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Bangladesh: When will authorities clean up their act?

February 10, 2021

Bangladesh has often been criticized for its human rights record. Its reputation received another jolt this month with allegations of high-level corruption. What's the government's reaction?

Bangladesch Dhaka | Berater der Premierministerin | Gowher Rizvi
Image: Xinhua News Agency/picture-alliance

Gowher Rizvi on Conflict Zone

It was described as an "explosive investigation." Newly-published research by media group Al Jazeera has revealed "how a criminal gang is colluding with the security forces of Bangladesh and has links to the country's prime minister, Sheikh Hasina." 

According to Al Jazeera, the investigation has uncovered "political and financial corruption at the heart of the Bangladeshi state involving the chief of army staff and his family."

The country’s authorities were quick to reject the investigation and said they were preparing to sue the television channel for airing inaccurate information. 

Speaking to DW’s Conflict Zone, Hasina's international affairs adviser has now said that an investigation is underway.

"It’s being inquired," Gowher Rizvi told host Tim Sebastian from the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka. 

Rizvi however rejected accusations involving Hasina, asking: "Was there a single evidence which incriminated the prime minister in the alleged corruption?"

"I mean, this is where I think as sensible academics and journalists, we should stand back and ask ourselves what was the evidence given to incriminate the prime minister's involvement."

"And yet this whole documentary was billed as to show how corrupt the regime is," he emphasized.

Widespread allegations of human rights abuses

The investigation by Al Jazeera is not the only problem that the Bangladeshi authorities are facing.  

DW’s Conflict Zone host Tim Sebastian asked the counselor about revelations of "egregious human rights abuses," in particular accusations of arbitrary detention, torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions.

"I wish I could accept these allegations in its entirety. I will not be denying that there have not been instances of some disappearances," said Rizvi.

"When you talk about torture, there is no documented evidence of torture, to the best of my knowledge," he added.

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at a conference in Dhaka
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her government have been criticized for their human rights recordImage: Press Information Department of Bangladesh

Several rights groups have accused Bangladeshi security forces of human rights abuses, including numerous instances of torture. 

The UN Committee Against Torture said in 2019 it was concerned about information it had received "alleging the widespread and routine commission of torture and ill-treatment" by law enforcement officials. 

Rizvi stressed that "as far as the government is concerned, torture is illegal, and we try to make sure that torture doesn't take place."

Screenshot of the Al Jazeera documentary "All the Prime Minister's Men"
The Bangladeshi government has called Al Jazeera's investigation "false and defamatory"Image: youtube.com/Al Jazeera English

Pressed by Tim Sebastian on whether authorities are sufficiently cracking down on torture, Rizvi admitted that "it's not a very good record."

"But the truth of the matter is we did pass a law. The truth of the matter is we are trying to deal with it," he emphasized.

In December, seven human rights organizations issued a joint statement asking the international community to take a strong stand for the protection of human rights in the Asian country. 

The organizations added that "the Bangladesh government has repeatedly demonstrated that it is not committed to protecting human rights."

But Rizvi defended his administration's handling of the issue, saying "the role of the government that when it finds out that something has an egregious violation of human right or law has taken place, they must get to the bottom." 

"I don't think they are always successful, but I do resent not being given the credit for the efforts that we are making," he concluded.

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