May 31, 2005

Chittagong Hill Tracts: Minority Communities and Politicians Main Victims of Violence in 2004

Abstract of the Amnesty International report on the human rights situation in Bangladesh covering the period of january-december 2004
Untitled Document
Impunity was a key factor in the government’s failure to stem a tide of violence. Among the main victims of the violence were members of minority communities and politicians. Human rights defenders continued to be harassed and attacked. Thousands of opposition activists were arbitrarily detained. At least seven people were executed.


The nexus between criminals and politicians appeared to reinforce institutionalized corruption, violence, and impunity for human rights abuses. Corruption, including in the criminal justice system, remained a major problem. In April a judge was removed from office following an unprecedented investigation by the Supreme Judicial Council, which considered allegations that he had taken a bribe to be “not totally baseless”. The Anti-Corruption Commission was established in November.

At least 147 people reportedly died during the year in what the government portrayed as deaths in crossfire between the special security force known as the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and suspected criminals. There were concerns that the deaths, which usually occurred in desolate locations after the arrest of suspects, were deliberate killings by the RAB. Opposition parties alleged their members were most frequently targeted, but the government denied this.

The 1999 High Court order for the judiciary to be separated from the executive was not implemented. The formation of the Bangladesh Judicial Service in November was seen as a step forward.

Growing tide of violence

The year was marked by violent attacks on members of the opposition and on public venues, including cinemas and places of worship. Investigations lacked the rigour to identify the motives. Members of the ruling coalition parties, including the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Jamaat-e-Islami, were allegedly responsible for a series of attacks on opposition rallies.

A grenade attack on the leaders of the opposition Awami League during a rally on 21 August left 22 people dead and hundreds injured. The opposition blamed Islamist groups in the BNP-led coalition for the attack. The government instituted a judicial inquiry. There were concerns about the inquiry’s impartiality after the Prime Minister suggested that the opposition might have carried out the attack themselves in order to tarnish the government’s image. The inquiry judge submitted his report to the authorities on 2 October. He told journalists that he had identified the perpetrators and a link to “foreign enemies” but gave no details. The content of the report and the government’s response had not been made public by the end of 2004.

Three people were killed in a bomb attack at Hazrat Shahjalal shrine in Sylhet in January. In May another blast at the same shrine, a moderate Islamic place of worship not favoured by conservative Islamic groups, killed two people and injured dozens.

In October, BNP members reportedly attacked a public meeting in the northern town of Rangpur.

Attacks on human rights defenders

Human rights defenders continued to receive death threats and to be at risk of attacks. Perpetrators were believed to be linked to Islamist groups or armed criminal gangs whose conduct the defenders had criticized.
In February, Dr Humayun Azad of Dhaka University was stabbed by unidentified assailants. The attack followed several death threats and was believed to be related to the publication of his novel about Islamist groups. No one was brought to justice for the attack. Humayun Azad recovered after several months of medical attention but died – reportedly of natural causes – in August.
Sumi Khan, the Chittagong correspondent for the magazine Weekly 2000, was stabbed by unknown assailants on 27 February while travelling in a rickshaw on her way to send an article to her editor. The attack was believed to relate to her investigative articles about the involvement of local politicians and Islamist groups in attacks on members of Hindu communities. She continued to receive death threats. No one was brought to justice for the attack.

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) perceived to oppose government policies were at risk of harassment.
Dr Qazi Faruque Ahmed and David William Biswas, the president and vice-president of the NGO Proshika, were arrested on 22 May. Their arrest appeared to be politically motivated, coming amid allegations that Proshika had engaged in political campaigning against the current ruling alliance during the last general elections. They were released on bail in July and June respectively but charges against them remained pending.

Violence against minorities

Impunity for violence against minorities, including members of the Hindu and Ahmadiyya communities, was endemic.

No independent inquiry was conducted into the attacks on tribal people in the Chittagong Hill Tracts in 2003, which involved killing, rape, sexual assault, and the burning of hundreds of homes. No one was brought to justice for the killing of an Ahmadi preacher or for the chanting of hate slogans or for attacks against the Ahmadiyya community’s places of worship. Although several people were arrested on charges of involvement in the burning of a Hindu home in Banskhali Upazila in 2003, there were concerns that the main alleged culprits were not among them.

Violence against women

Violence against women was widely reported, including acid attacks and cases of women killed in dowry disputes. Women accounted for the large majority of acid attack victims. According to the Acid Survivors Foundation, at least 153 women were attacked between January and October, and in cases that went before the courts, only one in nine ended in successful prosecution. In some cases the matter was reportedly “settled” out of court between the families of the victim and the perpetrator. Reasons for most attacks were reportedly disputes between families or refusal by women of marriage or sex.

Mass arrest of opposition activists

In several waves of mass arrests, thousands of people were detained, usually for weeks. Thousands were detained in April during a campaign of general strikes and anti-government protests organized by the Awami League. Thousands more were detained in September. Bangladeshi human rights organizations challenged the lawfulness of the arrests before the High Court, which sought but did not receive an explanation from the government.

Past abuses

On 20 October a court in Dhaka gave its verdict in the trial of 11 men accused of killing four Awami League leaders in Dhaka Central Jail in November 1975. Three were sentenced to death in absentia; another three – already sentenced to death for the killing of President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in August 1975 – were given life imprisonment; and five were acquitted. The Awami League claimed the acquittals were politically motivated.

Death penalty

Over 120 people were sentenced to death. Seven people, including three policemen, were executed for rape and murder.

Source: Amnesty International