U.S. State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2017: Bangladesh
According to its constitution, Bangladesh is a secular, democratic people’s republic. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the Awami League (AL) party that she led assumed power in 2009. The 2014 parliamentary elections that resulted in the prime minister and AL’s re-election were characterized by domestic and international observers as falling short of international standards.
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
The most significant human rights issues included: extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary or unlawful detentions, and forced disappearances by government security forces; restrictions on civil liberties, including freedom of speech, press, and the activities of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs); a lack of freedom to participate in the political process; corruption; violence and discrimination based on gender, religious affiliation, caste, tribe, including indigenous persons, and sexual orientation and gender identity also persisted and, in part, due to a lack of accountability. Trafficking in persons remained a serious problem; as did restrictions on worker’s rights and the worst forms of child labor.
There were reports of widespread impunity for security force abuses. The government took limited measures to investigate and prosecute cases of abuse and killing by security forces. Public distrust of police and security services deterred many from approaching government forces for assistance or to report criminal incidents.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
The constitution provides for the rights to life and personal liberty. There were numerous reports, however, that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
Suspicious deaths occurred during raids, arrests, and other law enforcement operations. Security forces frequently claimed they took a suspect in custody to a crime scene or hideout late at night to recover weapons or identify conspirators and that the suspect was killed when his conspirators shot at police. The government usually described these deaths as “crossfire killings,” “gunfights,” or “encounter killings,” terms used to characterize exchanges of gunfire between the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) or other police units and criminal gangs. The media also sometimes used these terms to describe legitimate uses of police force. Human rights organizations and media outlets claimed many of these “crossfire” incidents actually constituted extrajudicial killings. In some cases human rights organizations claimed law enforcement units detained, interrogated, and tortured suspects, brought them back to the scene of the original arrest, executed them, and ascribed the death to lawful self-defense in response to violent attacks. A domestic human rights organization, Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK), reported that security forces killed 162 individuals in “crossfire.” Another domestic human rights organization, Odhikar, reported that security forces killed 118 individuals extrajudicially in the first 10 months of the year.
On May 12, RAB forces allegedly shot and killed Rakibul Hasan Bappi and Lalon Molla in Goalanda Upazila, Rajbari District. According to RAB, the men died during a gunfight that occurred during a RAB raid of a meeting of the Purba Banglar Communist Party, a banned organization. Family members of the suspects claimed law enforcement arrested and detained the individuals months prior to the alleged May 12 incident. The circumstances of the encounter remained disputed.
ASK stated that law enforcement personnel killed up to 53 detainees in custody during the year, while Odhikar reported that security forces killed six detainees in the first six months of the year.
The family of Mazharul Islam, a community leader who protested against the government, alleged RAB tortured him to death after his arrest in Naogaon District. On September 8, Islam’s family said that RAB arrested Islam at a tea stall at Singarhat Bazar and later detained him in his home, where RAB members allegedly tortured him. RAB members then took him to Rajshahi Medical College Hospital, where he died on September 9. The hospital reported injuries to multiple areas of Islam’s body, according to press reports. On September 18, Islam’s wife, Shamima Akhtar Swapna, filed a murder case accusing the company commander of RAB-5 at Joypurhat, the Kanshopara Union Parishad chairman, and other local residents of torturing and killing her husband. Police were unable to provide all case documents for the original October 18 court date, so a new court date of January 15, 2018, was set. Swapna and a witness in the case stated they had received threats from unknown cell phone numbers for their roles in the case.
Competition among factions and members of the ruling party for local offices provoked violent clashes between supporters of rival Awami League candidates that resulted in killings. ASK reported political violence resulted in 44 deaths and 3,506 injuries in the first nine months of the year.
In August a violent Awami League intraparty clash took place between supporters of Rajnagar Union leaders in a power struggle before approaching general elections. The confrontation injured 56 individuals, and a Jubo League youth official died from a gunshot wound.
Terrorists committed killings in three separate terror incidents in March, all of which were claimed by ISIS. On March 17, a suspected suicide bomber infiltrated a RAB barracks and killed one person. On March 24, a suicide bomber killed two individuals at a police checkpoint near Dhaka’s Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport. On March 25, eight individuals were killed and more than 40 injured in two blasts during a raid on a suspected ISIS safe house in Sylhet.
Human rights groups and media reported that disappearances and kidnappings continued, some committed by security services. The government made limited efforts to prevent or investigate such acts. Following alleged disappearances, security forces released some individuals without charge, arrested some, some were found dead, and others were never found. ASK stated there were 60 enforced disappearances during the year.
Authorities took into custody in August 2016 the sons of three former opposition politicians convicted by Bangladesh’s International Criminal Tribunal. Authorities alleged they were conspiring to prevent the execution of one of their fathers, but they were never charged with a crime. Authorities released Humam Quader Chowdhury seven months later, but Mir Ahmed Bin Quasem and Amaan Azmi remained missing at year’s end. In February the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights published a report claiming at least 40 disappearances. The government did not respond to a request from the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances to visit the country.
High-ranking government officials repeatedly denied the incidents of enforced disappearance and claimed victims were hiding of their own accord. A July 4 judicial inquiry concluded that enforced disappearances occurred and ordered the Police Bureau of Investigation to take action regarding a disappeared person. In April Swedish Radio reported a secretly recorded interview with a senior RAB officer admitting that his unit routinely picked up individuals, killed them, and disposed of the bodies.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Although the constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, local and international human rights organizations and the media reported security forces, including RAB, intelligence services, and police, employed torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. Security forces reportedly used torture to gather information from alleged militants and members of political opposition parties. Security forces reportedly used threats, beatings, kneecappings, and electric shock, and they sometimes committed rapes and other sexual abuses. During the year Odhikar reported security forces tortured approximately 12 persons to death.
The law contains provisions allowing a magistrate to place a suspect in interrogative custody, known as remand, during which questioning of the suspect can take place without a lawyer present. Human rights organizations alleged that many instances of torture occurred during remand as a means of obtaining information from the suspect.
As of October 20, the United Nations reported that it received two allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against Bangladeshi peacekeepers during the year. Alleged victims said Bangladeshi police officers deployed with the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti sexually assaulted children and demanded transactional sex. As of November investigations of both allegations were pending.
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