Bangladesh returned to democracy following the fall of an autocratic regime through a popular upsurge in 1990. Since then, three credible elections were held successfully. However the growth of constitutional liberties still faces some challenges.
Democracy or free and fair elections alone are not enough to protect the rights of the disadvantaged and vulnerable groups. Unfortunately, continued occurrences of election violence, arbitrary arrests, custodial death, and torture by state and non-state actors hamper the enjoyment of civil and political rights, often with ominous consequences. The need for an independent and objective human rights organisation in safeguarding basic human rights, particularly civil and political rights of the people of Bangladesh is strongly felt.
In 1994, a group of human rights activists initiated discussions and underscored the need to uphold the civil and political rights of the people of Bangladesh along with social, cultural and economic rights. Eventually, a decision was arrived at to form an organisation in order to advance such rights. On October 10, 1994, Odhikar (a Bangla word that means ‘rights’) came into being with the aim to create a wider monitoring and awareness raising system on the abuse of civil and political rights. The principal objectives of the organisation are to raise the awareness of human rights and its various abuses, on the one hand and to create a vibrant democratic system through election monitoring on the other. The organisation also performs policy advocacy to address the current human rights situation. Odhikar has no field or branch offices. Instead, it has trained more than 500 people all over the country to be human rights defenders, who are relied upon for information outside Dhaka. These activities help contribute to eventual positive steps towards the creation of transparency and accountability in the responsible sectors of the government with an aim to improve its human rights record and to facilitate an active democracy with the participation of people from all sections of society.
In Bangladesh, women, children, religious and ethnic minorities are among the groups that are most vulnerable to human rights abuses. Furthermore, poor people’s inability to access the justice system is blatantly obvious. Keeping this in mind, the organisation’s fact-finding missions in rural Bangladesh also play a role in awareness raising among the vulnerable groups. Odhikar always emphasises the active participation of the grassroots community. It realises that empowerment is the precondition to establish human rights, which is based on a recognition and faith in people’s own power and resources. With this in mind, Odhikar is working with the vision of “society where full enjoyment of human rights by every human being will be ensured”.
Odhikar has been able to established itself as one of the leading human rights organisations of the country. It has developed a strong network of partners and human rights defenders not only all over Bangladesh, but also in the region.
Information from the Odhikar website can be used freely provided that the source is acknowledged and Humanist Society is informed.