October 2007

Vol 7 - No. 4
























South Asia: Human Rights in Bangladesh | October 2007



Human Rights in Bangladesh - The Scenario


“A lot of death threats are issued. Journalists are forced to keep quiet. There is a lot of pressure on them from local persons with links to higher authorities who want journalists to keep quiet.”(1)

1. Introduction

Abuses against human rights defenders in Bangladesh have occurred under successive governments. This report highlights cases which have occurred under the current and previous governments in order to demonstrate the systematic failure of the state to protect human rights defenders and to prevent abuses against them.

Amnesty International considers all governments to be responsible for ensuring the promotion and protection of human rights. In the same vein, Amnesty International urges the Government of Bangladesh to bring to an end a cycle of cumulative disregard for human rights in general and for abuses against human rights defenders in particular. A cycle of impunity for human rights violations, which has prevailed in the country over its decades-long existence, is the most crucial issue to be addressed.

Amnesty International is also calling upon all political parties in the country to provide active support towards the fulfilment of this goal.

Agents of the state including police, army and other law enforcement personnel, for whom successive governments in Bangladesh have been directly accountable, have perpetrated some of the violations against human rights defenders. These violations include arrest and torture. They also include continued harassment of human rights defenders through the filing, case after case, of apparently unsubstantiated criminal accusations against them. Non-governmental organizations seeking to maintain a position independent of the ruling government of the time in defence of human rights have also been frequently harassed.

Other perpetrators of abuses against human rights defenders are individuals or groups linked to armed criminal gangs, parties of the ruling coalition or the opposition, or mercenary gangs allegedly hired by local politicians to suppress revelations about their unlawful activity. Abuses committed by these “"non-state actors”" include death threats and physical attacks against human rights defenders.

Hundreds of human rights defenders have received death threats. Scores of them have been attacked. Many have been seriously injured and some continue to be in need of medical attention. Several journalists have had their fingers or hands deliberately damaged so as not to be able to hold a pen. Many have had to leave their homes and localities in the face of continued threats. At least eight human rights defenders have been assassinated since 2000 by assailants believed to be linked to armed criminal gangs or armed factions of political parties.

Human rights defenders include all those men and women who act on their own or collectively to promote or protect human rights. Human rights defenders work in various spheres and their work is inspired by international human rights standards. This work includes, but is not limited to, the search for truth and justice; the strengthening of the rule of law; increasing government accountability; the struggle for gender, sexual and racial equality; children’s rights; the rights of refugees; the struggle against corruption, environmental degradation, hunger, disease and poverty.

In 1998, the United Nations general assembly recognized human rights defenders, their rights and responsibilities (See the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders – resolution 53/144 of 9 December 1998).

Human rights defenders in Bangladesh include journalists, writers, academics, staff of non-governmental organizations, lawyers, and members of professional bodies. They include women and men in rural or urban areas and from various social backgrounds.

This report provides information on abuses human rights defenders face, the patterns of activities that place them at risk of either harassment, arrest and torture, or death threats or attacks. It highlights the causes of these violations and provides recommendations to the Government of Bangladesh, which, if implemented, would protect human rights defenders.

The report is primarily based on interviews conducted by Amnesty International in Bangladesh in late 2003 with over 20 human rights defenders and leading human rights activists from different parts of the country, reports published in a number of Bangladeshi newspapers and other published material on the situation of journalists. In March 2005, Amnesty International shared the draft of this report with scores of human rights defenders from various parts of the country attending a seminar in Dhaka on the situation of human rights defenders in Bangladesh. The views and comments received from the participants of the seminar are, in so far as they concern the situation of human rights defenders, reflected in this report. For security reasons, individuals providing information for this report have not been named.

Amnesty International also sent a copy of the draft report to the Government of Bangladesh on 30 March 2005, seeking comments. As of late July 2005, the government had not sent any comments to Amnesty International.

The majority of cases referred to in this report belong to journalists. Bangladeshi journalists have frequently been engaged in reporting and raising their voices against abuses allegedly committed by government authorities or members of the ruling parties past and present. They are often the first point of contact when human rights violations occur, particularly in more remote rural areas. Local people see the local journalist as someone who will listen to their stories and will expose abuses of their human rights to a broader audience.

In areas to which NGO delegates cannot travel for reasons of security, they rely almost exclusively on reports filed by journalists. Even when NGOs are able to send their own investigative teams to gather the details of a case of human rights concern, they work closely with local journalists who usually have the most up-to-date information about the issue.

The report also provides an analysis of the dangerous pressure points which act to suppress the activities of human rights defenders. These include a climate of political polarization, a culture of gun violence, the tension between secularism and religious based politics, and a shrinking liberal space. 

To be continued...

The writer is a Management and I.T. Professional, Free lance writer, Good Governance activist, and Member Secretary of Center for Good Governance-Bangladesh. The views expressed are of the author's own and not necessarily of the organization he represents. E-mail: tmfaisalkamal@yahoo.com  


Copyright © Globalom Media 2007
Publisher and Managing Editor: Suresh Jaura
Hosted and webdesigned by Globalom Media