Foreign Policy Blogs

U.S. State Dept. Lambastes AL Government's Human Rights Record

The following is the U.S. State Department’s assessment of Bangladesh’s human rights record over the course of the last year. Without pulling any punches, at lenght:

“Security forces committed extrajudicial killings and were responsible for custodial deaths, torture, and arbitrary arrest and detention. The failure to investigate fully extrajudicial killings by security forces, including several deaths in custody of alleged criminals detained by the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), remained a matter of serious concern. Some members of the security forces acted with impunity. Prison conditions at times were life-threatening, lengthy pretrial detention continued to be a problem, and authorities infringed on citizens’ privacy rights. An increasingly politicized judiciary exacerbated problems in an already overwhelmed judicial system and constrained access to justice for members of opposition parties. The government limited freedom of speech and of the press, self-censorship continued, and security forces harassed journalists. The government curbed freedom of assembly, and politically motivated violence remained a problem. Official corruption and related impunity continued. Discrimination against women, and violence against women and children remained serious problems, as did discrimination against persons with disabilities and against persons based on their sexual orientation. Trafficking in persons remained a serious problem. 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. Limits on worker rights and child labor remained problems.”

This is a litany of charges and accusations.  To be sure, it mainly points to the current Awami League government’s human rights violations.  But that is not the only government or only party to which the State Department is pointing.

This list enumerates the results of crime, corruption and decades-long misappropriation of power, by both leading parties, that needs correcting- perhaps over a generation and more. Bangladesh is a young country; its people are talented and hungry to choose their own course over their own surplus. But they need help from successive governments willing to work with them and their needs.  But so far this is something of a distant dream, continually deferred.

The charges above show that, as of this writing, no government has borne the burden of its people well.  This, because no list as lengthy as the one you read above could possibly have been created based on the results of one party’s malfeasance over one term in office.  This is a cultural problem more than a political one; as such the solution to that problem requires a multi-facted, multi-dimensional solution, one that is not forthcoming.

Nevertheless, the ruling party in power, the Awami League can be held to charge against at least the political source of corruption and the rather brutal moves that it has enforced against its political enemies-in the main, the leaders of the BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami.

As I’ve written before, under the auspices of the International War Crimes Tribunal, the AL government used the Rapid Action Battalion, (RAB) to detain and torture BNP leader S Q Chowdhury in his own home before hauling him off to jail. That move and his subsequent lengthy detention without third party medical treatment has lit up the international media’s focus on Bangladesh. American diplomats have called upon the government to resist pushing political vengeance on a political, historical issue.  And yet shining a spotlight on this human rights issue seems to not have made a difference on the way the government is approaching this man’s incarceration.

Sociological traps that ensnare corrupt behavior can stand the test of time.  But overtly political moves can be remedied at the stroke of a pen.  The U.S government’s condemnation should force someone somewhere in Dhaka to move a pen, lay down thin lines of thin and end Mr. Chowdhury’s torturous detention.

For, finally, the AL government must show- and it must do so soon- that it is a government worthy of its great, just and suffering people.



Faheem Haider

Faheem Haider is a political analyst, writer and artist. He holds advanced research degrees in political economy, political theory and the political economy of development from the London School of Economics and Political Science and New York University. He also studied political psychology at Columbia University. During long stints away from his beloved Washington Square Park, he studied peace and conflict resolution and French history and European politics at the American University in Washington DC and the University of Paris, respectively.

Faheem has research expertise in democratic theory and the political economy of democracy in South Asia. In whatever time he has to spare, Faheem paints, writes, and edits his own blog on the photographic image and its relationship to the political narrative of fascist, liberal and progressivist art.

That work and associated writing can be found at the following link: