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,