By Talukder Shaheb
The main opposition party of Bangladesh, the BNP, nailed it when they said that the 2013 Amnesty report on Bangladesh was the tip of the iceberg. What the amnesty report has alluded to is huge, and as reports of other human rights organizations such as Odhikar and Human Rights Watch have indicated, the human rights situation in Bangladesh has gone down the drain over the course of 2012, with no signs of improving.
The report begins with the following information in the background section, “In January, the Prime Minister stated that no human rights violations had been committed in the country.”
It largely talks of events of 2012, which was relatively peaceful compared to 2013. The claims and the instances backing them up are pretty damning and warrant very serious attention. According to the report, “Some 30 extrajudicial executions were reported. State security forces were implicated in torture and other ill-treatment and at least 10 enforced disappearances. Political violence resulted in the death of at least four men. Women continued to be subjected to various forms of violence. The government failed to protect Indigenous communities from attack by Bengali settlers. At least 111 workers died in a factory fire, some allegedly because officials refused to let them leave the premises. More than 20 Buddhist temples and monasteries, one Hindu temple and scores of Buddhist homes and shops were set on fire during a communal attack. One person was executed and at least 45 people were sentenced to death.”
This is not counting bigwigs such as the Rana Plaza disaster, government crackdown on the Hefazat rally on 5th May and the subsequent massacre, closing down of private media, or the indiscriminate shooting of over 200 people in the aftermath of February 28, events which are sure to have a big impact the next report. Also expected to feature will be the deaths of Shahbagh bloggers and the detaining the of 4 atheist bloggers for defamation of religion.
Unfortunately, the report has failed to address some important issues, namely,
1. The refusal of the government of Bangladesh to facilitate the persecuted Rohingya fleeing from neighbouring Myanmar;
2. The injustice being meted out to defendants in the BDR mutiny trials as highlighted by a recent HRW report on Bangladesh
3. The death of five journalists in the year 2012 and the subsequent media repression, as highlighted by Odhikar.
4. The banning of YouTube on September 17th 2012 at 10:30 pm; a form of online censorship that has actually been used as a tool to prevent online activism. It has not been opened since.
5. The President’s politically motivated clemency for criminals.
6. The politically motivated and inept war crimes trials taking place in Bangladesh, which aim to deliver international standards of justice through domestic courts. Rampant irregularities and instances of injustice have been reported by rights organizations such as Odhikar, Human Rights watch and Asian Human Rights Commission.
Shocking as it may sound, the Amnesty report has been rejected by the government of Bangladesh. Two junior ministers — Quamrul Islam and Shamsul Hoque Tuku — on Thursday turned down the assessment of the Amnesty International on Bangladesh’s human rights situation in its annual report, terming it error-ridden and lopsided.
What was more shocking was the belittling of the report by a prominent HR boss in Bangladesh. In view of the Amnesty International Report 2013, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) Chairman Mizanur Rahman said the report didn’t carry much importance following the discussions at the 16th session of UNHCR (United Nations Human Rights Council) in Switzerland’s Geneva on 29 April. “Besides, the country’s overall human rights situation is progressing positively”, stated Rahman.
Such comments and opinions point out to the prevalent attitude of the government and its supporting institutions in light of the worsening human rights situation in the country. There is no alternative to change; change of attitude; change of perception; change of the culture of impunity; and if necessary, change of the current regime.