by Ahmad U Shihab 12 April 2021
“Democracy and Human Rights are inseparable.”—Nelson Mandela
A Coalition for Human Rights and Democracy in Bangladesh addressed a number of appeals to the Biden Administration requesting urgent help to restore people’s democratic and human rights in the South Asian country.
The membership of the Coalitions spans three continents and includes eminent scholars in various fields. It is expanding.
Starting in early February 2021, the appeals, addressed to the US Congress, also went to the President, the Vice President, Secretary of State and the Department of Justice. Below is the third installment of its efforts.
Dear Honorable Members of the United States Congress,
In February 2021, the Coalition for Human Rights and Democracy in Bangladesh addressed appeals to you requesting an urgent attention to Bangladesh where, behind apparent “normalcy,” the condition of Human Rights and Democracy was at its worst. The people there continue to groan under the heavy hands of an oppressive regime for more than 12 years. They plead for urgent help from the esteemed United States, the leader and custodian of global democracy and human rights.
Honorable Members, The US Country Reports on Bangladesh for the past decade depicted some of the dismal situation. You may kindly have a look at the 2020 Report:
From afar, one may assume that Bangladesh is running well by projecting an impressive economic progress. But the ground reality is different. First, the government’s self-serving figures do not match the statistics of the World Bank and other international institutions. Nor do the benefits reach the vast majority, a chunk of which continue to suffer in abject poverty. Thousands of Bangladeshis routinely venture out seeking freedom from oppression and economic hardship only to land in foreign camps or drown in high seas. The underlying problem is that the people cannot speak due to various draconian laws suppressing freedom of expression or criticism of the administration. A few who dared, landed in jail for months and years without charge. Many succumbed to the torture, while many were not heard from again. Second, the so-called progress benefits only a few in the ruling hierarchy, which usually transfers the ill-gotten cash out of the country.
President Joe Biden outlined three major areas of commitment as his foreign policy goals. In all the three domains, Bangladesh is the most prime and urgent target to be fixed. Kindly allow us to recall them.
- Fighting Corruption:
Transparency International’s (TI) Corruption Perception of 2020 put Bangladesh at 146th place out of 180 countries. TI further asserts that the government agencies are the most corrupt. Under the present Awami League government, the country even beats perennially corrupt countries like Djibouti, Uganda, Angola, Papua New Guinea and many others. Cash in millions of US Dollars are routinely siphoned out of the state banks and laundered abroad. The Global Financial Integrity (GFI) of Washington says that $7.53 billion is laundered out of the country annually. In February 2021, a series of Al-Jazeera reports exposed the high-level corruption that included the Prime Minister and the Army Chief of the country. The claim was substantiated by many international media houses, including the Economist of London. The Economist further detailed how Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina corrupted the military and the administration in her efforts to to buy their loyalty.
- Defending People Against Authoritarianism, Including Election Security:
This is a burning issue in Bangladesh that needs immediate attention. An Indian induced conspiracy installed Sheikh Hasina in authority through a managed election in December 2008. She continued to hold on to power through subsequent fraudulent elections in January 2014, which was non-participatory, and in December 2018, which was called a “midnight election” because ballot boxes were pre-filled for the chosen candidates the previous night, giving Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League a 96% victory. All these farcical elections were condemned by the international community, including the US. Nearly 6,000 local elections have similar fate. With absolute control over the legislature, a largely partisan judiciary, a corruptive and forced-loyal administration and the non-existent political opposition, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has an absolute authoritarian reign. No opposition is allowed to function. Hundreds and thousands of opponents are routinely dumped in jails on scores of mostly false cases against each. Even parody poems on the Prime Minister or her family members landed people in jail and torture cells. The US Country Reports testify the practice.
- Advancing Human Rights:
Honorable Members, human rights abuses in Bangladesh today surpassed even the records set by Prime Minister’s father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman during his dictatorial rule in 1972-75. That Bangladesh suffers from serious human rights violations is recorded by various Human Rights organizations. Amnesty International reports, “The Government of Bangladesh is responsible for multiple human rights violations, including unlawful killings and disappearances, arbitrary arrest and detention, and torture…Disappearances occur at an alarming rate…Unlawful arrests occur frequently, as does torture in security force custody. Rights to freedom of speech and assembly are under assault, as the Government applies repressive laws and presses arbitrary criminal charges against journalists who publish criticism of the government. Other media and civil society activists also report threats and intimidation.” The 2020 US Congressional Recommendation to the State Department is a case in point.
Mother Teresa said, “Human rights are not a privilege conferred by government. They are every human being’s entitlement by virtue of his humanity.”
The India Factor
The sad part is that India continues to back Sheikh Hasina in her undemocratic practices in the country since it helped her saddle in authority in January 2009. In gratitude, the protege obliges all her sponsor’s demands, almost free. That includes overland corridors to reach the Indian northeastern regions, military transits, sea, airport, and transit uses, coal-based energy industries to benefit India, controlling waters in upper riparian of common rivers, just to name a few. Such outright grants mostly go against the interest, even sovereignty, of Bangladesh.
The public remains totally opposed to such give-away policy to India in exchange for illegally staying in power. People are also against India’s dangerous hegemony over Bangladesh since its birth in 1971. Reportedly, RAW, the Indian intelligence agency, controls most of the affairs of Bangladesh with a view to ensuring Indian interests. True, India helped Bangladesh in its independence from Pakistan, but not without self-interest. India’s main objective was to break Pakistan and keep an independent Bangladesh under its control for political and strategic gains. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina makes it easy sailing for New Delhi. However, the people want a friendly India with mutually beneficial ties on sovereign equality.
Sheikh Hasina invited Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to attend the closing ceremony of her father Sheikh Mujib’s birth centenary and 50th. anniversary of Bangladesh on March 26, 2021, despite strong public opposition. Bangladeshis view Modi as a butcher of Muslims. (The US had sanctioned Modi for his involvement in the massacre of more than 2,000 Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 when he was the Chief Minister of the State). Amid unprecedented security cordons, Modi visited Bangladesh but left an ugly legacy. Nearly two dozen protesters were beaten or shot to death, while many others were wounded, and thousands were arrested. The mayhem continues and the country is burning with serious human rights violations. The US must intervene urgently to save the oppressed people.
Bailing Out of a Jungle Law
The illegal regime in Bangladesh seems to enjoy “business as usual” with the external world, giving it a legitimacy of its fascist activities. The US paints a dismal situation of the country in its Country Reports year after year but does not seem to take any action against its human rights abuse and undemocratic practices. The regime thereby gets a green signal and continues its fascism with increased intensity. It is the nation and its people who are suffering behind the facade.
President Joe Biden reminded the Americans that when the US would not be leading, others, most likely China, would, which may “lead to chaos and Law of the Jungle.” Bangladesh is a glaring example.
Therefore, the Coalition once again requests you to kindly exert your authority to rescue Bangladesh from the ongoing political crises before it falls into the hands of fanatics or undesirable elements.
Coalition for Human Rights and Democracy in Bangladesh