US concerned over political situation | The Daily Star
02:50 PM, November 21, 2013 / LAST MODIFIED: 08:13 PM, November 21, 2013

US concerned over political situation

Photo courtesy: Prothom Aloi US Congressman Steve Chabot delivers welcome speech before the hearing starts. Photo courtesy: Prothom Alo

The United States has expressed grave concerns over the prevailing political stalemate in Bangladesh centring the upcoming parliamentary elections.

Rigid stance of the major political camps led by Awami League and BNP, increased violence on the streets and attacks on minorities are the key reasons of concern for the US government, the members of Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific of the US Congress said during a hearing on prevailing political turmoil over Bangladesh’s next general election.

Titled ‘Bangladesh in Turmoil: A Nation on the Brink?’ the hearing was held at the House Rayburn Office Building Washington Wednesday.

"Bangladeshi politics is once again at the crossroads. The constitution requires an election to be held by 24 January, 2014. But there is no agreement between the opposition and the ruling parties as to who will oversee the election," Ali Riaz, public policy scholar of Woodrow Wilson Center, said during the hearing.

Steve Chabot, chief of the subcommittee, chaired the hearing.

Chabot talked about Bangladesh's development over the past years and stressed political violence and stability stands in its way.

"Corruption also remains a significant obstacle to Bangladesh's place in the world economy," he added.

He said that such political violence can only lead to stability and might foster growth of extremist groups.

"In meetings with the leaders I stressed the need to curtail the growing violence which can only bring about further instability possibly leading to the expansion of extremist groups," Chabot said.

He also expressed concerns about the standards of the International Crimes Tribunal, saying that the standards are worrying.

He added, "Bangladesh has much going for it and much standing in the way of it growing progress."

John Sifton, the Asia Advocacy Director of Human Rights Watch in his testimony focused on human rights implications of the current political impasse along with other issues which he termed, "not as high profile but still important."

Describing the background of the current political volatility, he said that the political volatility of resulting hartals will shut down transit and economic activities.

He also highlighted the mob violence which results from the hartals.

"Some of the worst violence so far this year occurred between gangs of rival party activists from the Awami League, BNP and Jamaat -- none of whose leaders, it should be noted, have done much to restrain their supporters."

Sifton in his testimony further talked about the arresting and abusing of detainees, shooting people and recklessness.

Referring to the May's Hefajat-e Islam rally, Sifton said that approximately 50 people were killed in the protests. He added that there have been no efforts to hold members of the security forces accountable.

He added that the volatility will be an impediment to freedom of speech and facilitate harassment of journalist activities.

Criticising the new ICT Act, Sifton talked about the officials of Odhikar who were jailed. He also added that using this law, Mahmudur Rahman, the editor of Amar Desh, four bloggers, have also been charged.

Saying that the political order could have a knock down effect of other human rights issues, Sifton highlighted women's rights issues and labor rights issues.

Adding that Human Rights Watch supports efforts to bring the perpetrators of 1971's war crimes to justice, he said the current tribunal is "marred by serious deficiencies".

"All these important human rights issues will be impacted by the political breakdown," Sifton said.

Sifton said the Bangladesh government's needs and wants such as GSP and good will of Europe to reduce tariff, use of Bangladesh military for UN peacekeeping will be put at risk by a political implosion.


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