Human rights in Bangladesh

This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of

As Md Shariful Islam writes, "The constitution of Bangladesh guarantees all the major internationally recognized human rights and assures good governance, incorporated in its fundamental principles of state policy and fundamental rights . However, the same constitution negates these rights through adoption of numerous antidemocratic stipulations."[1] In 2005, Bangladesh experienced an unprecedented period of continuous political instability. On 17 August 2005, four hundred bombs exploded in sixty-four districts of the nation.[2] As a result of this instability and its national security repercussions, Bangladesh's questionable human rights has deteriorated.

Bangladeshi security forces have been persistently criticised by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch due to grave abuses of human rights. These include extrajudicial summary executions, excessive use of force and the use of custodial torture.[3] Reporters and defenders of human rights are harassed and intimidated by the authorities. Since 2003, legislative barriers to prosecution and transparency have afforded security services immunity from accountability to the general public.[4] Hindu and Ahmadi Muslim minorities human rights are in a compromised state, and corruption is still a major problem, such that Transparency International has listed Bangladesh as the most corrupt country in the world for five consecutive years from 2001 to 2005.[5]


RAB (Rapid Action Battalion) and other security agencies have been accused of using torture during custody and interrogation. One allegation of such came from a young man who was arrested in Dhaka for protesting against the assault of an old man by plainclothes RAB agents. He was later severely tortured.[6] On 27 July 2005, two brothers from Rajshahi, Azizur Rahman Shohel and Atiquer Rahman Jewel, were arrested on fabricated charges, beaten with batons and subjected to electric shocks.[7] It is alleged that this brutality stemmed from the brothers' family being incapable of paying a sufficient bribe. The brothers were tortured to such an extent that they were hospitalised at the Rajshahi Medical School Hospital under police custody.[8] The most thorough account of torture in Bangladesh was the May 2007 case of torture against Tasneem Khalil, a journalist and blogger. He was tortured while in the custody of Directorate General of Forces Intelligence during the interim government, and after his release, Khalil wrote a report published by Human Rights Watch.[9] Sweden granted Khalil asylum after he fled Bangladesh.[10]

Persecution of minority communities

Although Bangladesh is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a covenant designed to ensure freedom of religion and of expression. In January 2004, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party government succumbed to an ultimatum from their coalition partner, the Islami Oikya Jote, and the extremist vigilante Khatme Nabuwat Movement to declare that Ahmadi Muslims are "not" Muslims.[7] Not wishing to lose its majority, Ahmadiyya publications were declared illegal by the government. A constitutional court suspended the ban, but Islamist groups are threatening legal challenge to this.

Attacks on the homes and places of worship of Ahmadiyya are still prevalent, but the government has chosen neither to prosecute those responsible, nor discipline police officers who failed to protect victims. Other religious minorities have come under attack, with abductions, desecration of religious sites, and forced conversions persistently reported.[11] There have been many reports of Hindus having been evicted from their properties, and of Hindu girls being raped,[12] but the police have refused to investigate, to this point. Due to this climate of religious persecution, several hundred thousand Buddhists, Hindus and Christians have left the country.[13]

Attack against Hindus

See Persecution of Hindus in Bangladesh

Attacks on Hindu minorities have been the work of extremists supported by the Jamaat and Bangladesh National Party (BNP). After the Judge's decision to give the death sentence to Delwar Hossain was released, the Jamaat and BNP burst into riots against governments, as well as attacking minorities and local police. The attacks destroyed thousands of Hindu houses and temples. These attacks have been heavily criticized by the United States Government, as well as India and other peace-demanding nations and organizations.[14]

Attacks against atheists

Women's rights

The United Nations country team in Bangladesh has identified "marital instability" as a key cause of poverty and "ultra and extreme" poverty among female-headed households. The Bangladesh Planning Commission has said that women are more susceptible to becoming poor after losing a male earning family member due to abandonment or divorce.[15] Women in Bangladesh are especially prone to a form of domestic violence known as acid throwing, in which concentrated acid is thrown onto an individual (usually at the face) with the aims of extreme disfiguration and social isolation. In Bangladesh, women are discriminately targeted: according to one study, from 1999–2009, 68% of acid attack survivors were women/girls.[16]

In 2010, a law against domestic violence was introduced, which defines causing "economic loss" as an act of domestic violence and recognises the right to live in the marital home. The law also empowers courts to provide temporary maintenance to survivors of domestic violence. In 2012, the Law Commission of Bangladesh, supported by the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, completed nationwide research into reforms for Muslim, Hindu, and Christian personal laws. In May 2012, the cabinet approved a bill for optional registration of Hindu marriages. The Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs is also considering reforms to civil court procedures—especially on issuance of summons that will improve family court efficiency.[17]

Freedom of religion

Although initially Bangladesh opted for a secular nationalist ideology as embodied in its Constitution, the principle of secularism was subsequently replaced by a commitment to the Islamic way of life through a series of constitutional amendments and government proclamations between 1977 and 1988. The Constitution establishes Islam as the state religion but provides for the right to practice—subject to law, public order, and morality—the religion of one's choice.[18] The Government generally respects this provision in practice.

Intimidation of human rights defenders, journalists, and the opposition

Voices of opposition are ever more at risk in Bangladesh, as groups who document or speak out against the actions of the government have found themselves increasingly threatened and under attack. On 27 January 2005, Shah Abu Mohamed Shamsul Kibria, former Finance Minister and senior member of the secular Bangladesh Awami League, was assassinated.[19] This followed a 2004 attempt to assassinate the leader of the Awami League, Sheikh Hasina, with grenades. She survived, but twenty-three members of her party were killed.[20] Other Awami League members, junior and senior alike, have reported harassment and intimidation.

Human rights organisations also operate under the threat of assault from the authorities and government supporters.[21] On 8 August 2005, a group of Bangladesh Nationalist Party members attacked two human rights activists, who had been investigating torture against an Ahmadi.[7] Journalists face the same fate: for three years, the organisation Reporters sans Frontières, has named Bangladesh the country with the largest number of journalists physically attacked or threatened with death. The government has no intention of protecting journalists, whereas Islamist groups continue to intensify their intimidation of the independent news media.[22]

Bangladeshi journalist, Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, the editor of the Bangladeshi tabloid Weekly Blitz,[23][24] was imprisoned after writing articles warning about the rise of Islamic radicals, and urging Bangladesh to recognise Israel. Choudhury is facing charges of sedition, treason, blasphemy and espionage since January 2004 for having tried to attend a conference of the Hebrew Writers' Association in Tel Aviv. He violated the Passport Act by attempting to travel to Israel in November 2003. The Act forbids citizens from visiting countries with which Bangladesh does not maintain diplomatic relations. He was beaten and interrogated for 10 days in an attempt to extract a confession that he was spying for Israel. He spent the next 17 months in solitary confinement, and was denied medical treatment for his glaucoma. On intervention of US Congressman Mark Kirk, who spoke to Bangladesh's ambassador to the US, Choudhury was released on bail, though the charges were not dropped.[25] In 2007, House Resolution 64 passed the United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs[26] calling on the government of Bangladesh to drop all charges against Choudhury.

Forced disappearance

Since 2010, under the Awami League regime, at least 205 people – most of whom are opposition leaders and activists – have been enforcedly disappeared in Bangladesh by the state security forces.[27][28] According to the report of a domestic human rights organization, 82 people were enforcedly disappeared from January to September 2014.[29] After the disappearances, a few of the victims were found dead while others remained missing. On 25 June 2010, an opposition leader Chowdhury Alam was arrested by the state police and remained missing since then.[30] His abduction was later denied by the law enforcing agencies.[31] On 17 April 2012, another prominent leader, Ilyas Ali, of the main opposition party Bangladesh Nationalist Party was enforcedly disappeared by the unknown armed personnel. The incident got much media coverage. Before the controversial national election of 2014, at least 19 opposition men were picked up by security forces.[32] The incidents of enforced disappearances were condemned by both domestic and international human rights organizations. Despite the demands for the govt. initiatives to probe such disappearances, investigations into such cases were absent.[32][33][34]

AIDS in Bangladesh

With less than 0.1 percent of the population estimated to be HIV-positive, Bangladesh is a low HIV-prevalence country.[35] Whilst this rise of AIDS is not confined to Bangladesh in particular, the government is doing very little to prevent the spread of AIDS.

Politically vulnerable groups at risk of HIV infection, such as sex workers and men who have sex with men, have not been educated about the risk of AIDS, nor protected by the authorities, and they have found themselves regularly assaulted, abducted, raped, gang raped, and subjected to extortion by the police and by powerful criminals.[36] Organizations have been established to stem the development of AIDS through education, but such projects have not been successful due to cases of police brutality directed at members working on such projects.[37]

See also

Notes and references

  1. Md. Shariful Islam, Human Rights and Governance: Bangladesh (Hong Kong: Asian Legal Resource Center, 2013): 17. See, for a PDF version of the book,
  2. "Bangladesh 'militant' sentenced". BBC News. 16 January 2006.
  3. "Report 2004 - Bangladesh". Refworld. Amnesty International. 26 May 2004.
  4. "Amnesty International".
  5. Rahman, Waliur. "Bangladesh tops most corrupt list". British Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 23 July 2015.
  6. "Torture In Bangladesh 1971-2004" (PDF). REDRESS.
  7. 1 2 3 "World Report 2006" (PDF). Human Rights Watch.
  8. BANGLADESH: Brutal torture of two young men by the Boalia police in Rajsahi.
  9. Human Rights Watch (February 2008). The Torture of Tasneem Khalil: How the Bangladesh Military Abuses Its Power under the State of Emergency. 20 (Volume 20, No. 1(C) ed.). New York: Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 8 April 2013.
  10. Öhlén, Mats (12 September 2010). "Bangladesh – Sweden – The World". Stockholm News. Retrieved 23 October 2013.
  11. "Bangladesh: Events of 2005". Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 30 November 2015.
  12. "Bangladesh: Attacks on members of the Hindu minority" (PDF). Amnesty International.
  13. Attacks on Hindu Minorities in Bangladesh.
  14. Ethirajan, Anbarasan (9 March 2013). "Bangladesh minorities 'terrorised' after mob violence". BBC News(London). Retrieved 17 March 2013
  15. "Women's Rights in Bangladesh" (PDF). Online Women in Politics. 2002. Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 December 2011. Retrieved 22 December 2012.
  16. Avon Foundation for Women. Combating Acid Violence in Bangladesh, India, and Cambodia: A Report by the Avon Global Center for Women and Justice at Cornell Law School, The Committee on International Human Rights of the New York City Bar Association, the Cornell Law School International Human Rights Clinic, and the Virtue Foundation. (2011): 1–64.
  17. "Will I Get My Dues ... Before I Die?". Human rights watch. Retrieved 22 December 2012.
  18. "The Constitution of the People's Republic of Bangladesh: Article 2A: The state religion". Legislative and Parliamentary Affairs Division, Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs.
  19. "SAMS Kibria's first death anniversary today". The Daily Star. 27 January 2006.
  20. Shaon, Ashif Islam; Tipu, Md Sanaul Islam (21 August 2014). "Hasina escaped 4 assassination attempts in 25 years". Dhaka Tribune. Retrieved 30 November 2015.
  21. "Bangladesh: Human rights defenders under attack" (PDF). Amnesty International.
  22. Reporters sans frontières – Bangladesh – Annual report 2005. Reports Without Borders.
  23. "About us". Weekly Blitz. 15 February 2012. Archived from the original on 16 February 2012.
  24. "Office of controversial magazine Weekly Blitz bombed". Centre for Independent Journalism. 11 July 2006. Archived from the original on 28 September 2007.
  25. Darkness in Dhaka – A gadfly Bangladeshi journalist runs for his life by Bret Stephens, The Wall Street Journal, 15 October 2006
  27. "International Week of the Disappeared" (PDF). Statement on the International Week of the Disappeared. Odhikar. 25 May 2015.
  28. David Bergman (20 Oct 2014). "'Forced disappearances' surge in Bangladesh". Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera Media Network.
  29. "ASK Documentation: Forced Disappearances" (PDF). Incidents of Enforced Disappearances Between January and 30 September 2014. Ain o Salish Kendra. 13 October 2014.
  30. "DCC councillor Chowdhury Alam arrested". The Daily Star. 26 June 2010.
  31. "How Alam was abducted: Driver's account". The Daily Star. 13 July 2010.
  32. 1 2 "ENFORCED DISAPPEARANCE: Families call for return of 19 youths". New Age. 5 December 2015.
  33. "Bangladesh: Investigate Case of Enforced Disappearance". New York: Human Rights Watch. 17 March 2015.
  34. "Editorial: The disappearance of Chowdhury Alam". The Daily Star. 14 July 2010.
  35. "Bangladesh at a Glance". YOUANDAIDS. Archived from the original on 1 September 2003. Retrieved 30 March 2014.
  36. Qadir, Nadeem (20 August 2003). "Bangladesh-AIDS-rights: Bangladesh could face AIDS 'epidemic' if police are not reformed: HRW". AEGiS-AFP News. Agence France-Presse. Archived from the original on 5 February 2012.
  37. Ravaging the Vulnerable: Abuses Against Persons at High Risk of HIV Infection in Bangladesh. HRW (20 August 2003).

Chancery Law Chronicles- First Bangladesh Online Case Law Database *

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