Thursday, November 5, 2015

The seven questions the Netherlands PM should ask Sheikh Hasina

The Bangladesh prime minister arriving in the
Netherlands on a three day trip
Netherlands has become the first European (or indeed 'Western' country) to invite the Bangladesh prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, on an official visit since the controversial 5 January 2014 elections.

Bangladesh, as a country, has much going for it with an economy motoring along at 6%, and a government with big dreams of moving the country to a middle income country.

At the same time, however, the human rights situation has perhaps never been worse - certainly not since the return of democracy  in 1990. As Human Rights Watch has recently put it: the country has a ‘large number of chronic and serious human rights violations which fly under the radar on the global scene.’

So, whilst the Netherlands ministers discusses important things as cooperation on dealing with flooding in Bangladesh, and other development collaborations, perhaps they can also take the time to at least ask her questions on these seven issues

1. Media Freedom

The country's military intelligence DGFI, which the prime minister controls, has ordered the major telecommunications and consumer companies to stop advertising by in the country's two leading independent newspapers, The Daily Star and Prothom Alo.

What are you going to do to stop this significant infringement of the freedom of the media and intimidation of these papers?

2. Disappearances

During a single two week period, in the country's capital city, just before the January 2014 election, law enforcement officials picked up 19 BNP opposition activists in seven separate incidents. Their whereabouts two years on continue to remain unknown.

Where are these disappeared men? Are they still in detention or have they been killed? And under whose instructions were they picked up and illegally and secretly detained?
(These are not the only long term disappeared, but perhaps the most extraordinary example.)

3. Recent secret detentions - the Cesare Tavella Case

Your law enforcement agencies have now arrested five men in relation to the killing of the Italian NGO worker Cesare Tavella, but in each case family and independent eye witnesses claim that the men were picked up up between 10 and 15 days before - and secretly and illegally detained during that period - before they were presented to the media (and the courts).

How can you expect people to accept the credibility of the investigations into this murder when the their basis is totally illegal, and secret detentions provides rampant opportunity for torture to take place, raising serious questions about any confessions that they make? 

4. Widespread secret detentions

The secret detentions of the five men in Cesare Tavella case appears to be just the tip of an iceberg of secret detentions that are reported to be taking place throughout the country. For example,  it has been reported that the UK citizen, Samiun Rahman, accused last year by the police of being an IS recruiter, was apparently secretly detained for a week before being brought before the media; and another British citizen, Tawhidur Rahman, accused of involvement in the blogger killings, was secretly and illegally detained for three months before being presented to court.

What actions are you going to take to stop the widespread use of secret detentions?

5. Extra-judicial killings

Extra judicial killings continue to take place - in which investigations suggest that the law enforcement authorities are simply killing people who are in their detention, and pretending that they are simply 'gun-fights'.

Why is there no independent investigations into these killings?

6. Battering the opposition

The current government has done everything to weaken and destabilize the main opposition parties - even going so far as to blame them for all the recent killings in Bangladesh, claimed by the Islamic state and others. Apart from the disappearances, and the extra-judicial killings mentioned above, almost every significant senior opposition leader has been accused of a criminal offense - are they are now in jail , in hiding, or face arrest. There has also been widespread mass arrests of thousands of opposition activists. The opposition parties, the BNP and the Jamaat, are unable to operate at all as political parties.

When will your government stop the persecution of the opposition parties, and allow democratic participation to take place in the country?

7. Elections

It is generally accepted that the controversial 2014 elections, which were boycotted by the main opposition parties (after the government removed the constitutional provisions for an election period caretaker government) provide only limited democratic legitimacy to the current government. There were widespread irregularities in the Upazilla and City Corporation elections which have taken place since then. The election commission is widely perceived to lack independence from the government

How are you going to ensure that the next national elections are going to be free and fair?

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