Saturday, 3 June, 2023

Straight Talk

Bangladesh’s Human Rights under Scanner?

Abdul Mannan

While the politicians and a section of the media and some civil society members are busy doing a post mortem of just released US State Department’s Human Rights Report on Bangladesh, a former State Minister of Begum Zia’s cabinet  came live on a popular private TV channel and shamelessly defended Zia’s Martial Law and on top of his voice tried to justify why his mentor’s rule was better than democracy. Still US State Department thinks in Bangladesh the media is gagged and right to expression of views and opinions is restricted. The Zia episode and trumpeting his version of democracy was recent. Before that BNP’s few senior leaders were even more atrocious when making comment about the independence of Bangladesh or the killing of the intellectuals by Pakistan Army and their local allies in 1971. In 2015 one of them audaciously and unkindly remarked that the murdered intellectuals were stupid and that is why they stayed in their homes waiting for the killers to knock at their doors. The same person very recently said in a public gathering that the Independence of Bangladesh was accidental forgetting that for this independence three million people of this country laid down their lives. BNP’s party General Secretary went a bit further and said to a group of journalists and party workers that the days of Pakistan were better than Bangladesh.

Another business man turned leader who once was an Awami League man wants to throw out the Constitution of Bangladesh because according to him those who drafted the Constitution in 1972 were not qualified enough to draft a Constitution. This gentleman not only proved his ignorance but exposed his stupidity. He has no idea of about the qualification of those parliament members who were entrusted to draft   this Constitution in 1972. He also forgot that the 1972 Constitution was not only a document, it was a document written with the blood of three million martyrs of 1971. One of the cruellest remarks was made by another senior leader of BNP, who once taught in a prestigious public university. Talking about the mayhem of 15 August 1975 where the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was assassinated with his entire family, this gentleman said, ‘There is no reason to cry over the incident forever. Similar incidents do happen and it should not be cried over forever.’ This gentleman was also associated with Awami League politics in his early days. When people of this stature makes such atrocious  and anti-state statements  and go unpunished, how can US State Department say that in Bangladesh opposition parties cannot express their opinion freely and law enforcing agencies create obstruction when they try to organize public rallies  which is also exaggeration of facts. Opposition parties on regular intervals organize party rallies throughout the country and some of them end up in violence. But problem arises when they block a busy thoroughfare, stage a sit in and disrupt the normal plying of public transport and life of the common people. In a situation like this the Police ACT which was adopted during the rule of BNP’s founder General Zia in 1977 has empowered the law enforcing agencies to take temporary control of such thoroughfares or any other public place in the interest of general people. The people who prepared the Human Rights Report at the US State Department perhaps forgot the BNP-Jamaat petrol bomb episode of 2013 and 2014 where more than three hundred innocent lives were lost and public property worth millions of Taka were destroyed.

Interestingly though the US State Department Report outlines the nature of Human Rights violation of 2022, it brings out the issues of 2018 election saying it was not properly conducted. The question is why now?  To conduct a proper election in a country like Bangladesh the Election Commission needs the co-operation of all the stakeholders. In 2014 one of the main stakeholders BNP along with its militant ally Jamaat-e-Islami staged a violent movement mentioned earlier to thwart the election demanding that the election be held in an unconstitutional manner, which still they and their allies keeps on demanding. In the election of 2018 they did come to the election under the leadership of Dr. Kamal Hossain and to everyone’s surprise instead of taking the election seriously they resorted to selling nominations to highest bidders and even nominated more than one candidate in a single constituency.  They did this just for individual gains and to tarnish the entire process of the election. No one denies the fact the 2018 parliament election was not an ideal election. But one must agree this was the result of BNP and Jamaat’s deliberate pre-election actions.

When US State Department talks about deficiency of practice of democratic norms in Bangladesh, it should recall the last US Presidential election where Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump in 2020. Trump still refuses to concede defeat and frequently in unequivocal terms declares that the victory was stolen from him. On 6 January 2021, the day the results were finally declared thousands of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol Hill, considered as the citadel of American democracy and virtually took control of it vandalizing the entire premises. No such thing ever happened in Bangladesh. After the incident many prestigious media conducted dozens of surveys and on an average more than 60 percent Americans believe US democracy is in crisis.

US State Department stated that the government of Bangladesh intervenes in the judiciary. How did they come to this conclusion is a million dollar question. Did they conveniently forget that the two surviving daughters of the slain Father of the Nation, the current Prime Minister and her younger sister had to wait twenty one years (till 1996) to begin the trial of the killers which was later stalled when in 2001 BNP and its allies won the national election to be resumed only after Sheikh Hasina formed her second government in 2009? Finally the trial was completed and five of the twelve convicted had to walk the gallows. Where was State Department then? Ironically few of the killers are known to be living comfortably in US or in Canada.

Finally let us mention the case of young Somalia born (1982) Congress member Ilhan Omar. Ilhan elected from Minnesota as a Democrat candidate spent her childhood in a refugee camp in Kenya, migrated to US and made her place in US politics by dint of her merit, courage and ability. She became a member of the Foreign Relations Committee (similar to Bangladesh’s Parliamentary Committee) and about a month back she spoke very courageously in the Congress about the human rights violations in Palestine by Israel. In few weeks’ time Ilhan Umar was removed from this important committee. This happened in a country where freedom of expression is guaranteed and the founding fathers felt it was a necessary clause for posterity.

Finally the issue of extrajudicial killing (of RAB) was also mentioned though it confessed it has shown a downward trend. About a year back US government slammed a sanction on few senior former and serving RAB officers. Extrajudicial killing is something that is common throughout the world though it cannot be endorsed under any circumstances. However, when it comes to extrajudicial killing US has always been in the forefront. In 2022 Amnesty International and the Guardian of London conducted a survey and found that on an average one thousand extra judicial killings happen in US annually (between 2013 and 2019) which even included children playing in parks. The strangling to  death of Eric Garner by Daniel Pantaleo, a New York police officer  on broad day light triggered the ‘Black Life Matters’ movement afresh. True that Pantaleo was tried and sentenced to 27 years in prison but his other professional accomplices present on the scene escaped the justice. In Bangladesh the trial of law enforcers who are involved in different types of crimes including extrajudicial killing are held regularly. The case of sentencing of six RAB personnel accused and found guilty in an incident in Narayanganj needs to be mentioned. One of those sentenced happens to be the son-in-law of one of the Presidium Member of Awami League. Recently the former Officer in Charge of Teknaf in Cox’s Bazar Pradip  Kumar Das and his colleague inspector Liaqat Ali have been sentenced to death by a trial court for an extrajudicial murder in Teknaf.

US still remains a very important political force in the world and in spite of occasional strains between Bangladesh and US, Bangladesh has a very strong bondage not only with the government of US but also with its people. The economic relationship between both the countries keeps on getting stronger. However, such subjective reports may dampen the relationship between the two countries which will not serve any purpose. Like any other civilized country Bangladesh is also concerned about the preservation of inalienable human rights of its people a right guaranteed by its Constitution and welcomes objectives reports from any national and international bodies but has the right to protest when such reports are prepared to support the cause of any third party.


The writer is an analyst and a commentator