Feb 07, 2012

Chittagong Hill Tracts: Governments’ Denial Of Human Rights Abuses Damaging

The Bangladesh Prime Minister is criticized for denying human rights abuses while the situation has not improved under her watch.

Below is an article published by the Daily Star:


Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was mistaken when, on January 15 [2012], she declared there were no human rights violations in Bangladesh. Had she taken even a cursory glance at the country's newspapers or reports by Amnesty International or Bangladesh's own human rights organisations -- such as Odhikar or Ain O Salish Kendra -- she would have seen countless reports about endemic human rights violations that her own government has failed to address.

One is torture. Torture is quite widespread in Bangladesh and committed with virtual impunity by all security agencies -- the police, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), the army -- acting alone or in unison with each other. Only when the victim dies is torture investigated within the criminal justice system. Even then, if the alleged perpetrators are RAB or army personnel, no credible investigation ever takes place. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of surviving torture victims have little hope of ever receiving justice.

Violence against women in Bangladesh comes in many forms, all equally objectionable: from acid attacks to violence in police custody to domestic violence which, in the very worst cases, ends with the murder of newly married women whose family cannot afford to pay the dowry demanded by the husband. Rape is common in Bangladesh, but victims usually decline to report the crime for fear they will not be taken seriously or of angering their attacker. No matter how much the government wishes to deny it, this violence exists.

One can only assume that the Prime Minister's denial that extrajudicial executions even exist is an attempt to cover her government's failure to stop them. On assuming office in 2009 Sheikh Hasina committed to ending such executions, but more than 200 deaths have occurred on her watch alone. Denial also cannot change the fact that more than 700 people have died at the hands of the RAB since 2004.

In the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bengali settlers continue to confiscate indigenous people's land, while the army or other law enforcement agencies look on.

There are over 1,000 people reported to be on death row in Bangladesh, despite the fact that the death penalty violates that most fundamental of human rights: the right to life. Very few are likely to have their sentence commuted as only loyal political supporters are ever taken off death row by the ruling party of the day.

Political parties in Bangladesh maintain violent pressure groups to suppress their opponents. They run so-called student and youth groups who keep fire arms, often with the blessing of their affiliated party. Bangladeshi media frequently report the activities of the student parties -- under the shield of the governing party -- extort money, attack rival student groups, and target journalists who dare report the human rights abuses they commit. In endorsing such groups, the government effectively endorses unchecked human rights abuses.

Amnesty International welcomes the government's effort to bring to justice those accused of human rights violations during the 1971 independence war. Human rights standards must extend to all however, even those accused of the worst crimes, and the government has a duty to ensure that those accused get a fair trial. A constitutional ban on the right to challenge the jurisdiction of the court remains in force, weakening the possibility of a fair trial.

That human rights violations persist in Bangladesh is apparent to many so why this attempt to pull the wool over our eyes?

This is not just a simple untruth. Denying human rights violations sends a signal to perpetrators that their acts will go unpunished. And if perpetrators of human rights abuses think they will never be punished for their crimes, then abuses are all the more likely to continue.

The Prime Minister can only stem the tide of abuse in Bangladesh, if she takes proactive steps. A commitment to human rights and justice would be clearly demonstrated by reviving the draft police reform bill in order to strengthen Bangladesh's criminal justice system, and establishing independent, competent inquiries into allegations of abuse.

Denying human rights violations tells the world that Bangladesh doesn't care about human rights and embarrasses Bangladesh internationally. We urge Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to reconsider her statement -- and to immediately take the action needed to improve human rights in Bangladesh.