(New York) – The Bangladesh government failed to prosecute security forces for serious abuses including killings, disappearances, and arbitrary arrests, Human Rights Watch said in its 2015 World Report, released today. Government forces committed serious abuses both leading up to and after the January 2014 general election, while members of opposition parties engaged in violent and indiscriminate attacks to impose economic blockades and to enforce a boycott of the January polls.
In spite of well-documented evidence, the government took no steps to ensure accountability for any election-related violence or for other violations by its security forces. The sole exception was the arrest in May of several members of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) who were implicated in a high-profile contract killing of a local politician.
“The arrest of a few members of RAB is a positive move, but the government must ensure that justice is not dealt out selectively, depending on family or political connections,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government essentially gives security forces free rein so long as it suits the government’s interests, and turns a blind eye to excesses. This has long been a trend in Bangladesh, regardless of which party is in power.”
In the 656-page world report, its 25th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth urges governments to recognize that human rights offer an effective moral guide in turbulent times, and that violating rights can spark or aggravate serious security challenges. The short-term gains of undermining core values of freedom and non-discrimination are rarely worth the long-term price.
Human Rights Watch also pointed to chronic rights issues that remain a concern in Bangladesh. Child marriage persists as a serious problem. Conditions for the Rohingya refugee population from Burma remained critical with the government making dire threats about forcibly returning them. International humanitarian groups continued to report difficulty of access to the Rohingya refugee camps.
After years of increasing restrictions on civil society, the government introduced a draft bill that would formalize restrictive practices and policies, and make access to foreign funding particularly onerous. The government also introduced a new media policy that imposed unacceptable limits on free expression and speech. Although the government had amended its labor laws after the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory, workers continued to report intimidation and violence when attempting to form or join unions.
In a positive move in 2014, two groups of North American and European retailers completed their fire and safety inspections of more than 2000 factories in the ready-made garment industry following an agreement after the Rana Plaza tragedy. Although they made their reports public and repairs have begun in some factories, inspections conducted by the government of other factories have not been made public and it remains unknown if any repairs have been undertaken.
“At long last, the government and the international community found the will to improve the terrible conditions of the workers in Bangladesh’s garment industry, but that momentum must be maintained,” Adams said. “There must be a guard against complacency and thinking that enough has been done, when in fact the task of ensuring safety to all of Bangladesh’s factory workers, in all industries, has only just begun.”