There is no magical way by which human rights abuses are going to disappear
The title of this piece is the title of an article I wrote almost 30 years ago in which, among other things, I said, following the ouster of President Ershad in December 1990: “Democracy in Bangladesh received a shot in the arm just over a year ago, and now there is freedom of speech and the media can be more outspoken than before, and if they want they can be constructively critical.
“But where are the investigative journalists? They are potentially some of the most powerful conscience-keepers of the nation and can influence, along with dedicated community leaders, the moral fabric of the nation.”
It is very sad that, 31 years after “democracy returned” to Bangladesh, the “conscience-keepers” of the nation are, in most cases, afraid to be constructively critical.
In many cases, the much maligned Digital Security Act has been most clumsily and, sometimes vindictively, used by the authorities. It is high time that this Act is sensibly amended or scrapped.
Legal experts have told me that existing legislation is strong enough to deal with libellous and damaging statements. DSA is not necessary, I have been assured. We are about to celebrate or acknowledge the 50th anniversary of Victory Day, 1971. There could not be a better time to straighten things out, put things right.
Human rights and disability
In a few days, on December 3, we observe the International Day of Disabled Persons and the theme for IDPD 2021 is: “Leadership and participation of persons with disabilities toward an inclusive, accessible and sustainable post Covid-19 world.”
The annual observance of the International Day of Disabled Persons was proclaimed in 1992 by the United Nations General Assembly. And all those 30+ years ago, I was being influenced by a remarkable group of disability activists who are still making waves and speaking with loud voices today.
In the 1990s, when WHO said “1 in 10” persons in the world had a disability then -- now, 2021, it is 1 in 15 -- we were demanding that donors and NGOs reserve 10% of their funds for activities related to disability.
Only in recent years, by using the jargon “all inclusive,” more attention has been given to people with disabilities. For so many years, people with disabilities have been deprived. So many years have been stolen from them. 30 years ago, in the same article, I wrote:
“There is no magical way by which human rights abuses are going to disappear and indeed, in most so-called ‘developed’ countries of the world, abuses continue, albeit in more sophisticated ways. Working as I do with persons with disabilities and organizations working with the disabled, I have closely followed the abuses persons with disabilities have experienced, even in the richer and, supposedly, more civilized countries of the world.
“The most heinous campaign against persons with disabilities was, of course, the Nazis’ killings to plan for a ‘pure’ race of people. However, more recently in the 1980s, the UN Human Rights Sub-Commission received startling evidence, which revealed human rights violations against people with disabilities that the US Administration was allowing.
“President Reagan’s cut-backs in health and social services left many people with disabilities living in the community in poverty, and in institutions with unsanitary conditions. One American disability activist giving evidence at that time recalled that disabled people have been killed at birth, denied education, denied the right to vote, denied the right to employment, denied the right to marry, denied the right to have families, have been sterilized, scientifically experimented upon and imprisoned in institutions under the most inhuman conditions. She said, ‘We are traditionally the last to receive the benefits or the attention of most societies.’”
It is very sad and astonishing that 30 years after writing the above, Bangladesh’s Ministry of Social Welfare has recently been talking of 0.99% of the population having a disability. That figure, of course, is quite ridiculous, and if that figure is provided to the Ministries of Planning and Finance, the rights and funding for people with disabilities in Bangladesh will be stolen away.
Is this another way to celebrate 50 years of Bangladesh? This makes me not only very sad, but extremely angry.
30 years ago, I concluded my article with this paragraph:
“Despite the many problems that face Bangladesh, I am still very much an optimist and coining an old expression I learnt when I was a member of the poorest trade union in the UK, the National Union of Agricultural Workers, ‘With a strong wind and a bit of luck, you’ll pull through.’ And certainly there is plenty of wind in Bangladesh.”
Julian Francis has been associated with relief and development activities of Bangladesh since the War of Liberation. In 2012, the Government of Bangladesh awarded him the ‘Friends of Liberation War Honour’ in recognition of his work among the refugees in India in 1971 and in 2018 honoured him with full Bangladesh citizenship. Julian has also been honoured with the British award of the OBE for ‘services to development in Bangladesh.’