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Saturday, March 20, 2010

US report sees some improvement in HR situation in Bangladesh

Source: The Financial Express

Despite some improvement in the government's human rights record, there were slight increase in the number of extrajudicial killings by security forces, custodial deaths, arbitrary arrest and detention, and harassment of journalists in Bangladesh, according to a Human Rights Report 2009 released by U.S. Department of State Thursday.

With the return of an elected government, reports of politically motivated violence increased 3.3 per cent, said the report prepared by Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.

The failure to investigate fully extrajudicial killings by security forces, including the deaths in custody of alleged mutineers from the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) border force, remained a matter of serious concern, the report said.

Violence against women and children remained a serious problem, as did trafficking in persons. Violence against religious and ethnic minorities still occurred, although many government and civil society leaders stated that these acts often had political or economic motivations and could not be attributed only to religious belief or affiliation.

Members of the security forces committed numerous extrajudicial killings. The police, BDR, military, and the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) occasionally used unwarranted lethal force.

According to government statistics, there was a 3 per cent increase in the number of killings by all security personnel, and the government did not take comprehensive measures to investigate these cases despite public statements by high-ranking officials that the government would show "zero tolerance" and would fully investigate all extrajudicial killings by security forces, the report added.

According to media reports, local and international human rights organizations, and the government, law enforcement officials were responsible for 154 deaths, 129 of which were attributed to crossfire.

There were hundreds of daily and weekly independent publications. Although there were significant improvements over the previous year, newspapers critical of the government experienced some government pressure.

Attacks on journalists continued to be a problem. There was an increase in individuals affiliated with the government or ruling party harassing, arresting, or assaulting journalists. According to Odhikar and media watchdog groups, at least three journalists were killed, 84 were injured, one was arrested, 45 were assaulted, 73 were threatened, and 23 had cases filed against them during the year. According to some journalists and human rights NGOs, journalists engaged in self-censorship for fear of retribution from the government.

The government generally respected this right in practice. Religion shaped the platforms of some political parties, but the government was sensitive to the religious sentiments of most citizens. Violence against religious and ethnic minorities was a problem occasionally.

Discrimination against members of religious minorities, such as Hindus, Christians, and Buddhists, existed at both the governmental and societal levels, and religious minorities were disadvantaged in practice in such areas as access to government jobs, political office, and justice. The secular AL government, however, appointed some members of the minority communities to senior government and diplomatic positions. In the new cabinet, three of the 38 ministers were non-Muslims.

On January 22, the country held elections to the newly created upazila parishads, or subdistrict councils, throughout the country. There were reports of violence, intimidation, vote rigging, and low voter turnout. The candidates backed by the ruling party won most of the upazila posts, although the election was not officially party based. The election commission organized repolling in a number of upazilas where elections were suspended due to violence.

According to Odhikar, there were 454 reported incidents of rape during the year, including 211 against women and 243 against children. According to human rights monitors, the actual number of rape cases was higher because many rape victims did not report the incidents due to social stigma. Prosecution of rapists was not consistent.

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