Special Feature

Bangladesh witnessed spate of violent attacks in 2016: HRW

15 Jan,2017


Special Report:

Bangladesh witnessed a spate of violent attacks against secular bloggers, academics, gay rights activists, foreigners, and members of religious minorities in 2016, Human Rights Watch said in its World Report 2017.

Referring to the attacks on Holey Artisan Bakery and Solakia eid prayers, the report reads: “Although Islamist extremist groups, including the Islamic State or ISIS, claimed responsibility for most of these killings, the government blamed domestic groups, and said some had links to the main opposition political parties.

“Thousands of people were arrested, and dozens of alleged members or supporters of extremist groups are said to have been killed in armed encounters.”

In the report, the Washington-based human rights body reviewed human rights practices in more than 90 countries.

In his introductory essay, HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth examines the rise of leaders who, claiming to speak for “the people” amid rising public discontent over the status quo, reject rights as an impediment to their perception of the majority will.

Roth sees such unrestrained majoritarianism and assaults on government checks and balances as “perhaps the greatest danger today to the future of democracy in the West.”

Claiming that Bangladesh security forces have a long history of arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearance, and extrajudicial killing, raising concerns about recent arrests and deaths, the report said: “The Detective Branch of the police, the Bangladesh Border Guards (BGB), the Directorate General Forces Inspectorate (DGFI), and the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) have all been accused of serious violations.”

In June 2016, security forces arrested nearly 15,000 people, mostly young men, in connection with a series of attacks targeting writers, minority religious leaders, and activists, it added.

“The government announced several raids in various parts of the country but, due to lack of transparency about security force abuses and the ongoing government clampdown on media, details of those killed or arrested remain unclear,” the report cited.

Mentioning that human rights groups in Bangladesh face constant obstacles, including escalating harassment and surveillance by police, it added: “A new law placed strong restrictions on receiving foreign funds without approval by the NGO Affairs Bureau within the Prime Minister’s Office.”

The report further said that journalists are also a common target in 2016.

Referring to the proposed Press Council Act amendments which added the provisions for closing newspapers, it said several laws were proposed in 2016 to “increase restrictions on freedom of expression.

“The government continues to use the overly broad and vague Information and Communication Technology Act against people critical of decisions and activities of senior government officials or their families.”

Bloggers expressing secular views and editors and writers supporting sexual minority rights were attacked in 2016, many of them hacked to death in public spaces, reads the report. 

Regarding the attacks on religious minorities, it continued: “Several religious leaders were killed or injured in targeted attacks, allegedly by the same extremist Muslim groups that targeted secular writers.”

“Thousands of indigenous people in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and other areas are at risk of forced displacement.”

Regarding protecting Labor Rights, the report said: “Bangladeshi authorities again failed to implement their commitments under the Sustainability Compact in 2016. Largely, factory officials were not held accountable for attacks, threats, and retaliation against workers involved with unions.”

Referring to a fire in a packaging factory in September, the HRW report also highlighted the need for further efforts to ensure worker rights and safety.

Noting that the percentage of girls marrying before age 18 declined from 65 percent in 2014 to 52 percent in 2016, and that 18 percent of girls still marry before the age of 15, the highest rate in Asia and among the highest in the world, the report said: “In 2016, the government undermined progress toward these goals by continuing to push for weakening of the law governing the minimum age of marriage.”

“At present, the minimum age of marriage for women is 18 with no exceptions, but the government proposed to allow 16- and 17-year-old girls to marry with parental consent, a change that would constitute a de facto lowering of the age of marriage, as most marriages are arranged by parents.”

“Stalking, sexual harassment, and violent retaliation against and even murder of women and girls who protest such harassment continued in 2016. Prompt investigation and prosecution in such cases continue to be rare.”

“Indigenous women and girls face multiple forms of discrimination due to their gender, indigenous identity, and socio-economic status; they are especially vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence,” it continued.

The report further said: “The government has sought to increase the recruitment of expat workers without putting in place adequate mechanisms to protect them against workplace abuses. Bangladeshi workers in the Gulf continue to report being deprived of food and forced to endure psychological, physical, and sexual abuse.

“In some cases, such abuses amount to forced labor or trafficking. Some Bangladeshi domestic workers pay high recruitment fees and take out loans in order to migrate.”

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