Tuesday, April 12, 2011

BANGLADESH: Global Human Rights Defence (GHRD) Quarterly Human Rights Report (January – March 2011)




 




In 2011, according to our mandate GHRD will report on human rights issues in Bangladesh on a quarterly basis and will focus on issues of abuse against minorities, particularly those in the Chittagong Hill Tract region, and extra judicial punishments resulting from village arbitration. These reports are the result of fact finding missions conducted by local partner organisations and news monitoring conducted at GHRD headquarters in The Hague.
 
Introduction
In the first quarter of 2011, attacks against human rights defenders dominated reporting from international organisations and the safety of human rights defenders in Bangladesh was of increased concern. Amongst them, our own observer, Shahanur Islam, executive director of the Bangladesh Institute of Human Rights, also came under attack early in the year. Freedom of the press was another concern, Odhikar reported that during the quarter 20 journalists were injured, 20 threatened, 10 assaulted and 3 cases were filed against journalists during the course of their work.
Attacks against minority Jumma communities in Chittagong were also highlighted in the international media due to the February 17th attacks when Bengali settlers set fire to Jumma villages, leaving Jumma communities without homes.

GHRD’s 2010 year report on human rights in Bangladesh gained wide scale media attention in Bangladesh and abroad following a press conference to announce the release of the report on the 28th of February, organised in association with the Bangladesh Institute for Human Rights. The report will form a platform for future lobbying and discussion on human rights issues against women and minorities.

During the quarter, (minority) women were raped and subjected to inhumane extra-judicial punishments in village arbitrations, stalking, attacks and sexual assault.*(1) In particular, Serafina Mardi, a 14 year old minority girl set fire to herself and died from her wounds after being gang raped and then subjected in village arbitrations to marry one of her rapists. Hena Ahkter, a Bangladeshi girl was also publicly whipped to death for an alleged affair with a married man as a result of village arbitration. Her family claims she was in fact raped, however these allegations have not been investigated. In many of the cases investigated, the perpetrators of such crimes benefit from impunity and go unpunished. Dealing with such crimes requires better training of police, better legal protection for victims and witnesses of sexual assault, and better rehabilitation and counseling for victims.

Ingrained attitudes in society and traditional customs reinforce these attitudes towards women and this is illustrated by the protests and riots following government announcements of its approval of the National Women Development Policy on international women’s day, the 8th of March. Islamic groups organized protest rallies to demand that the policy be cancelled out of concern that it would interfere with Sharia law. Such attitudes only hinder positive development and it is important that the government does not give in to such extremist demands and follows through on their commitment to ensuring and upholding equal rights for women.
*(1) Odhikar reported 29 cases of acid violence, 104 cases of dowry related violence, 127 cases of rape and 203 cases of sexual harassment/ stalking during the quarter.


 

Fact finding


Human Rights Defender, Shahanur Islam attacked
Thakurgaon district, 9 January 2011

Mr Shahanur Islam, executive director of the Bangladesh Institute for Human Rights, lawyer and GHRD local partner, was subject to physical assault and verbal threats during the course of his work in January this year. During an investigation on the 9th of January, 2011 Mr. Islam and two fact-finding officers were physically attacked, threatened and had their belongings looted in Thakurgaon district. The attackers threatened Mr Islam and his associates with a pistol and forced them to pose with money while the perpetrators took photos of them. The perpetrators warned the fact-finding team not to inform the police about this incident or they would publish the photos and kill them.

To date, one of the perpetrators has been arrested, although the other ten perpetrators continue to benefit from police impunity. When Mr Islam recently went to the region to identify his attackers, the co-accused said that the attack was perpetrated at the request of the secretary of Jubo League (the youth wing of the ruling party, Awami League). He also mentioned that members of the student league and local union parishad unit involved in the incident.
Arson attack on Jumma minority community
Chittagong Hill Tracts, 17 February 2011
On 17 February 2011, Bengali settlers from the Gulshakhali settler area, Longadu Upazila, Rangamati district in the Chittagong Hill Tracts attacked and set fire to the Jumma villages of Gulshakhali and Rangi Para areas. Around 23 Jumma homes were burnt to ashes.

The event occurred shortly after the death of a Bengali settler who went to collect firewood in the forest on Tuesday and did not return. His body was found in Rangipara on Wednesday. The Bengali settlers then carried his dead body during the demonstrations, accusing the Jumma of being responsible for his death. They mounted an arson attack burning around 23 Jumma houses and one school to ashes and injuring two Jumma students.


 
According to PCJSS, Jumma villagers gathered themselves and tried to defend the remaining houses and face off the Bengali settlers. Jumma leaders also informed the local administration including police. However, according to local organisations, both the police and the Border Guards of Bangladesh (BGB) stood by as onlookers while the Bengali settlers set fire to the Jumma houses and failed to act to stop the attacks. It is also alleged by PCJSS that the attack was mounted under the leadership of the Bagachatar union council chairman Wazed Ali and Gulishakhali union council chairman Abdur Rahim, who is also general secretary of Langadu upazila Awami League.

The Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission has added its condemnation of this event and has written to the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina about the issue and the lack of action on the part of the Border Guards of Bangladesh. According to the CHT Commission, a day after this incident there were allegations that members of the army were raiding homes of the Jummas and beating up villagers in Kudukchari of Rangamati, following protests made by the Jummas against the attacks in Langadu.

Case update on torture of Shila Mullick

In our October 2010 report, GHRD reported on a case of police negligence and torture against a Bangladeshi NGO worker, Shila Mullick. Ms. Mullick went to the Madaripur police station to file a case of police negligence regarding the attempted murder of her husband. The then superintendent of police attempted to persuade her to remove her case through means of torture, hitting her with a cane and dragging her by her hair.


 



Urgent appeals and announcements
Ensure the protection of human rights defender Mr. Shahanur Islam [UA-BA-18-01-2011] 
Arson attack on Jumma minority community in Rangamati, Chittagong Hill Tracts [UA-BA-22-02-2011] 
Urgent Announcement: Cyber attack against Bangladeshi human rights defender Jahangir Alam Akash [03-02-2011] 
Call for an end to the harassment of Odhikar secretary and staff by national security agencies [UA-BA-24-03-2011] 
 
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NGO reports


 


  1. The occurrence of extra-judicial killings committed by enforcement agencies, particularly the Royal Action Battalion, despite government declarations of “zero-tolerance” for such killings.

  2. Torture and unexplained deaths in custody.

  3. The death penalty and arbitrary imposition of the penalty due to a lack of transparency and wide scale corruption among the judiciary.

  4. Lack of government tolerance for a free media.

  5. Violence against women and a lack of adequate investigation and prosecution by the authorities for sexual crimes.


Odhikar quarterly report January – March 2011
In its quarterly human rights monitoring report, Odhikar highlighted the following human rights issues:


  1. Extra judicial killings - “reported statistics show that every 3 days, 1 person is killed extra judicially”

  2. Instances of border killings and political violence, Odhikar also reported that 22 people were killed and 1191 injured during political violence in the month of January 2011 alone. Over half of those injured occurred during the Pourashava (municipality) elections. In Jhenaidah district shops owned by religious minority communities were affected and many have shut down as a result.

  3. Politically motivated withdrawals from prosecution of cases involving ruling party leaders and activities. According to Odhikar, on January 11, 2011 a total of 1479 cases were proposed for withdrawal at a meeting of the ‘national committee on reviewing cases for withdrawal’. It has been reported that around 6750 cases were withdrawn under political consideration in the last two years since the Awami League assumed power.

  4. RAB disappearances

  5. Arson attack against Jumma community in Rangamati district, CHT

  6. Widespread violence against women and instances of village arbitration including: sexual harassment, stalking, dowry-related violence, rape and acid attacks



Click here to access the Odhikar mid-term assessment report 
Click here to access the Odhikar quarterly report 
 
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Media Reports

Serafina Mardi ,14 year old ethnic minority girl set fire to herself and died after gang rape (BBC, Daily Star, New Age)


 






Call for an end to the harassment of Odhikar secretary and staff by government intelligence agencies

National security agents have been following and harassing Odhikar’s Secretary Mr Adilur Rahman Khan, his family and other Odhikar staff members since October 2010. According to Odhikar, members of government intelligence agencies have been monitoring Odhikar and its secretary, Advocate Adilur Rahman Khan since March 14, 2011, following Odhikar’s 3rd Annual Human Rights Defenders Conference on the 12th and 13th of March. Government intelligence agencies have been following Mr Khan to his home and harassing his family members and employees, enquiring about his movements and schedule. National intelligence agents have also been requesting documentation on Odhikar which has already been submitted to the NGO Affairs Bureau.

Under the Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Rules 1978, any NGO receiving funding from abroad must register with the NGO bureau and apply for registration. This registration must be approved by the Ministry of Home Affairs and can be cancelled at any time. These requirements restrict civil society activities in Bangladesh make it easy for the government to influence NGO conduct and even shut them down, in instances where an NGO criticises the government. This practice is not transparent and is a form of intimidation which attempts to influence every level of an NGO’s activities.

On the 24th of March 2011 GHRD sent out an urgent announcement, lending its voice to the condemnations against this harassment from other international human rights organisations. GHRD is alarmed by this increased surveillance and intimidation of Odhikar staff and it is clear that these tactics are designed to slow down Odhikar’s human rights activities. GHRD condemns these acts and demands that the intimidation of Mr Khan, his family and the staff at Odhikar ceases immediately.
 
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Legal developments


Ethnic groups and minorities not recognised in 2011 government population and household census

The government population and household census conducted in mid-March failed to recognise over 40 distinct ethnic groups in Bangladesh, many of which reside in the Chittagong Hill Tracts region. The census provided for 27 distinct ethnic categories. Examples of such groups that are not categorised in the census questionnaire are the Mahatos, Baraiks, Mahalis, Ahamias, Rajbangshis, Rais and many others. Without conducting a census, these groups go uncounted but are estimated to account for around 1 million of the population. Mizanur Rahman, the Human Rights Commission chairman has publically stated that failing to recognize ethnic and minority communities such as Dalits, Harikans, and transsexuals constitutes a human rights violation.

This lack of recognition has sparked discussion on the lack of recognition of ethnic minorities in the Constitution of Bangladesh and on 19 March 2011 indigenous peoples of Bangladesh organised human chain across the country demanding constitutional recognition as indigenous peoples. Chairman of the parliamentary caucus on indigenous affairs, Rashed Khan Menon stated that problems in the Chittagong Hill Tracts cannot be fixed without such constitutional recognition of ethnic minorities.

National Women Development Policy

The government has approved the National Women Development Policy (NWDP) 2011, which aims to provide women with opportunities in employment and business and provision of equal shares in property. Traditionally, under Bangladeshi law women are discriminated against in terms of inheritance - the NWDP would change this and every child would be entitled to inherit the same amount.

The government intends to enact news laws to give effect to the policy. However, when asked whether the policy would contradict with the Muslim family law, Shirin Sharmin Chowdhury, the state minister for women and children affairs said the NWDP is not a law and does not affect the inheritance laws. This statement seems to be contradictory to the spirit of the policy.


 
Protests against the National Women’s Development Policy during the general strike called by Islamic Law Implementation Committee on 4th April, 2011.
Source: New Age newspaper
The NWDP is a revival of an earlier 1997 policy, in fulfilment of an election pledge by the Awami league. Similar announcements have been made in the past in 2004 and 2008 but the government has not followed through on these announcements. In particular, the government made announcements of a Women’s Development Policy in 2008, which were met with protests from Islamic lobbyists. The government made no move to pursue the policy until its recent announcement in 2011.

GHRD urges the government of Bangladesh not to give in to extremist demands and follows through on their commitment to ensuring and upholding equal rights for women. It is also important that the government take specific measures in law and policy to ensure equal opportunity for women. It remains to be seen whether the government fully intends to follow through on the policy and GHRD will continue to monitor the progress of the NWDP in the future.
High Court decreed the stalking of women a sexual offence (Daily Star)

In March 2011 the High Court declared stalking of girls and women illegal, and directed the government to consider the offence as sexual harassment. The ruling follows a rise in incidences of stalking and suicides as a result. The court asked the government to properly define ‘sexual harassment’ and to make stalking an offence in the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act. The court also asked the government to provide protection for victims and witnesses and to address the mental trauma experienced by victims. However, GHRD notes that High Court rulings in the past have tended to be disregarded.
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Recommendations

In light of the cases investigated and researched by GHRD in consultation with its local Bangladesh partners in the period January- March 2011, GHRD makes the following recommendations:


  1. End all intimidation and harassment of human rights defenders and journalists and prosecute all those responsible for attacks, intimidation and harassment against human rights defenders. Take all measures necessary to protect them during the course of their work.

  2. Make the law and process for NGO registration transparent – Any government decision to withdraw an NGO’s registration must be informed, justified and transparent.

  3. Police authorities must adequately investigate all criminal cases that are filed with them and all those responsible must be arrested and prosecuted. In cases where extra-judicial punishments have been carried out, the authorities must fully prosecute those who order and carry out these inhumane rulings. Cases of sexual assault and rape must be fully investigated, even in cases where the victim or their family have been pressured into settling their cases outside of the legal process.

  4. The government of Bangladesh must follow through on its Women’s Day promises and put the approved National Women’s Development Policy into effect, not only through legislation but through active social programmes and policies that enable women to have equal opportunities. The government must not give in to extremist demands to withdraw the policy and must maintain its commitment to equal opportunity for women.

  5. The Bangladeshi government must provide adequate legal processes to deal with cases of rape and sexual assault that are presented to the authorities and also provide rehabilitation and support for female victims of rape who have experienced gross trauma.

  6. Recognise ethnic and minority communities in the Constitution of Bangladesh and reflect this in government data collection, particularly the population and household census. This is a first step towards protecting minorities throughout the country.

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Local Observers and Partners
GHRD Dhaka conducts fact finding investigations and provides legal assistance to minority victims of human rights violations in Bangladesh. In addition GHRD Dhaka, collaborates with Parittran (Dalit Rights), Bangladesh Institute of Human Rights, Bangladesh Rehabilitation Centre for Trauma Victims and Bangladesh Minority Watch.
GHRD Dhaka, Observer Advocate Rabindra Ghosh 3/2 Purana Paltan – Purana Paltan P.S, Dhaka-1000 Phone nr : + 0711172468

Bangladesh Minority Watch (BDMW) 12, K.M. Das Lane- Tikatully- Bholagiri Trust- Sutrapur PS, Dhaka.Telephone: 0088-01711172468, bdmw.org.


 
 
 
 
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