented by local volunteers. As of December 2009, 56,966 VSWOs were registered with the Department of Social Services.
- (b) Organizations that operate with grants from external sources are generally perceived as “development NGO(s)” and are registered with the NGO Affairs Bureau. Of the 2,535 organizations that were registered as of June 2010, 2,305 CSOs are of local origin and 230 are foreign/international organizations operating with an office in Bangladesh. VSWOs that receive donations from external sources are registered with the NGOAB as well. As of February 28, 2013, there are 2,209 NGOs registered with the NGOAB. The NGOAB had cancelled the registration of 525 NGOs as of January 11, 2012.
- (c) As of July 2010, there were 527 CSOs working as microfinance institutions (MFIs). MFIs may also fall into either or both of the above categories.
Public Benefit Status
All CSOs are exempt from corporate tax under the provision of the Income Tax Ordinance of 1984. Income generated from profit-earning activities must be spent for charitable purposes and not appropriated by any individual in the form of dividends.
Both corporations and individuals are able to claim a tax deduction for donations made for 22 designated public benefit purposes, including donations for old age homes, forestation, waste treatment plants, care for the disabled, potable water supply, education for orphans and street children, specialized hospitals for treatment of the extreme poor, public universities, etc. Corporate donors may deduct the amount of the donation up to 10% of their taxable income. Individual donors may deduct the amount of the donation up to 20% of their taxable income, but not exceeding Taka 100,000 (approximately US $1,380). Claiming a tax deduction requires prior approval from the National Board of Revenue (NBR) under the Ministry of Finance. The NBR gives a tax exemption certificate if the concerned donor fulfills all obligations as per the provisions of the labor law and pays all other taxes.
Barriers to Entry
Several barriers to the formation, establishment and registration of CSOs are worthy of mention.
First, the required number of minimum members is inordinately high. To register under the Companies Act as a non-profit company, an organization must have a minimum of 11 members. To register under the Societies Registration Act (SRA) as a society, an organization must have at least three times the number of members in the Executive Committee (EC); since CSOs registered under SRA must have an EC of at least seven members, it follow that a society must have at least 21 founding members. For organizations registered under the Trust Act, the minimum number of members (Trustees) is five, and the number of general members must be at least three times more than the number of Trustees, that is at least 15.
Second, membership of CSOs, irrespective of where they register, is limited to adult citizens of Bangladesh. Thus, non-citizens and minors are excluded from founding or belonging to CSOs. In addition, government employees are barred from becoming office bearers (members of executive committees).
Third, the organization must possess a furnished office with proper address and signboard to be eligible for registration. This amounts to an asset requirement and acts as a substantial barrier to registration.
Fourth, for registration under the SRA and the Companies Act, an organization must pay a registration fee of Taka 2,000 (approx. US $28) and Taka 15,000 (approx. US $207) respectively. For trusts with assets of Taka 20,000 (approx. US $276) or less, the trust must pay a fee of Taka 2,540 (approx. US $35) for registration under the Trust Act. The fee is higher for higher levels of the value of assets.
Fifth, CSOs that seek funding from external sources must register, additionally, with the NGO Affairs Bureau (NGOAB), which operates within the Ministry of Establishment. Banks do not allow the opening of an account by any organization that does not possess valid registration and will not disburse any foreign funds without prior approval from the NGO Affairs Bureau (NGOAB) and a letter of intent from the donor. For registration with the NGOAB, the organization must submit, in addition to an application, particulars of their bank account, a letter of intent from the donor, a copy of an annual activity report, and a copy of a financial audit report. NGOAB has to approve it within 90 days (60 days in case of renewal of registration) or may seek further clarification. The registration fee is Taka 10,000 (approx. US $138).
Sixth and finally, the registration process itself is complicated by bureaucratic hurdles and delays. Notably:
- Registration requires clearance from the Ministry of Home Affairs, which must be accomplished within 60 days, though in practice it takes longer.
- Registration is sometimes delayed on the pretext of police verification, and registration is sometimes denied due to an adverse police report corresponding to “prejudicial activities.” Prior clearance from National Security Intelligence (NSI) was recently made mandatory for registration under the SRA. It is an “open secret” that organizations pay bribes to officials of the registration authority in different forms to avoid delay and harassment.
- Regarding registration with the NGO Affairs Bureau, the NGOAB reserves the right to reject an application if it is not “satisfied” with the objectives, constitution, or plan of operation; CSOs do not have a right to appeal. Moreover, the registration is valid only for five years. During this period, the NGOAB has the power to cancel the registration. To renew the registration, a fresh application for registration for another five year period must be submitted six months prior to the expiration date.
Barriers to Operational Activity
The government tends to see itself as the sole organ responsible for development and often makes stringent rules and regulations for CSOs in the field of development that burden their operational activities. CSOs are often under attack by the government bureaucracy and are criticized for the “privatization of development.” CSOs that are critical of government policies are sometimes branded as anti-state and are harassed in many ways, including the blocking of disbursement of foreign funds, delays of project approval, and even cancellation of registration.
While the facilitating role of the government was manifested with the creation of the NGOAB for one-stop service and easing of regulatory measures, the general attitude of some in the bureaucracy toward the voluntary sector remains largely passive and hostile. The government often perceives CSOs as a competitor for scarce overseas development assistance (ODA).
The government can suspend activities of a CSO or even cancel its registration for the non-submission of reports to its respective registration authority. So far, the NGOAB has cancelled the registration of 334 CSOs for alleged "unlawful activities" and cancellation for another 90 CSOs is being processed. Punitive measures can also be taken if the CSO is accused of a criminal offence. The wide scope of crimes punishable by death under the Anti-Terrorism Act, including "financing terrorist activities," carries a tremendous risk of irreversible miscarriage of justice, which may chill CSO members from engaging in certain economic activities.
Detailed requirements apply to the internal structure and affairs of all CSOs. Members of all CSOs, except cooperative societies, as per provision of their article of association, elect an Executive Committee (EC) or governing body comprising seven to 11 members, including a Chair, a General Secretary, and a Treasurer. This is applicable to all organizations irrespective of where they are registered.
An annual financial audit by a recognized firm is mandatory. At present, there are 71 audit firms registered with the NGOAB, from which a CSO has to choose for its audit.
Officials from the registration authority may attend EC meetings or the Annual General Meetings (AGMs), especially if invited in case of disputes among members. In case of a dispute, the registration authority may replace the existing EC with a new one of its choice. The EC is responsible for financial management through designated staff, and must function within the budget limits approved by the registration authority. Any change in the program and the budget requires prior approval from the authority.
The CSO is free to open an account in any scheduled bank. Only one bank account can be maintained for receiving foreign donations. Separate bank accounts for separate projects may be maintained for internal transactions after the donations are received.
The 1961 Voluntary Social Welfare Agencies Ordinance gives the government power to intervene in the management structure of a voluntary social welfare organization (VSWO). The DOSS, as the registration authority, is empowered to suspend the Executive Committee (EC) of a VSWO without giving any right to appeal, but the governing body of a VSWO cannot dissolve itself without the approval of the DOSS.
CSOs must submit activity reports and audited financial reports of the preceding year, and activity plans (programs) and the budgets of the coming year to their respective registration authority on an annual basis. The government can suspend activities of a CSO or even cancel its registration for non-submission of reports to its respective registration authority.
CSOs are sometimes subject to government harassment (e.g., frequent inspections, requests for documents, etc.) for political reasons (for example, where the government feels threatened by the advocacy work of a CSO). The affected CSO may find it difficult to access legal remedies, since the justice system is cumbersome, time consuming, and expensive.
In case of involuntary dissolution, the government assumes ownership of the remaining assets and may re-constitute the Executive Committee for running the CSO.
Barriers to Speech / Advocacy
While there are no legal barriers limiting expressive or advocacy activities, CSOs are sometimes subject to government harassment in the form of frequent inspections or requests for documents (for example, where the government feels threatened by the advocacy work of a CSO). The affected CSO may find it difficult to access legal remedies, since the justice system is cumbersome, time consuming, and expensive. In other cases, the government may brand certain CSOs as “partisan” where these CSOs are critical of governmental actions and practices, such as ethnic discrimination, anti-poor labor law and wage policy, commercial extraction of natural resources, degradation of environment, or corruption.
The Information and Communication Technology (Amendment) Bill, 2013, enacted in October 2013, has raised concerns that human rights defenders may now be tried under the amended provisions, which will render CSO representatives and individuals who voice dissent vulnerable. The amended law (1) classifies some offenses as "cognizable" (meaning the police can arrest persons without the issue of a warrant); (2) makes some offenses non-bailable; and (3) increases the period of imprisonment from 10 to 14 years for certain offenses.
Barriers to International Contact
CSOs are free to interact and cooperate among themselves and with donor agencies at home and abroad through any means of communication. There is no bar to attending conferences inside or outside the country. CSOs participate in UN and other international conferences as important stakeholders.
Barriers to Resources
The key legal barrier to CSO resources in Bangladesh relates to foreign funding. As mentioned previously, the government established the NGO Affairs Bureau (NGOAB) within the Ministry of Establishment to coordinate and regulate the activities of CSOs operating with foreign funding. A CSO seeking to receive or use foreign donations must obtain approval, known as the FD Registration, from the NGOAB. Separate approval for all projects is required from the NGOAB, irrespective of prior registration by any other authority. The NGOAB is now located in the Prime Minister’s Office and is responsible for all contact with CSOs under the Foreign Donations Regulation Rules, 1978.
Barriers to Assembly
The Constitution of Bangladesh guarantees the freedom of assembly, but excludes non-citizens. In Article 37, the Constitution states: “Every citizen shall have the right to assemble and to participate in public meetings and processions peacefully and without arms, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interests of public order or public health (italics added for emphasis).” Since December 27, 2014, however, amid calls by opposition parties for mass protests to demand new parliamentary elections, all peaceful protests and rallies by opposition leaders were banned in Gazipur District. In Dhaka, Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898, was imposed to officially ban all forms of public meetings.
Organizers must secure prior permission from the local police authority to hold an assembly. For example, in 2013, the Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) issued a circular stating that organizers of any assembly, meeting or public gathering in open public places, such as streets, must submit an application to the Police Commissioner 7 days before an assembly. The Office of the Police Commissioner usually responds to the applicant within 5 days regarding whether permission is given or denied. Permission is likely to be denied where organizers seek to express views against the state or any religion. If permission is denied, that decision, for practical purposes, is final (although in theory one can file a case at the High Court Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh against a denial of permission). Since 2012, police have been reportedly refusing permission to hold assemblies.
Time, Place, Manner Restrictions
In practice, Bangladeshi authorities have imposed time, place and manner restrictions on assemblies.
For example, on May 19, 2013, the Home Minister Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir declared a prohibition on all kinds of political meetings and programs across the country for one month in the interest of ‘maintaining law and order.’
Local administrative authorities in Dinajpur prevented a protest gathering on November 23, 2012 by relying on Section 144 of the Criminal Penal Code, which prohibits meeting in that area from 12.00 pm to 12.00 am.
The police have reportedly stated that permission for meetings and political activities will not be granted in certain places. For example, the main opposition party, the BNP, was refused permission to hold meetings in front of its party office on May 12 and 16, 2013.
The government has also imposed a prohibition on ‘human chain’ protests.
The Government often restricts assemblies with political objectives. The law enforcement agencies favor the ruling party and sometimes take part in the attack on protests involving the opposition. For example, on January 10, 2013, police stopped a peaceful hunger-strike by protesting school teachers in Dhaka and scattered the protesting teachers by using pepper spray and tear gas shells. Over 100 teachers were injured during this incident.
Responsibility of Organizers
Assembly organizers are liable for any misconduct, violence or damages that occur during the assembly. Any violation of such an obligation results in legal action against the organizers.
The Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) Ordinance, 1976, Section 29 imposes criminal sanctions against the organizers and participants of assemblies and processions that violate the laws relating to assemblies: “Whoever contravenes any order made under section 29 shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three months, or with fine which may extend to five hundred taka, or with both.”
In practice, government authorities target assemblies protesting any state action. Law enforcement agencies may erect barriers and stop such meetings and processions by attacking participants with batons or firing tear gas shells in the name of ‘public safety’. In addition, police and the ruling party activists often prevent the assemblies planned by opposition groups.
|UN Universal Periodic Review Reports||Universal Periodic Review: Bangladesh (2009)|
|Reports of UN Special Rapporteurs||Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders (2011)|
|U.S. State Department||2010 Human Rights Report: Bangladesh|
|Fragile States Index Reports||Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index|
|IMF Country Reports||Bangladesh and the IMF|
|International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Online Library||Bangladesh|
While we aim to maintain information that is as current as possible, we realize that situations can rapidly change. If you are aware of any additional information or inaccuracies on this page, please keep us informed; write to ICNL at email@example.com.
Money bills act sent to committee for review (May 2016)
Parliament has mandated the standing committee on finance to review the Money Bills Amendment Procedure and Related Matters Act, which has been found to be too onerous to implement. MPs have complained about Parliament being reduced to a rubber stamp for Treasury proposals, including the budget, not simply because of the sheer volume that it puts forward but also because of procedural limitations. Civil society has also complained about the lack of time to make inputs into the budget, which has meant that submissions made during public hearings by the committee are noted but do not lead to any adjustments.
Violent groups aggravate government crackdowns on civil society (April 2016)
Academics, donors, journalists and political leaders are paying greater attention to intensifying governmental efforts to crack down on civil society organizations (CSOs) and constrain the space in which they operate. Freedom House, for example, has documented efforts to undermine political and civil liberties in a growing number of countries, causing a worldwide decline in freedom for the last ten years. Violent extremists in Bangladesh have been responsible for a spate of attacks against outspoken critics and bloggers. In January 2013, Asif Mohiuddin, a self-described "militant atheist" blogger, was stabbed near his office in Dhaka. Mohiuddin, a winner of a prominent award for online activism, was on an Islamist hit list because of his opposition to religious extremism. In another harrowing case in February of 2014, bio-engineer Dr. Avijit Roy and his wife Bonya Ahmed were attacked in Dhaka by machete-wielding assailants. Roy was a founder of the influential Bangladeshi blog Mukto-Mona ("Freethinkers") and a champion of liberal values and secularism.
New proposed legislation to stifle the voice of rights defenders (June 2015)
FIDH, OMCT, and Odhikar urge authorities in Bangladesh to reject the proposed Cyber Security Act 2015 and the Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act 2014, as they both violate international human rights standards on freedom of expression and association.
Political violence appalls Bangladesh, scores dead in arson attacks (February 2015)
Anxieties spread Bangladesh over the unabated political violence which has left scores of people dead, mostly in arson attacks, and hundreds injured since January 2015. The fresh wave of violence broke out on January 5, 2015, after former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia's 20-party opposition alliance had called for countrywide nonstop blockade since January 6 and asked its supporters to take to the street for a new election under a non-party caretaker government system. Both sides are now blaming each other for the violence.
Bangladesh police ban protests and lock opposition leader in office (January 2015)
Bangladesh police banned all protests in the capital and locked main opposition leader Khaleda Zia in her office in Dhaka as tension rose before the first anniversary of an election her party boycotted. "We imposed the ban as rival rallies by the political parties raised fears of clashes," Dhaka police spokesman Masudur Rahman told AFP. Police also stormed the home of the deputy leader Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, Somoy Television, who Zia had been attempting to visit. Officials said at least 400 of her party supporters were arrested, including two other senior party figures, ahead of the poll anniversary.
UK notes concern over civil society, press freedom (October 2014)
The United Kingdom has said new policies and legislation developed in Bangladesh have generated concerns about restrictions on civil society space and media freedom. In its case study update on Bangladesh, which forms part of the 2013 Human Rights, and Democracy Report, the UK said that proposed amendments to the Foreign Donations Act could limit the work of civil society if Bangladesh adds further procedural requirements to existing regulations governing NGOs in receipt of foreign donations. Also, the recently formulated National Broadcast Policy (2014) has generated concern over potential curbs on media freedom.
Bangladeshi security forces violently disperse workers on hunger strike (August 2014)
The Bangladeshi security forces violently dispersed a hunger strike by over 1,000 workers at the Tuba group of factories on August 6, 2014. This has been criticized by the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) as the latest in a long list of recent violations of the rights to freedom of assembly and of association by the Government of Bangladesh. The factory workers had been on hunger strike since July 28, 2014 against the non-payment of three months wages and overtime dues when security forces surrounded the factory and violently dispersed the assembly with the use of batons, water cannons, tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets. Several workers were injured and leaders of the strike were detained.
Law to regulate foreign funds passed (June 2014)
The Cabinet has approved a draft law to regulate receipt and utilisation of foreign funds by organisations in Bangladesh. The law prohibits political parties, Supreme Court judges, parliament members, government and semi-government employees and elected members of local councils from receiving funds from abroad. NGOs will be registered for a period of 10 years and that may be revoked anytime if the organisation violates regulations, said the Cabinet secretary. An individual will not need to register for receiving donations for PhD or research but they will need approval of the NGO Affairs Bureau.
Civil society members protest the abduction of Siddique (April 2014)
People from different spheres of the civil society have held a public meeting protesting the abduction of Abu Bakar Siddique, husband of prominent environmentalist Syeda Rizwana Hasan, in front of the National Press Club. While speaking at the meeting, they urged the government not to make only “vague” promises but act quickly to recover Siddique.They said any of the killers of Journalist couple Sagar and Runi were yet to be captured even after two years of the murder although the then state minister promised to capture the “criminals within 48 hours.”
Adilur’s bail plea rejected (October 2013)
A Dhaka Court rejected the bail prayer of Odhikar secretary Adilur Rahman Khan in connection with the alleged distortion of facts about the police raid on Hefazat’s May 5 rally in the capital. Dhaka Cyber Crime Court Judge AK Shamsul Alam passed the order after hearing the bail plea in presence of Adilur and his wife Saira Rahman Khan in the afternoon.
PM criticises civil society advocating non-party govt (September 2013)
The prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, came down heavily on some civil society actors, especially those who are advocating a non-party government to supervise the next general elections. Referring to various writings and criticism from different quarters about the election-time government, Hasina said that the quarters had always been out to install an unconstitutional government and had a strong desire to go to power. ‘There are some people who have failed to form political parties, have never won elections and do not have the courage to seek votes… This is why they have always wanted this type of government to get some benefits,’ she said as she gave her introductory speech at an exchange of views grass-roots leaders of seven districts of the party at her residence Ganabhaban.
Release Adilur Rahman Khan, Secretary of Odhikar and a member of OMCT General Assembly (August 2013)
On August 10, 2013, at 10.20 pm, Mr. Adilur Rahman Khan was arrested by men in plain clothes who said they were of the Detective Branch of Police (DB) as he was returning at his Gulshan residence in Dhaka with his family. The Dhaka Metropolitan Police subsequently confirmed the arrest to the media. "The World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) .... expresses its grave concern over the arbitrary detention since August 10, 2013 of Mr. Adilur Rahman KHAN, Secretary of the human rights non-governmental organisation Odhikar, OMCT network member in Bangladesh and, like us, a member of OMCT General Assembly. Mr. Khan is also an Executive Committee Member of Forum Asia and has been the Deputy Attorney General during the erstwhile four-party alliance government."
Human rights defender, Mr. Adilur Rahman Khan arbitrarily detained (August 2013)
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) obtained information that on August 10, 2013, officers from the Detective Branch (DB) of Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) took into custody Mr. Adilur Rahman Khan, one of the most respected human rights defenders in Bangladesh, from his residence in Dhaka. Adilur is the Secretary of Odhikar, a prominent human rights organization in the country, known for its critical assessments of human rights in performance and practice. It is suspected that the reason for the government to arrest Adilur is a report Odhikar published after its fact-finding mission concerning the May 5, 2013 violence in Bangladesh. In the report, Odhikar alleged, that 61 persons were killed in the violence.
Development experts convene in Dhaka to discuss post-MDG targets (January 2013)
Experts from developing countries talked about targets to set following completion of millennium development goals (MDGs) in 2015. There were 19 experts from South Asia, Latin America and Africa at the the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD)-hosted three-day meeting, that began on January 11.
FCRA proposal should be available to public for scrutiny (December 2012)
International NGOs are demanding that the proposed Foreign Contributions Regulations Act not restrict non-government organizations' development funds and be immediately made public for scrutiny. The proposed law's excessive focus on scrutiny and control of NGOs may foil the civil society's independence, said CIVICUS Advocacy Manager Mandeep S Tiwana. Other concerns are cumbersome approval process involving multiple clearances for foreign-funded projects, absence of an approval timeframe, lack of specific grounds for rejection, requirement for five-yearly registration renewal and power to take control of NGO assets, said Sayeed.
Let international NGOs help Rohingyas, says US official (November 2012)
A visiting top US official urged Dhaka to allow international NGOs to provide "humanitarian aid" to Rohingyas taking refuge in Bangladesh. US Under Secretary of State Maria Otero for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights however thanked Bangladesh for giving shelter to Rohingyas, a persecuted minority from western Myanmar. She said the "Rohingya issue is complicated" and that collective regional efforts were necessary to find a solution to it.
MPs strike back at Transparency International over report (November 2012)
Transparency International faced a rash of criticism from the Members of Parliament for its recent assessment report on their activities. In a burst of protests, they requested that the officials and Executive Director of the Berlin-based anti-corruption watchdog's Dhaka office be summoned during the ongoing session. The MPs also sought a ban on Transparency International-Bangladesh's operations. Speaker Abdul Hamid also joined the fusillade of criticism and doubted the report's authenticity during the unscheduled discussion. The report published on October 14 said that 97 percent of MPs were involved in 'negative activities' and that the MPs influence administration, control educational institutes, and fund and even back criminal activities.
Human rights defenders in Bangladesh are at constant risk (November 2012)
An interview with Adilur Rahman Khan on Bangladeshi CSO Odhikar.
Government preparing database on NGOs (October 2012)
The Ministry of Finance is preparing a database on the country’s NGOs as part of a government plan to streamline the activities of NGOs by a proposed commission. Already a number of ministries and divisions have sent the list of NGOs under their jurisdiction to the Ministry of Finance. The Ministry of Finance is preparing the database in addition to assessing the sources and utilization of funds by the NGOs. This data will be used by the proposed commission, which will be given the task to look into the allegations against NGOs involved in "anti-state activities" and to make suggestions to ensure transparency in the financial transactions by foreign-funded NGOs.
Bangladesh government working on policy for online news portals (September 2012)
The government is working to prepare a separate policy on online news portals, Information Secretary Hedayetullah Al Mamoon told journalists. However, different online media houses raised questions about the necessity of the policy. They said it would provide the government an opportunity to establish greater control over the media houses.
NGOs in Bangladesh will be subject to more delays and hurdles as a result of new Commission (September 2012)
The Bangladeshi government recently announced a commission to regulate nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), which adds burdensome procedures that will hinder important watchdog functions. Human Rights Watch (HRW) notes that NGOs operating in Bangladesh already face an overly cumbersome and intrusive regulatory process, including needing multiple approvals to register and to implement projects. Highlighting what the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL) describes as a process “complicated by delays and hurdles,” HRW says that NGOs in Bangladesh suffer from non-transparency in authorization of registration by the Home Ministry, the police, or the National Security Intelligence.
New Commission to investigate “anti-state” activities of NGOs (August 2012)
The government has initiated the process of creating a commission that will investigate the operations of NGOs allegedly “involved in terror financing and other anti-state activities.” “We are working on setting up a commission which will make recommendations as to how NGOs registered with different authorities could be held accountable in a coordinated manner. The commission will also frame a draft law to regulate their activities,” said the Secretary of Social Welfare, Ranjit Kumar Biswas.
NGO Affairs Bureau (NGOAB) drafts new law to regulate NGOs (August 2012)
The NGO Affairs Bureau drafted a new law that would allow its Director General to penalize a foreign funded NGO if it occurs to him or her that the NGO is engaged in activities which are illegal or harmful for the country. The punitive measures include cancellation of the NGO's registration, a bar on its activities for a certain period, imposition of a fine equaling two or three times the foreign donation to the NGO, and punitive measures against those responsible. The draft also requires that NGOs wishing to operate in the three Chittagong Hill Tracts districts obtain a “Non-Objection Certificate” from the Ministry of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs before applying for the bureau's clearance.
UNHCR urges Bangladesh to lift ban on NGOs (August 2012)
The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR Tuesday urged the Bangladesh government to lift a ban on three non-governmental organizations (NGOs) which were working in Bangladesh for Burmese Rohingya refugees.
Dhaka bans NGOs from helping Rohingya (July 2012)
Bangladesh has ordered three international charities to stop providing aid to Rohingya refugees crossing the border from Myanmar. Local administrator Joynul Bari said on Thursday that France's Doctors without Borders (MSF), Action Against Hunger (ACF) and Britain's Muslim Aid UK have been told to suspend their services in the Cox's Bazaar district bordering Myanmar. "The charities have been providing aid to tens of thousands of undocumented Rohingya refugees illegally. We asked them to stop all their projects in Cox's Bazaar following directive from the NGO Affairs Bureau," said Bari. In recent weeks, Bangladesh has turned away boats carrying hundreds of Rohingya fleeing the violence in Myanmar despite pressure from the United States and rights groups to grant them refuge.
Some NGOs carry out 'anti-state activities' (July 2012)
Some non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are exercising anti-state activities with foreign funds, the social welfare minister alleged yesterday. They are too clever and shrewd to be caught and held responsible, Enamul Hoque Mostafa Shahid said without disclosing any further details about those NGOs. The government is working to bring all the NGOs under one authority, the minister told reporters after attending a session of the deputy commissioners' conference at the cabinet division in the Secretariat. Enamul Hoque said the present government so far cancelled registration of around 5,000 NGOs in the wake of different irregularities including allegations of carrying out anti-state activities and not submitting audit reports regularly to the government. He said the government was planning to pass a bill of law in parliament incorporating rules for controlling the activities of the NGOs by bringing them under one umbrella, so that “they work in favour of the interest of the people and the country in a fair manner.”
NGOs under surveillance (June 2012)
NGOs working for the Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar district have come under government surveillance. There are indications that the government may take action against these NGOs. The tension has increased in the backdrop of new exodus of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar resulting from communal riots between members of the Muslim Rohinga and Buddhist Rakhaine communities. The government has identified seven “over-enthusiastic” NGOs in this respect. They are: MSF Holland, ACF, Muslim Aid, VERC, RTI, RIV and Save the Children. According to government sources, these NGOs are working there without any approval from the NGO Bureau for their projects. Some NGOs are working with assistance from the UNHCR, and the NGO Bureau has no scope to monitor them. Rohingya refugees entered Bangladesh in late 1991. Their official number at present is 25,035. According to unofficial claims, their number is about 400,000. Bangladeshi government representatives maintain that “repatriation [to Burma] is the best option for the refugees,” while UNHCR and other NGOs are opposed to forcing any refugees to repatriate to Burma. This may place the government and international organizations at odds. Read more. “Repatriation is the best option for the refugees.
Government likely to cancel registration of NGOs in three hill districts (May 2012)
The government is contemplating cancelling the registration of some national and international NGOs, who are said to be engaged in unauthorized activities, in the name of providing facilities to poor ethnic groups, in the three hill districts of Bandarban, Khagrachari and Rangamati for the past 40 years. The Chittagong Hill Tracts Ministry has blacklisted 10 NGOs, including Green Hill, the Khagrapur Mohila Kallayan Samiti, Tongya, Caritas and World Vision, for carrying out suspicious activities in the districts, according to sources in the Chittagong Hill Tracts Ministry.
Hillary Clinton’s remarks on civil society in Bangladesh (May 2012)
On May 5, Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered a speech at the Prime Minister’s office in Dhaka, saying that: "... the civil society of Bangladesh has been a model and an inspiration for people in countries everywhere. It has made Bangladesh a home for innovation that has not only positively impacted the people of this country, but literally tens of millions around the world. If Bangladesh is to continue on the path of progress, it will be essential to maintain an environment where civil society groups operate freely…” She also added that, “I am very clear in my hopes for the continuing action on the part of this government of civil society or political actors, because ultimately, it is up to the people of Bangladesh who are the beneficiaries of a healthy, functioning democracy. Violent demonstrations like the recent hartals during which five lives were tragically lost exact a heavy toll, especially on Bangladesh's poorest and most vulnerable citizens…”
NGOs' financial transactions to come under surveillance (April 2012)
The government has decided to examine the financial transactions of all non-government organisations (NGOs) operating in the country to unearth any kind of money laundering committed by micro-credit entities. The decision was taken last week at a meeting held at the Ministry of Finance (MoF) in response to the suggestion of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a global body engaged in combating money laundering and terror financing. FATF’s report on Bangladesh’s NGO sector detected potential cases of unethical activities and urged the government to implement measures to combat terror financing and money laundering to avert a downgrade from “grey” to “dark grey,” a level indicating government failure to address strategic financial deficiencies.
39 NGOs announce information disclosure policy (April 2012)
Thirty-nine non-government organizations (NGOs) announced that they have voluntarily submitted information on their disclosure policies in line with the Right to Information (RTI) Act in order to make more information available to the public. Among these NGOs which monitor service delivery of the government agencies at local level across the country, 30 have already given approval to the information in their disclosure policies.
Anti-Terrorism Act, 2009 (Amendment) Bill 2012 passed in the Parliament (March 2012)
The Parliament passed the Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Bill, 2012 on February 16, 2012, which includes a provision for capital punishment as a maximum punishment. The Home Minister, Shahara Khatun, said the Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Bill had been drafted to prevent various criminal activities and to safeguard the sovereignty of Bangladesh. The Bill makes the Anti-Terrorism Act 2009 even more vulnerable to the worst kinds of abuses. The widening of the scope of crimes punishable by death, now including financing terrorist activities, carries a tremendous risk of irreversible miscarriage of justice. The Bill was passed with virtually no consultation with, and despite strong opposition from, Bangladeshi civil society groups.
NGOs’ socio-economic impact in Bangladesh (February 2012)
Bangladesh has made striking progress on a range of social indicators over the last 15 years, an achievement widely credited to the country's pluralist service provision regime. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have significantly expanded their services during this period and have shown that it is possible to scale up innovative anti-poverty experiments into nationwide programs. Notable innovations that were expanded include delivering credit to the previously "unbankable" poor, developing a non-formal education program to cater to poor children, particularly girls, and using thousands of village-based community health workers to provide doorstep services. The fact that poor women constitute a large proportion of NGO beneficiaries, despite the persistence of strong patriarchal norms, also testifies to the institutionalization of a large segment of NGO beneficiaries.
WB appoints NGO to monitor its projects (February 2012)
The World Bank (WB), for the first time, has engaged an independent organization to monitor the projects it financially supports in Bangladesh aiming at bringing transparency and involving people with development. The Washington-based lender launched the third party monitoring approaches Wednesday in the city as it has appointed Manusher Jonno Foundation, a local non-governmental organization (NGO), to oversee the schemes financed by WB.
EU pleads for strengthening human rights in Bangladesh (February 2012)
EU Ambassador William Hanna has stressed the strengthening of human rights in the country, saying that human rights are at the heart of the European Cooperation Agreement with Bangladesh. "There are some progresses in human rights in some areas, but I think there is lot to be done and there is a long way to go," he told UNB Monday on the eve of holding a seminar here on 'Human Rights and Decent Work' by European Union and Bangladesh Civil Society.
The foregoing information was prepared by ICNL's local partner in Bangladesh, Mohiuddin Ahmad.