Bangladesh: New human rights monitoring report

Odhikar, a Bangladeshi human rights organization, has released its six-month Human Rights Monitoring Report (January – June 2014). The report covers a number of human rights abuses committed by the Bangladeshi Government, including disappearances, extrajudicial killings, torture, restrictions on civil society, and violence against minority groups. Odhikar urges the Bangladeshi Government to end these crimes and bring the perpetrators to justice. The organization also calls for legislative and political reform to protect the rights of citizens.

Bangladesh, formerly East Pakistan, gained its independence in 1971. After 15 years of military rule, the two main political parties, the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), have dominated politics since 1990. Political tensions have erupted into violence on more than one occasion, and basic civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights of Bangladeshi citizens have not been unequivocally protected. The most recent parliamentary election, held in January this year, led to increased tensions and was boycotted by the BNP, the major opposition party to the incumbent Awami League. Odhikar states, “The movement to establish the rights and dignity of every individual is part of the struggle to constitute Bangladesh as a democratic, political community.” The demonstrations by political opponents to boycott the elections were met with a harsh government crackdown, in which law enforcement agencies carried out enforced disappearances and other human rights violations.

via Bing public images

Map of Bangladesh (via Bing public images)

According to Odhikar’s report, 28 people have been disappeared in the first half of 2014. Groups claiming to represent law enforcement conducted these disappearances “across the country before and after the controversial elections on January 5, 2014” (p. 10). Specifically, these disappearances have been linked to the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), an elite anti-terrorism unit of the Bangladesh Police Force. While in custody of law enforcement agents, victims are also subjected to torture and inhumane, degrading treatment. These practices prevail despite the government’s ratification of the United Nations Convention Against Torture and a new law, the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Bill, passed in Parliament in 2013. Odhikar links the impunity for disappearances with political abuse of law enforcement agencies by the government. Many of the 28 disappearance victims were politically motivated, according to the report.

These disappearances occurred in a context of greater political violence due largely due to internal conflict within both the Awami League and the BNP. As a result, 132 people were killed and 5,224 injured because of political clashes (p. 12). The Upazila Parishad Elections (local district elections), held in 6 stages between February and May, were also subject to rigging, fake votes, and other voting irregularities. Odhikar stresses that the evidence of illegal activities and violence during both the Parliamentary and Upazila Elections demonstrates that “Bangladesh still needs a neutral interim government to hold free, fair, inclusive and credible polls. The people of the country are still not able to freely practice this basic component of democracy without this system” (p. 20).

The violence recorded during the election periods has also targeted religious minorities. Odhikar “condemns this practice of attacking socially, economically and politically vulnerable groups belonging to Hindu, Christian or other religious and cultural minority communities by local thugs and power elites, during every pre and post election period” (p. 23). Women are another population that is vulnerable to violence and discrimination. Rape, dowry related violence, acid attacks, and sexual harassment have been reported in the first half of this year. Odhikar attributes these crimes to “lack of implementation of laws; failure of the judiciary; lack of victim and witness protection; corruption and criminalization of the members of law enforcement agencies; economic instability; and weak administration” (p. 37). Due to the lack of justice for these vulnerable populations, the pattern of political, religious, and social violence in Bangladesh continues.

The issue of disappearance in Bangladesh is part of a larger context of human rights abuses occurring throughout the country. The Bangladeshi Government has an obligation to its citizens to protect their civil rights and to end the corruption and violence that permeate its security forces. Odhikar urges the government to help victims seek justice by holding perpetrators accountable and making legislative changes to protect vulnerable populations. To read more about human rights abuses in Bangladesh, including specific cases of disappearances, suppression of civil society, laborers’ rights, and extrajudicial killings, read the full report here.