Does Bangladesh abide by the values of the Commonwealth Charter?

Sheikh+Hasina+Queen+Attends+CHOGM+Day+1+KuQ2ENWfHjJlToday is Commonwealth Day. It is a day when the historic Charter of the Commonwealth will be formalised. 

Through the Charter, Commonwealth leaders commit to upholding: democracy; human rights; peace and security; tolerance, respect and understanding; freedom of expression; separation of powers; rule of law; good governance; sustainable development; environmental protection; access to health, education, food and shelter; gender equality; and the importance of young people and civil society.

Bangladesh is a longstanding member of the Commonwealth and signatory to this charter. We do a quick assessment to see how Bangladesh abides by these values.

Does Bangladesh abide by the values of the Commonwealth Charter?

I. DEMOCRACY

The Charter states:

“We recognise the inalienable right of individuals to participate in democratic processes, in particular through free and fair elections in shaping the society in which they live. Governments, political parties and civil society are responsible for upholding and promoting democratic culture and practices and are accountable to the public in this regard. Parliaments and representative local governments and other forms of local governance are essential elements in the exercise of democratic governance.

We support the role of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group to address promptly and effectively all instances of serious or persistent violations of Commonwealth values without any fear or favour.”

In recent days, Bangladesh has:

  • As this Charter comes into effect, the Bangladeshi government has raided the offices of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, the main opposition, and arrested 185 of its members following protests held by the party that day.
  • The government has been swayed by what is known as the ‘Shahbag movement’ who, amongst other demands, have called for the banning of certain political parties and opposition media. The government has echoed these calls.
  • Security forces have shot dead well over 100 civilian members of opposition parties during protests against misrule, state brutality and the politicization of the war crimes trials.
  • The government has removed the Caretaker Government system which ensures elections are held under a non-partisan body to ensure fairness and prevent vote rigging.

 

II. HUMAN RIGHTS

“We are committed to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other relevant human rights covenants and international instruments. We are committed to equality and respect for the protection and promotion of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development, for all without discrimination on any grounds as the foundations of peaceful, just and stable societies. We note that these rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated and cannot be implemented selectively.

We are implacably opposed to all forms of discrimination, whether rooted in gender, race, colour, creed, political belief or other grounds.”

In recent days, Bangladesh has:

  • Killed well over 100 of its citizens by live fire from security forces within the space of a week [Feb 28-March 6 2013].
  • In December 2012, 19 female students and one elderly lady of the opposition were arrested from their offices and detained for weeks. Among them was a 5 month pregnant young lady who was not permitted bail. The women were forcibly unveiled and subjected to violence during questioning. They still do not know their crime. Soon after, 13 women were arrested from a press conference on women’s rights organized in response to the students’ arrest. Four BNP lady MPs arrested and detained for eight hours during protests on March 7 2013.
  • Opposition protests face heavy police crackdown and indiscriminate shooting nationwide: at least 143 dead, thousands injured in past weeks (Feb-March 2013). At least 66 shot dead on Feb 28 2013 alone, mainly of Jamaat/Shibir. On March 11 2013, opposition BNP offices raided and 185 members, including BNP Acting Secretary General arrested.
  • Torture, known as “remand”, practiced as routine by security forces.
  • As of December 12 2012, under 4 years of this government, 75 forced disappearances, 775 killed and 58,251 injured in political violence (Odhikar.org). Abductions include BNP MP Elyas Ali and war crimes tribunal defence witness Shukho Ranjan Bali.

 

III. INTERNATIONAL PEACE AND SECURITY

“We firmly believe that international peace and security, sustainable economic growth and development and the rule of law are essential to the progress and prosperity of all.

We are committed to an effective multilateral system based on inclusiveness, equity, justice and international law as the best foundation for achieving consensus and progress on major global challenges including piracy and terrorism.

We support international efforts for peace and disarmament at the United Nations and other multilateral institutions. We will contribute to the promotion of international consensus on major global political, economic and social issues. We will be guided by our commitment to the security, development and prosperity of every member state.

We reiterate our absolute condemnation of all acts of terrorism in whatever form or wherever they occur or by whomsoever perpetrated, with the consequent tragic loss of human life and severe damage to political, economic and social stability. We reaffirm our commitment to work together as a diverse community of nations, individually, and collectively under the auspices and authority of the United Nations, to take concerted and resolute action to eradicate terrorism.”

In recent days, Bangladesh has:

  • Ruling party youth are permitted to “assist” law enforcers in cracking down on opposition using heavy weaponry including firearms.
  • A cache of illegal arms, including AK-47 rifles and shotguns, was seized in Kushtia being trafficked by members of the ruling party in December 2011.

 

IV. TOLERANCE, RESPECT AND UNDERSTANDING

“We emphasise the need to promote tolerance, respect, understanding, moderation and religious freedom which are essential to the development of free and democratic societies, and recall that respect for the dignity of all human beings is critical to promoting peace and prosperity.

We accept that diversity and understanding the richness of our multiple identities are fundamental to the Commonwealth’s principles and approach.”

In recent days, Bangladesh has:

  • Allowed attacks on minorities to proliferate with impunity, mostly committed by ruling party members. Attacks include the vandalism of a 200 year old Buddhist temple by the son of a ruling party leader and previous MP in February 2012. (Odhikar.org)
  • Recently a spate of attacks have been witnessed against minorities. Government has accused opposition, opposition deny involvement, condemning the attacks and calling for investigations.
  • Hate speech against Islam was published by leading bloggers of the Shahbag movement. Rather than taking hate speech perpetrators to task, the government cracked down on anti-Islamophobia protests, leaving dozens dead. 22 killed by police on Feb 26th 2013 alone.
  • Mosques have become the center of government crackdown, particularly at Friday prayers. Police lay siege to Baitul Mukarram mosque, central mosque of the capital, for at least an hour of continuous firing as worshippers and activits too refuge inside on Friday Feb 22nd 2013. Meanwhile on Friday March 8th 2013 mass arrests were conducted on worshippers at Baitul Mukarram on suspicion of their intention to protest after prayers.
  • Curtailment of religious rights, with women’s hijab banned at several state institutions including Chittagong Nursing College, Kushtia Women’s College and Rajshahi University Dept of Social Welfare. 

 

V. FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

“We are committed to peaceful, open dialogue and the free flow of information, including through a free and responsible media, and to enhancing democratic traditions and strengthening democratic processes.”

In recent days, Bangladesh has:

  • Heavy political partisanship in media. Most leading outlets are owned by members of the ruling party. A handful are owned by dissenting voices who regular harassment.
  • Opposition media face attacks and police raids. Following Shahbag protest, Amar Desh, Naya Diganta and Sangram, faced vandalism and arson.
  • As of Dec 2012, under 4 years of this regime, 12 journalists killed, 502 injured and 238 threatened. 48 journalists assaulted by police fire and ruling party youth in the past month (Feb-March 2013). 25 journalists wounded mostly by police fire on Feb 22nd 2013 alone.
  • In 2010 Mahmudur Rahman, Editor of Amar Desh, arrested and tortured, his newspaper temporarily closed for critiquing Prime Minister Hasina’s son in his paper. He is now under threat of arrest/death following publication of leaks exposing discrepancy at the war crimes trials and critique of the state and Shahbag protests.
  • Bangladesh was ranked 144th in the Press Freedom Index of 2013

 

VI. SEPARATION OF POWERS

“We recognise the importance of maintaining the integrity of the roles of the Legislature, Executive and Judiciary. These are the guarantors in their respective spheres of the rule of law, the promotion and protection of fundamental human rights and adherence to good governance.”

In recent days, Bangladesh has:

  • Undergone a scandal where a judge was found to be colluding with the state, prosecutors and activists in a trial that awarded the death sentence to a member of the opposition
  • Following calls from people at the Shahbag protests, the government swiftly made post-trial amendments to laws of the war crimes trials to allow for prosecution members to appeal for higher sentences including the death sentence.
  • Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina called on judges of the war crimes trials to take the people’s will into consideration.

 

VII. RULE OF LAW

We believe in the rule of law as an essential protection for the people of the Commonwealth and as an assurance of limited and accountable government. In particular we support an independent, impartial, honest and competent judiciary and recognise that an independent, effective and competent legal system is integral to upholding the rule of law, engendering public confidence and dispensing justice.

In recent days, Bangladesh has:

  • Attacks against minorities, primarily by ruling party members, left unaddressed due to law enforcement agencies preferring party members. (Odhikar.org)
  • Extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances by law enforcing agencies including the police and RAB continue
  • Rampant corruption within law enforcing agencies and judiciary, entailing bribes as routine to secure action
  • Crimes by ruling agencies often withdrawn by government, preventing law enforcers from properly responding
  • Crimes committed by law enforcers themselves including child rape.

 

VIII. GOOD GOVERNANCE

We reiterate our commitment to promote good governance through the rule of law, to ensure transparency and accountability and to root out, both at national and international levels, systemic and systematic corruption.

In recent days, Bangladesh has:

  • Corruption remains a serious concern at all levels of governance and law enforcement.
  • Railway Minister, Suranjit Sengupta, was embroiled in a serious bribery scandal in April 2012. The minister was forced to resign but Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina soon reappointed him as minister of the cabinet without portfolio.
  • The nationalized Sonali Bank has been embroiled in an embezzlement scandal of considerable proportions with Hallmark group and others. $460million in illegal loans were distributed by the bank to these recipient companies.
  • A share market scandal in 2010-11 involved the crash of the stock markets and the complete loss of investments for millions of small investors. Evidence of heavy manipulation in the stock markets was found.

 

IX. SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

We recognise that sustainable development can help to eradicate poverty by pursuing inclusive growth whilst preserving and conserving natural ecosystems and promoting social equity.

We stress the importance of sustainable economic and social transformation to eliminate poverty and meet the basic needs of the vast majority of the people of the world and reiterate that economic and social progress enhances the sustainability of democracy.

We are committed to removing wide disparities and unequal living standards as guided by internationally agreed development goals. We are also committed to building economic resilience and promoting social equity, and we reiterate the value in technical assistance, capacity building and practical cooperation in promoting development.

We are committed to an effective, equitable, rules-based multilateral trading system, the freest possible flow of multilateral trade on terms fair and equitable to all, while taking into account the special requirements of small states and developing countries.

We also recognise the importance of information and communication technologies as powerful instruments of development; delivering savings, efficiencies and growth in our economies, as well as promoting education, learning and the sharing of culture. We are committed to strengthening its use while enhancing its security, for the purpose of advancing our societies.

In recent days, Bangladesh has:

  • Bangladesh has a thriving garments industry which forms its number one export. However, worker pay and working conditions remain poor, doing little to bridge the poverty gap.
  • Factory safety standards remain deeply troubling. Recent fires lead to major loss of life.
  • Aminul Islam, a garments factory worker and union leader campaigned for worker rights. He was regularly harassed by police. He disappeared on April 4 2012 and was later found tortured and murdered. No arrests have been made and the police have been slow to progress on the case
  • Factory worker strikes for better pay and conditions have been met with brutality from police.

 

X. PROTECTING THE ENVIRONMENT

We recognise the importance of the protection and conservation of our natural ecosystems and affirm that sustainable management of the natural environment is the key to sustained human development. We recognise the importance of multilateral cooperation, sustained commitment and collective action, in particular by addressing the adaptation and mitigation challenges of climate change and facilitating the development, diffusion and deployment of affordable environmentally friendly technologies and renewable energy, and the prevention of illicit dumping of toxic and hazardous waste as well as the prevention and mitigation of erosion and desertification.

In recent days, Bangladesh has:

  • Made agreements with Russia to set up two nuclear power plants in Bangladesh. Given the country’s dense population and lack of experience and expertise in nuclear power, experts have voiced fears for environmental impact and the danger of accidents.

 

XI. ACCESS TO HEALTH, EDUCATION, FOOD AND SHELTER

We recognise the necessity of access to affordable health care, education, clean drinking water, sanitation and housing for all citizens and emphasise the importance of promoting health and well-being in combating communicable and non-communicable diseases.

We recognise the right of everyone to have access to safe, sufficient and nutritious food, consistent with the progressive realisation of the right to adequate food in the context of national food security.

In recent days, Bangladesh has:

  • Half the population live below the poverty line, and malnutrition is a constant. 43% of children under 5 are stunted (UNICEF). In spite of some positive progress, a more robust effort to challenge these realities is needed. Political conflicts and corruption must be set aside for poverty alleviation.
  • Recent government enforced price hikes in essentials, including food and fuel, hit the poorest members of society most.

 

XII. GENDER EQUALITY

We recognise that gender equality and women’s empowerment are essential components of human development and basic human rights. The advancement of women’s rights and the education of girls are critical preconditions for effective and sustainable development. 

In recent days, Bangladesh has:

  • Women’s rights have deteriorated. In 2012 at least 805 women were raped (13% more than in 2011), 822 were victims of dowry violence (59% more than in 2011), 78 were victims of acid violence (16% more than in 2011). In 2012, 13 women were raped by law enforcement agencies. In 2011, four women were raped by law enforcers. (Odhikar.org)

 

XIII. IMPORTANCE OF YOUNG PEOPLE IN THE COMMONWEALTH

We recognise the positive and active role and contributions of young people in promoting development, peace, democracy and in protecting and promoting other Commonwealth values, such as tolerance and understanding, including respect for other cultures. The future success of the Commonwealth rests with the continued commitment and contributions of young people in promoting and sustaining the Commonwealth and its values and principles, and we commit to investing in and promoting their development, particularly through the creation of opportunities for youth employment and entrepreneurship.

In recent days, Bangladesh has:

  • Indiscriminate killing of opposition activists includes children. One such victim was a boy of class 10 who was killed (February 2013). Recently a boy of class 8 sustained bullet wounds from police fire (March 2013).
  • Children continue to be employed under often terrible conditions and with poor pay.
  • Police brutality does not discriminate against children. Child employees were beaten mercilessly at garment factory worker protests.
  • Child rape has seen an alarming rise. Includes an 11 year old indigenous girl raped by police in Chittagong Hill Tracts (September 2012 – AHRC), a nine year old girl raped and killed in Dhaka (January 2013) and a girl of class two raped and killed in Rajshahi (March 2013). Reports suggest 21 reported child rapes in October 2012 and 26 in November 2012 alone.

 

XIV. RECOGNITION OF THE NEEDS OF SMALL STATES

We are committed to assisting small and developing states in the Commonwealth, including the particular needs of small island developing states, in tackling their particular economic, energy, climate change and security challenges, and in building their resilience for the future.

 

XV. RECOGNITION OF THE NEEDS OF VULNERABLE STATES

We are committed to collaborating to find ways to provide immediate help to the poorest and most vulnerable including least developed countries, and to develop responses to protect the people most at risk.

In recent days, Bangladesh has:

  • Bangladesh is suffering from a deterioration in human rights, with recent weeks witnessing the most intense bloodshed since the nation’s inception. This is affecting lives, livelihoods, prospects and stability of the country. It is important the British government responds to the cycle of violence engulfing the country, as both a commonwealth state and a major recipient of British aid.

 

XVI. THE ROLE OF CIVIL SOCIETY

We recognise the important role that civil society plays in our communities and countries as partners in promoting and supporting Commonwealth values and principles, including the freedom of association and peaceful assembly, and in achieving development goals.

In recent days, Bangladesh has:

  • Violent crackdown on opposition and dissenting protests while protecting government-backed protests in Shahbag.
  • Actively prevented attempts at peaceful protests by dissenters, using methods that include arrest, baton charge, firing of rubber bullets and live ammunition, tear gas as well as pepper spray. Many deaths and injuries as a result. Pepper spray on protests organised by teachers led to at least one death (January 2013), while pepper spray on protesters against fuel hikes led to at least 30 injuries including journalists (January 2013).