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Mon. May 27, 2024
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IAF Editorials
The Gory Legacy of the Bangladesh Awami League
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Bangladesh, a country of over 160 million people, has suffered from a chronic crisis of democracy and human rights for decades. The ruling party, the Bangladesh Awami League (BAL), has been accused of committing crimes against humanity, including murder, torture, abduction, rape, and attacks on minorities. These crimes are not isolated incidents, but part of a systematic and widespread pattern of violence and repression that has been ingrained in the party’s ideology and practice since its inception.

The BAL, founded in 1949, claims to be a secular and progressive party that fought for the independence of Bangladesh from Pakistan in 1971. However, the party’s history is marred by bloodshed and brutality, especially during the autocratic rule of its founder and supreme leader, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who declared himself the president for life in 1975. Under his regime, the party’s armed wing, the Jatiya Rakkhi Bahini unleashed a reign of terror on the opposition and the general public, killing thousands of people, mostly in rural areas. The party also suppressed the democratic aspirations of the people of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, a region inhabited by indigenous communities, who faced massacres, rapes, and displacement by the army and the settlers.

The BAL lost power in 1975 after a group of army officers assassinated Sheikh Mujib, and the country went through a series of military coups and dictatorships until 1990 when a mass movement restored democracy. The BAL returned to power in 1996, and again in 2009, under the leadership of Sheikh Mujib’s daughter, Sheikh Hasina, who has been ruling the country ever since. During her tenure, the party has consolidated its grip on power by manipulating the electoral system, controlling the judiciary, muzzling the media, and cracking down on civil society and the opposition. The party has also revived the Jatiya Rakkhi Bahini, now known as the Rapid Action Battalion. This notorious paramilitary force has been implicated in hundreds of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and torture cases.

The BAL has also been involved in a series of violent attacks on religious and ethnic minorities, such as Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, and Ahmadiyyas, who constitute about 10 per cent of the population. The party has used communal rhetoric and propaganda to incite hatred and violence against these groups, accusing them of being anti-national and pro-Indian. The party has also exploited the issue of the 1971 war crimes trials, which were meant to bring justice to the victims of the Pakistani army and its local collaborators, but were instead used to target the political opponents of the BAL, mainly the Islamic parties. The trials, which were marred by irregularities and violations of due process, resulted in the execution of several opposition leaders, sparking protests and counter-protests that led to more bloodshed and polarization. The BAL’s crimes against humanity have been documented and denounced by various national and international human rights organizations, such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the South Asian Policy Initiative. However, the party has dismissed these concerns and denied any wrongdoing, claiming that it is the champion of democracy and development in Bangladesh. The party has also enjoyed the support and silence of some of the major powers, such as India, China, and the United States, who have prioritized their strategic and economic interests over the human rights and dignity of the Bangladeshi people.

The BAL’s reign of terror has not only inflicted immense suffering and injustice on the people of Bangladesh but also undermined the prospects of peace and stability in the region. The party’s authoritarian and sectarian policies have fueled radicalization and extremism, creating a fertile ground for terrorist groups, such as the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda, to recruit and operate in the country. The party’s hostility and aggression towards its neighbors, such as Myanmar and India, have also increased the risk of conflict and instability in South Asia.

The international community cannot afford to ignore or appease the BAL any longer. The party must be held accountable for its crimes against humanity and pressured to respect the rule of law and the human rights of all citizens, regardless of their political, religious, or ethnic affiliations. The international community also highlighted the HRVs committed by BAL in the following instances.

  • In January 2022, Human Rights Watch released its World Report 2022, which documented the grave abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture, and enforced disappearances by Bangladesh security forces, and the crackdown on critics, journalists, and activists under the pretext of the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • In March 2022, four UN Special Rapporteurs, along with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, jointly wrote to the Bangladesh government asking it to respond to their concerns about the use of excessive force and arbitrary arrests by law enforcement officials in their policing of demonstrations held by the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) between July and December 2021.
  • In October 2021, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the United States House of Representatives held a briefing on the human rights situation in Bangladesh, where witnesses testified about the widespread and systematic violations of civil and political rights by the Awami League government, and urged the US government to take a stronger stance on the issue.
  • In September 2021, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the situation of human rights and democracy in Bangladesh, calling on the government to end the culture of impunity and ensure accountability for human rights violations, to repeal or amend the repressive laws that restrict freedom of expression and assembly, and to respect the rights of the Rohingya refugees and ensure their voluntary, safe, and dignified return to Myanmar.

The BAL has betrayed the ideals and aspirations of the people of Bangladesh, who fought for freedom, democracy, and justice in 1971. The party has turned the country into a dictatorship, where dissent is crushed, human rights are violated, and minorities are persecuted. The party has also endangered the security and stability of the region, by creating a breeding ground for terrorism and extremism. The people of Bangladesh deserve better than the BAL, which has become a criminal enterprise that has no legitimacy or credibility. The international community should not turn a blind eye to the atrocities committed by the BAL and should support the democratic forces in Bangladesh, who are struggling for a peaceful and inclusive future. The BAL must be held accountable for its crimes against humanity, and must be removed from power by the will of the people.

Iqra Awan is a Research Fellow at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad and can be reached at iqraawann18@gmail.com

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