The following is a letter sent to U.S. Congressman Banks. It is the second letter regarding Congressman Bank's attempts to push for a House Resolution on the situation in Bangladesh. Whilst his attempts to create great focus on the serious situation in Bangladesh, it is argued that his focus demonstrates a lack of understanding of the real situation following an election that lacks all credibility, a complete breakdown in human rights protection and the total circumvention of the Rule of Law.
The human rights situation in Bangladesh has been in gradual decline since 2009 and the United States has taken a strong role in leading accountability. The views of Congressman Banks are very much in the minority.
The U.S. Department of States Country Reports on Human Rights Practices refers to Bangladesh as:
Bangladesh’s constitution provides for a parliamentary form of government, but in fact, most power resides in the Office of the Prime Minister. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League party won a third consecutive five-year term in an improbably lopsided December parliamentary election that was not considered free and fair, and was marred by reported irregularities, including ballot-box stuffing and intimidation of opposition polling agents and voters.
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
Human rights issues included unlawful or arbitrary killings; forced disappearance; torture; arbitrary or unlawful detentions by the government or on its behalf; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; censorship, site blocking, and criminal libel; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, such as overly restrictive nongovernmental organizations (NGO) laws and restrictions on the activities of NGOs; significant restrictions on freedom of movement; restrictions on political participation, where elections have not been found to be genuine, free, or fair; corruption; trafficking in persons; violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons and criminalization of same-sex sexual activity; restrictions on independent trade unions, workers’ rights, and use of the worst forms of child labor.
There were reports of widespread impunity for security force abuses. The government took few measures to investigate and prosecute cases of abuse and killing by security forces.
Dear Congressman Banks,
I write further to my letter of 15 December 2018 which raised concerns regarding House Resolution 1156, and would again seek to both echo those previous points, and address the content of the newly tabled House Resolution 160.
Again, as per my previous correspondence, it is wholly appropriate that the issue of Bangladesh is being raised, both before the House, and in the wider media, particularly when we consider the recent elections in which credible allegations of voter intimidation, arbitrary arrest of opposition members, and the falsifying of votes, were made. Of particular note, is that those allegations were made, amongst others, by the BBC, who recorded instances of ballot boxes being filled prior to polls opening.
This, coupled with that which was outlined in both my letter of 15 December 2018, and the hundreds of previous reports concerning Bangladesh, leads to a very real concern regarding democracy in Bangladesh, and the manner that it has become manipulated, not by any opposition party, but by those that purport to stand by its principles, namely the ruling Awami League.
It is notable that not one criticism regarding the opacity of the electoral process was directed at Jamaat-e-Islami, nor has Jamaat-e-Islami been suggested to be responsible for the breakdown of democratic principles in Bangladesh; those two issues are solely the responsibility of the Awami League Government.
It is the Awami League that has called for individuals to be murdered because of their pro-opposition stance, or because of their criticism of the ruling party.
It is the Awami League that has arbitrarily detained tens of thousands of innocence civilians, and it is the Awami League that has enacted legislation that directly undermines those fundamental rights and freedoms that any individual ought to expect in a democracy, including the right to free speech, and the right to free expression.
This latest resolution, with respect, is likely to destabilise Bangladesh further, as by calling on the Government of Bangladesh to “deny, disrupt, and dismantle the ability of Jamaat-e-Islami…” this will only serve to embolden the Awami League to continue its campaign of mass human rights violations with has resulted in the security services being given effective carte blanche to act any in any manner they see fit, even where those actions are demonstrably unlawful.
It is not merely an issue of empowering an autocratic and dictatorial regime however; Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, is a recognised, and legitimate political party, and one that enjoys a relationship with Governments in Europe, the United Kingdom and the Government of the United States. In making a call for the party to be dismantled therefore, this resolution does in fact subvert the democratic process.
Further, the resolution appears to mistakenly believe that Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, is the same group as that which operates in Pakistan; this would be an inappropriate conflation, given that the two parties are distinct, with a different structure, and different policies.
It is noted that Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami is a conservative faith based political party that is founded on religious principles and the tenets of Islam. I do not necessarily agree with their ideological foundation or the principles upon which their policies are based, but that is not the point. It is not for you or I to pass judgment or determine who is entitled to stand as a political party. If any political movement advocates for a violent or destabilising movement, then of course as a Member of Congress one would expect you to speak out and call for those responsible to be held accountable and to demand your Government takes appropriate action within the existing national legal framework. We have certainly called for members of the Government who engage in human rights violations to be held accountable through the Magnitsky Act in particular.
Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami does not threaten Bangladesh, it does not seek to destabilise, it doesn’t not oppose the democratic principles upon which the country was founded, nor does it seek or advocate the imposition of a theocracy.
At the risk of repeating the remarks to which I have previously drawn attention, I would highlight the fact that it is Jamaat-e-Islami that has condemned terrorist attacks, and made such statements before the Government has offered any criticism, and further, it is Jamaat-e-Islami that has called for free, fair, and independent elections, along with the reinstatement of democratic principles, and the associated fundamental rights and freedoms. It is Jamaat-e-Islami that has produced a detailed human rights policy as part of its political manifesto.
In closing, therefore, as much as I would commend you for seeking further focus on today’s Bangladesh, I would respectfully request that further investigation be done into the reality of what is actually occurring, including the erosion of democracy which has been solely down to the policies of the current Awami league Government.
Finally, I have copied in my previous correspondence of 15 December for your ease of reference.
As per my previous letter, I am more than happy to meet and seek to highlight the above concerns further, and clarify the position concerning politics, human rights, and therefore democracy in Bangladesh.
I thank you for your attention to the above and look forward to hearing from you.
Toby M. Cadman
Guernica 37 International Justice Chambers