Bangladesh parliament, government officials and law enforcers should consider the protection of rights of the minority communities as a priority since the country has failed to protect them from a new outbreak of targeted killings and communal violence, says a new report by Minority Rights Group International (MRG).
There must be a stronger commitment to understanding and recognising the potential drivers of violence that include land grabbing, political rivalries and hate speech so that preventive action can be taken to stop recurrence of abuses.
The report “Under threat: the challenges facing religious minorities in Bangladesh, since 2013” mentioned the series of violent incidents targeting religious minorities by local and international militant groups such as Islamic State and al-Qaeda.
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Furthermore, communal violence driven by political rivalries continues to take place with perpetrators enjoying apparent impunity.
The London-based group, which has over 150 partners across some 60 countries, prepared the report based on reported incidents, fieldwork by local rapporteurs and first-hand author interviews with a number of activists, lawyers and journalists.
The MRG also expressed concern over the recent attacks on Hindus in Nasirnagar, Brahmanbaria, injuring over 100 people and vandalising over a dozen temples and Puja pavilions. Over 60 houses were also damaged and looted by the attackers who were protesting against an alleged blasphemous post on Facebook demeaning Islam.
“The rising attacks and death toll have highlighted how vulnerable minorities are to attacks ... The variety of abuses they experience, from forced abduction and sexual assault to land grabbing and arson, have occurred within a broader climate of impunity, with many abuses appearing to be carried out with the complicity of law enforcement agencies and the judiciary,” Carl Soderbergh, MRG’s director of policy and communications, said in a press release yesterday.
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The MRG also expressed concern over the systematic migration of the Bengali people in the Chittagong Hill Tracts region, eviction of indigenous peoples and violence against women.
“The government-sponsored migration of Bengali settlers since the 1970s has led to conflict and dispossession for indigenous peoples, who are predominantly Buddhist and Christian, as well as Hindu and animist, leaving many displaced from their ancestral land. There are also ongoing high levels of gender-based violence against indigenous women living in the region,” the statement said.
Apart from the religious minorities and the indigenous peoples, atheists, secular bloggers and liberals have borne the brunt of extremist attacks.
Despite the promise of independence in 1971 and the passing of a secularist constitution the following year, an increasingly restrictive religious nationalism in the ensuing years has sidelined Bangladesh’s minorities within their own country, the MRG said.
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The rights body has asked the government to implement anti-discrimination legislation aimed specifically at religious minorities and marginalised groups; review current inequalities within the legal system, including the place of Islam as the state religion and the use of draconian provisions against secular writers and activists; and take steps to strengthen the National Human Rights Commission to respond to violations against minority communities.
The civil society should mobilise a more coordinated response to rights violations, speak out in unison to condemn minority rights violations and support the vulnerable groups including secularists, LGBT groups and liberals.
On the other hand, the media should provide adequate coverage to minority rights issues, highlight incidents of abuses, expropriation and violence against religious minorities, and engage activists and community leaders to provide them with a much-needed platform to articulate their concerns.
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