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“All Citizens are Equal before Law and are Entitled to Equal Protection of Law”-Article 27 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

Issue No: 2
January 13, 2007

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Rights Column

Bangladesh Human Rights Report-2006

Political and security conditions continued to deteriorate in Bangladesh in 2006. The country's already poor human rights record worsened, as security forces continued to commit numerous abuses, including extrajudicial killings, excessive use of force, and custodial torture. The Rapid Action Battalion (RAB, an elite “anti-crime” and “anti-terror” unit) and the police were responsible for hundreds of extrajudicial killings in 2006. A culture of impunity reinforced by legislation which largely shields the security forces from legal challenge and by government praise for many of the unlawful killings leads to abuses going largely uninvestigated and unpunished.

Security forces used mass arrests as a means to suppress demonstrations. Workers in the export garment industry were subjected to violence and job dismissal in response to demands for wage increases and safe work conditions. Violence by religious extremists increased, and fundamentalist political groups gained influence in government.

Extrajudicial killings
2006 saw an increase in extrajudicial killings by RAB and the police, although these were regularly euphemistically dubbed “crossfire” killings. Many killings were of criminal suspects, but some had a political taint. RAB and other security agencies also perpetrated torture during custody and interrogation, and the public display of tortured and executed victims appeared to be a RAB tactic to instill fear among criminals and the population. Instead of holding RAB accountable the government heaped praise on it. Despite substantial evidence, no RAB member has been criminally convicted for extrajudicial killings.

Death in custody is common. In 2006, 51 prisoners, of whom 32 were standing trial, were reported to have died from various causes, including violence by guards and fellow prisoners, and delays in medical treatment.

Rise of extremist militancy
Since 1999, 19 bomb and grenade explosions by religious extremists belonging to militant organizations such as Jama'tul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), Harqatul Jehad, and Ahle Hadith have left 181 people dead and over 1,700 injured. It was only after synchronized bombings in 63 districts in August 2005 raised national and international concern that the government started investigating and prosecuting suspects. Between December 2005 and October 2006 over 300 alleged militants were arrested (including the six leaders of the JMB), 241 cases were filed, and 29 people were sentenced to life in prison or capital punishment. Four organizations were banned. It was alleged, however, that madrasas used for training were not investigated and donations from foreign Muslim organisations did not cease.

After a suicide bomber killed two judges in 2005 the judiciary has operated in a climate of fear and uncertainty. This has been exacerbated by political interference and pressure at the national and local levels. On November 12, 2006, judges' associations in the lower courts asked for additional protections from the government.

Key international actors
There was a lack of urgency in the efforts by outside actors that belied the risks of military intervention or increased militancy facing Bangladesh if elections did not proceed credibly. The European Union troika, on a visit to Bangladesh in February 2006, expressed concerns about free and fair elections, abuses in counterterrorism efforts, poor governance, and a lack of respect for human rights. It asked for strengthening of the Anti-Corruption Commission and for the establishment of a Human Rights Commission. The United States expressed concern with the rising scale of political violence and offered its support for a fair and free election.

Bangladesh was elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council in March, even though it has failed to submit its initial reports to the UN Committees on Civil and Political Rights, on Torture, and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Reservations to articles 2 and 16.1(c) of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) have not been withdrawn, and parliament did not amend citizenship laws to enable women to pass their nationality to their partner and children as recommended by the CEDAW Committee.

Source: Human Rights Watch.


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