Human Rights and Political Situation in Bangladesh

Human Rights and Political Situation in Bangladesh


Rosaline Costa
9 May 2008


Congressional Hearing – A Public Hearing

Bangladesh is a parliamentary democracy of 150 million citizens. The last democratically elected government was led by Khaleda Zia, head of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) in coalition with Jamaat-e-Islami, Islami Okkiyo Jote and a fraction of Jatiya Party. Their tenure ended in October 2006, transferring the power to a caretaker government led by the president Dr. Iajuddin Ahmed who was also made the Chief Advisor of the Caretaker Government (CTG) that would prepare for general elections scheduled for January 22, 2007. On January 11, in the wake of political unrest for demand of accuracy of the voter registration, President Iajuddin Ahmed, resigned from the position of ‘chief advisor’ of the CTG and declared a state of emergency and postponed the elections. Backed by military, President Ahmed appointed a new caretaker government led by Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed, the former Bangladesh Bank governor. In July Ahmed announced that elections would be held by the end of 2008, after the implementation of electoral and political reforms. While civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces, these forces frequently acted independently of government authority, especially the Army.

-Christians and Adivasi (tribals) losing lands in Dinajpur, Rajshahi, Srimongol, Tangail/Madhupur, Chittagong three Hill Districts, Sylhet, etc.
-Two Christians killed end of last year for land (Satkhira on 20 December and Jatindra in August 2007).
-Christian and Hindu girls kidnapped and married to Muslims
-Lands of the minority Buddhists, Christians and Hindus are being taken away by the government, army, police and vested quarters. On 20 April 2008 120 Buddhists houses were burned down in Mahalchari leaving them completely helpless.
-Bangladeshi military forcing Muslim settlers to occupy indigenous lands in CHT
– Hindus’ and Christians’ lands documents under the Vested Property Act and till date the vested groups in collaboration with the local land revenue authorities, continue to making false document and lease or sell to their vested party/parties. VPA should not apply after 1974.
-The ongoing seizure of minority-owned land especially of the Hindu, Buddhist, Adivasis and Christians;
-Rape of young women of other faiths, kidnapping and forced conversion by marriage with Muslims is often taking place.

Political situation

Since the army backed government took up power in January 11, 2007 headed by Dr. Fakruddin he promised to create an environment to conduct a free, fair election and handover power to the elected government by the end of Dec. 2008. The army backed CTG (Caretaker Government) took several steps to control the very disturbing political situation. Some of the very drastic actions were as follows:

1. Corruption and Islamic Militancy:
a) Emergency was imposed from the very first day banning all political activities, trade union activities and even stopped giving any registration to form trade unios at the garments sector;
b) Arrested the leaders of the two big parties including the two ex-prime ministers of two major parties Sheikh Hasina, the president of Awami League and Begum Khaleda Zia, the president of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). More than hundred political leaders are behind the bar and many of them were already charges sheeted and even verdict announced by the court;
c) “First arrest and then file bring charges against the arrestees is the policy now followed by the present government. Whereas, after receiving any complaint, the accused is to be arrested. They began from the opposite direction;
d) No bail is granted which is a fundamental and constitutional right of every citizen. Most cases are under the emergency rule. Despite the separation of the Judiciary, we observe that the government still try to influence the Supreme Court for political purpose specially for curbing the fundamental right to get bail (Rule passed by Supreme Court on April 23, 2008). This is done under the emergency rule but then a legislation has been passed in this regard
e) “Minus two” theory is still continued by the army-backed CT Government and two women ex-prime ministers are kept behind the bar even refusing them bail from the High Court and Supreme Court.
f) Islamist radicalism and violence that often targets non-governmental organizations (NGOs), women, and the judiciary but remains untouched by the law and government;
g) The anti-minority, particularly anti-Hindu, violence that occurred following the last general election in 2001 and the failure to investigate and hold perpetrators accountable for that violence and other instances of violence against members of religious minorities;
h) Discrimination against members of religious minority communities in their access to government services and public employment, including in the judiciary and other high-level government positions;
i) Breaking the emergency rule Islamist groups has risen in political prominence and public visibility in several occasions without any prevention from the law-enforcers or CGT. In September 2007, Jamaat-e-Islami and other Islamist groups and supporter violated emergency rules and burned effigies and staged widespread public protests against the publication of a newspaper cartoon they believed mocked an element of Bangladeshi Islamic culture. They demanded that the esteemed newspaper Prothom Alo be closed, firing the deputy editor and the cartoonist, Arifur Rahman. The cartoonist was jailed without charge until his release in March 2008, following a global campaign by human rights and legal activists. The deputy editor had to ask for apology before the nation via all electronic medias for hurting the Mullahs and Muslims of Bangladesh.
j) In March 2008, again the same Islamic groups and their supporters were allowed to have protests against a policy proposed by a consortium of women’s organizations to strengthen the constitutional provision for the equal rights of women called “National Women Development Policy-2008”. Use of national m0osque for political purposes, including based for violence.
k) The two major political parties Awami League (AL) and Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) are both led by women. Both the women have served as Prime Minister. Yet religious extremism, mostly among Muslims, victimizes Bangladeshi women of all faiths. Some Muslim clerics and leaders of the community, especially in rural areas, have inflicted fatwa, vigilante punishments against women for alleged immoral acts. Rape, threat for eviction and killing are common form of anti-minority violence. The government commonly generally fails to protect the minorities and punish the perpetrators especially at the local level, the Islamic militants and fundamentalists groups and their supporters are vulnerable to corruption, intimidation, and political interference.
l) Insecurity of the minority Ahmadiyya religious community and intolerant violent attackers. At the same time very minimal protection of the police to this community.
m) Attacks on journalists, writers, progressive people, NGOs and NGO activists for secular democratic activities are unprevented by the government.
n) The Islamist groups and their supporter are demanding and are adamant to promote Islamic Sharia law and its values in the country by ignoring the constitution and existing laws.
o) Politically- motivated bombings, assassinations, and other terrorist acts, often ascribed to Islamist militants, have created panic and increased the vulnerability in the country since 2001. In August 2004 and January 2005, attacks by these Islamic militant groups resulted in the deaths of prominent opposition political figures. In February 2005, the government banned two Islamic terrorist/militant groups implicated in a series of bomb attacks on NGOs. They tried to create panic and give message to the secular forces in the country that they do not believe in man-made laws and want to establish Sharia Law in the country. So they had bomb attacks, numbering 527 in all over the country except in one disctric out of 64 on 17 August 2005.
p) Militants were also implicated in a series of bomb attacks on Bangladesh’s judiciary in October-November 2005. Among the victims was one of the country’s few judges from a religious minority community, a Hindu and a Muslim judge. Their main deand was that they do not believe in country law but Sharia law. Actually “Bangladesh is a Peoples’ Republic” and not “Islamic Republic.”
q) The then-government of Prime Minister Khaleda Zia responded with a campaign of arrests of militants suspected of involvement in the bombings and in other violent incidents. As a result of arrests made during this campaign, more than 30 suspected militants were detained and later sentenced to death. Six were executed in early 2007 for their involvement in bombings that took place in 2005.
r) It was never resolved the case of the biggest shipment of illegal arms in the Chittagong Port.
s) There had occurred hundred of bombings and killing by the Islamic militants and Jamaat but the government showed very tolerant behavior towards them.

• RAB (Rapid Action Battalion) continue killing (though the number has reduced drastically) during last one year. At the same time the Joint Forces continue creating panic in different parts of the country especially in the deep rural areas and the people come to know f\through the press.
• Despite of having heavy control over the press and journalists, harassment and hard time in personal and social life, the press is still taking the most risk to publish things/news for peoples’ awareness on the atrocities and harassment of police, army, RAB and other law enforcing angencies.
• On March 20, 2007 an indigenous Garo activist, Choilesh Ritchil, died in army custody in Madhupur. Plainclothes army soldiers had detained Ritchil and a relative, Prothap Jambila, while they were returning home from a wedding. Soldiers took them to a temporary army camp in Madhupur where they stripped, beat, and burned them with electric shocks during an interrogation about secret weapons caches. Ritchil died in custody, but the army eventually released Prothap. Photographs of Ritchil’s body taken before his burial, and the statements of witnesses contradicted the initial autopsy report that he died of natural causes. Members of the army said Ritchil died of heart failure while fleeing arrest. The Madhupur police refused to accept a case filed against the army by Ritchil’s family; at first claiming they could not accept cases against the army and later stating that they could not accept the case because they had already filed an unnatural death case. In May, 2007 Chief Advisor Fakhruddin Ahmed appointed a one-member Judicial Investigation Commission to undertake an independent investigation. The findings were not disclosed to the public. The government stated, however, that four army personnel received punishments, including dismissal from service and denial of promotion. Amnesty International repeatedly requested the report of the one-member investigation but with no response.
• On May 20, 2007 members of the RAB-5 in Rajshahi beat Mohammad Kamran Islam Mojnu to death in Rajshahi. Witnesses claimed that RAB officers beat Mojnu while investigating an extortion and kidnapping case. The RAB initially claimed that Mojnu died of heart failure, but after an investigation, a magistrate announced Mojnu had been beaten to death. The government later claimed that Mojnu died from beating by angry crowd. RAB officers ordered authorities and journalists not to discuss the case any further. The RAB removed all seven officers from RAB service and returned them to their respective home units.
• No follow-up or any result of investogation on the killing of Imam Ali by RAB in March 2006 in Dhaka, the September 2006 killings of Abdul Hawladar and Mohammad Shamin in Khulna by RAB members; the 2005 killing of Abdul Kalam Azad; the February 2005 death in custody of Delawar Hossain; or the July 2005 extrajudicial killing of Khandker Iqbal Hossain by the detective branch (DB) of Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP).
• NGOs having hard time by the present government especially the secular and non-communal NGOs are the targets of the Islamic groups. In some case the government failed in giving protection to the NGO activists such as UTTARAN, Proshika, PRIP Trust, etc.
• The workers at the Garments sector raised the question of raining the salary considering the high price of daily commodities but up to now no decision has been taken to consider their hard life.
• Islamic fundamentalists/militants increased their strength and manpower by taking the advantage of the present government. They have increased their power economically, property, position in the government, etc. and now the government is bowing their head to their atrocities because they do things in the name of Islam and Koran.

We want to have our nation to develop in economy, law, democracy, and human rights and in justice system. We need to have an elected government but the way the present CTG is moving towards the election process, it cannot be hoped that there will be a free, fair and acceptable election where democracy will be established and we will get a corruption free country. The precondition for a free and fair election, we demanded to have a complete voter list and the CTG began the process to give national ID card for all eligible voters. But after 16 months also we did not have 50 percent voter list completed in the country. In many places not even the process has yet been started to make the voter list. The army is the main driving force in preparing this list.

As I had expressed my fear last year that many of the minorities including the adivasis would be excluded from the voter list, we see the reality now that in many minority areas, did not even started the process.

The non-citizens included in the list are: Biharis and Rohingyas

Emergency should be withdrawn enough ahead of time before the election in order to have enough time for the political parties to prepare the people for election. People of Bangladesh will not accept any decision of the CTG or army imposed on them. By now people are already tired of the army backed CTG and the continuous increase of the daily commodities.

Corruption, atrocities, women exploitation and violations, minority oppression, etc. had not reduced at all but in some instances they have increased. Only think is that people cannot protest these entire situations.

We need support to establish a read democracy in our country and to protect human rights for all.

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