HUMAN RIGHTS RECORD A CONCERN - DHOLAKIA
(28 June 2005)
a recent speech in the House of Lords Lord Dholakia expressed his
concern about the worsening human rights situation in Bangladesh.
Lord Dholakia stressed the insecurity faced by many of Bangladeshs
religious minorities. I deplore human rights abuses arising
anywhere in the world because as part of the Global community what
happens in one part of the world impacts on us all." Lord Dholakia
highlighted the serious allegations of religious cleansing of the
indigenous Bangladeshi Hindus and asked "why is there a deafening
silence from the authorities in Bangladesh?"
below are excerpts from his full speech and notes from Hansard on
the issue of Bangladesh's Human Rights Violations:
has had a difficult birth. It was originally a part of Pakistan,
but those two states are now separated by 1,000 miles at the two
extremes of the Indian sub-contintent. Bangladesh's struggle to
become an independent nation was undeniableand that is precisely
what happened. I do not believe that it is necessary to dwell on
history, but suffice to say that the dreams of an effective democracy
in Bangladesh have not been fully realised. I had the opportunity
to meet Sheikh Mujibar Rahman when he was released from prison in
Pakistan and flew to London. He was a man of great stature, who
was determined that Bangladesh, with its unique culture, would pull
itself from the turmoil of the struggle for independence and build
a nation in which the rule of law would prevail.
Bangladesh and have many friends there, and I was deeply touched
when I was invited to chair the afternoon session of the European
human rights conference on Bangladesh, held last Friday at the University
of London, in which my noble friend Lord Avebury participated. It
was not an easy job; emotions were running high; and it did not
help when people in authority denied that there was any violation
of human rights there. As I have always said, if there are issues
we should not be squeamish about them but should take the necessary
action. With all the evidence available and documented, it was difficult
to accept the statements made by some of the officers. Despite all
that, it was a good conference with ample opportunity for a constructive
approach to problems in Bangladesh.
ON BRITISH BANGLADESHI COMMUNITY
I have another worry. There is a large law-abiding Bangladeshi community
here. They have struggled hard to build an economic base and contribute
substantially to the revenue in this country. They were the last
people involved in large-scale migration to the United Kingdom,
and despite adversity they have come out well. They also have close
relations in Bangladesh, so we should be mindful that what happens
in Bangladesh has repercussions in the Bangladeshi community here.
We ignore that at our peril.
what are the issues that concern us all? I have studied mountains
of documents, and there are matters that need addressing. Briefly,
they fall under the following categories: the persecution of religious
minorities, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry,
said; extra-judicial executions and custodial deaths; attacks on
the media, educational institutions and students; violence against
women; allegations of political assassinations; political persecution
and torture; evidence of terrorism and growing extremism; and the
security and safety of citizens.
OF HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES
what are these allegations? Let us examine the situation in the
context of Hindus, Christians, Buddhists and the Ahmadiyya communities.
Religious persecution is having a devastating effect on their freedom
to practise their faith. It is damaging their culture, and there
are numerous examples of families uprooting themselves from their
place of birth. You simply have to look at the exodus from Bangladesh.
Amnesty International report dated 1 December 2001 is quite explicit
on the subject. It says:
killing of a prominent member of the Hindu community appears to
be connected to the current wave of attacks on Hindus. On 16 November,
Gopal Krishna Muhri, principle of Nazirhat College in Chittagong,
was shot dead at his home. The circumstances surrounding his killing
point to the strong possibility that he was targeted because of
his identity as a prominent Hindu with a successful career in the
educational establishment of Chittagong city".
is a continuous flow of refugees who have been forced to leave their
homes and property as a direct result of the discrimination and
persecution to which they are subjected. There is also evidence
of looting, arson and murder aimed at that minority.
OF HINDU WOMEN
more disturbing is the plight of women, who are victims of sexual
violenceor rape, gang rape and mass rape. We all know that
sexual violence affects not only the victim but the whole family
and in many cases the whole community. I shall resist the temptation
to cite reports from some eminent and independent foreign journalists
and the serious concerns expressed by international human rights
organisations, but there are serious allegations that these crimes
are the direct results of religious cleansing of the indigenous
Bangladeshi Hindus and other minorities.
SILENCE FROM BANGLADESHI GOVERNMENT
question that we must all ask is why there is a deafening silence
on the subject from the authorities in Bangladesh. Why do the Bangladesh
Government not institute an independent inquiry into those deaths?
Why is there no evidence that perpetrators have been brought to
justice? Why is the full protection of the law not afforded to the
minorities in Bangladesh? Those are serious questions, to which
we need answers.
is not only the Hindu community that is the victimthe Ahmadiyya
community has suffered the same fate. The campaign of hatred has
resulted in attacks on places of worship. Again, I cite the Amnesty
International report on Bangladesh, which says:
31 October, Shah Alam, the Imam of the Ahmadiyya mosque, was beaten
to death in front of his family. Some 90 men led by a local Islamist
leader attacked him because he refused their demands to recant his
date no one has been charged in connection with that killing.
there is a constitutional guarantee for freedom of religion and
expression, Ahmadiyya literature is still being banned, as my noble
friend Lord Avebury said. The Christian community has not been spared,
either. A church in Gopalganj was seriously damaged by a bomb blast.
constitution of Bangladesh enshrines secularism as one of its main
pillars, and did not allow religion-based politics. However, following
the death of the founding father, Sheikh Mujibar Rahman, an amendment
to the constitution allowed for religion-based politics.
months ago my noble friend Lord Avebury and I had the privilege
to meet Sheikh Hasina. She was the Prime Minister of Bangladesh
from 1996 to 2001. She is the daughter of Sheikh Mujibar Rahman,
the founding father of Bangladesh. She is the current leader of
the opposition in Parliament. It is a serious concern that she was
a victim of a grenade attack which nearly cost her life. Many were
killed on that occasion.
have been assassinations of Members of Parliament. First, it was
Ahsanullah Master and then Mr Shah Ams Kibria. In the case of the
latter it is worth quoting the editor of the Daily Star which stated:
choice of Kibria as the target should not be lost on anybody. He
was one of the staunchest voices of secularism and against extremism,
terrorism and increasing use of religion in our politics. He was
one of the early warning voices against Taliban penetration into
our national politics".
is a serious comment against a nation moved from secularism to supporting
fundamentalism. That is not to blame Islam. It is one of the great
religions of the world. Fundamentalism and Islam are incompatible,
as demonstrated by a large number of Muslims throughout the world.
Equally, the rise in extremism often ignored or directly or indirectly
supported by those in power must be a matter of serious concern
to all of us.
started as a liberal, peaceful, tolerant nation but is that the
case now? Some of the examples may seem isolated incidents, but
the total of more than 165 deaths and more than 1,700 injuries since
1999 cannot be ignored. The Awami League and its supporters have
borne the brunt of such incidents. However, it is even more disturbing
to find that those figures include leading intellectuals and journalists.
There is evidence that over the past eight months 230 custodial
deaths, apparently in cross-fire with the Rapid Action Battalion,
have been recorded. Again, there are serious allegations of extra
judicial executions. Such allegations will gather momentum until
such time as they are properly and independently investigated. Already
the European Union heads of missions in Dhaka have issued a public
statement expressing their "shock and dismay" and their
deep concern that the apparent failure to investigate previous attacks
had led to a climate of impunity.
US Department of State has drawn attention to the failure of the
government to bring to justice the perpetrators of acts of violence,
fostering an intimidating climate of insecurity and impunity that
encourages further attacks.
FACING SERIOUS THREATS
protests are part of any democratic country but these have been
met with violence and brutality. The conference I chaired last Saturday
also received information on the repression of non-government organisations
in Bangladesh. The NETZ Partnership for Development and Justice
is a German NGO specialising in Bangladesh since 1979. It is supporting
10 NGOs in development work. I am informed by Ingo Ritz, the executive
director, that NGOs in Bangladesh are facing serious threats. The
government do not allow NGOs to work or hinder their work. Additionally,
there were attacks on the offices and six co-workers were injured.
A fundamentalist group is claiming responsibility for that.
would be easy to blame the government of Bangladesh for all this.
What is required is a very clear independent investigation to get
to the root of why such violence occurs. The country's non-governmental
organisations are among the most active in the world and successive
governments have developed effective partnerships with them to improve
services to the poorest people. It is a tragedy that some of the
NGOs are the targets of repression.
British Government should bring pressure on the Bangladesh Government
to investigate and prosecute criminals responsible for violent attacks
and grenade blasts on leading members of the opposition, the British
High Commission, arts and cultural events, members and institutions
of religious minorities and secular groups.
essence the world community cares about a genuine democracy in Bangladesh.
That democracy can survive only if the rule of law prevails and
there is a halt to the abuses of human rights quite rightly mentioned
by the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin.
all have a responsibility to ensure that the Bangladesh Development
Forum concentrates on good governance and maintenance of a stable
democracy based on respect, dignity and freedom for all its citizens.
The country has gone through some turbulent times. It cannot afford
to sacrifice its founder's dream of a truly democratic society.
We want a healthy, prosperous Bangladesh. It has to confront its
own problems if it is to regain respect in world politics.