Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Trend of Silent Genocide: Institutional oppressions on Bangladesh religious minorities

MANIK PAUL

THE BASIC tenets of a civilized society are human rights, democracy and religious freedom. These are all potentially in danger in Bangladesh at the hands of the religious extremists, those who have been working in tandem to transform Bangladesh into Taliban model Islamic theocracy.

Human rights is the basic rights and freedoms to which all human being are entitled irrespective of their colors, faiths, languages and races. Atrocities against Bangladesh religious minorities in the form of violence, intimidations, killings, gang rape, forcible conversion and deprivation from ancestral homesteads have been taking place since long but systematically, institutionally and silently.

It is extremely alarming that the instruments of minority repression have been gaining strength and more legitimacy with the support of governmental institutions and a few political parties.

Minorities are always been targeted to brutal persecution in Bangladesh. Unfortunately, as a matter of general practice the society look into the issue as ‘tolerable atrocities’. The international journal “The Economist” described the plight of the minorities as – “Bangladesh’s minorities are safe only in the departure lounge”.

We should acknowledge that these are the heinous crimes against humanity. These are the crimes intent to vanish a vast population of a religious minority group from their motherland. Considering the number of effected victims it is one of the largest silent genocide of the 21st century.

Let me explain, why this issue is labelled as “Silent Genocide”. According to the Article 6 of the International Criminal Court Statute, The crime involves, "any acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”. I think the definition is very clear and "intent to destroy" is a requirement for any act to be labelled as genocide.

At this point, I would like to discuss how an infamous legislative instrument is still being used as a tool of oppression to raze out minority population from their homeland.

Enemy Property Act, a criminal law was implemented by the Government of Pakistan against its own Hindu citizens during Indo-Pak war in 1965. That infamous decree allowed the Pakistan government to confiscate property from any Hindu deemed as an enemy of the state.

Unfortunately, even emergence of secular Bangladesh couldn’t do anything better than to rename “Enemy Property” as “Vested property”. Ironically, same infamous decree found its way to become an instrument of persecution of Hindu population in the independent Bangladesh.
Research shows, in its 40 years of existence, Hindu minorities have been dispossessed of more than 2.5 millions acres land through this discriminatory law. Total 62% of Hindu families in Bangladesh have been affected by the Enemy Property Act. In fact, in 70’s my family was also dispossessed from our ancestral homestead.

Now, Bangladesh is an independent country, meaning Bangladesh is neither a part nor a successor of Pakistan since March 26, 1971. Also neither Bangladesh nor India declared any war against each other. Therefore the question is that, how enemy of Pakistan becomes the enemy of Bangladesh and for what purpose other than persecution do these laws remain in force? Logically, properties of Rajakars could have been declared enemy properties as they were the enemies of independent Bangladesh at the time of liberation war.

Let us see, who are the beneficiaries of this legislative decree? Prof.Abul Barkat, an economist of Bangladesh, says - Political elements, locally influential people in collaboration with the land administration, use of force, fake documentation, death or exile of original owners have contributed to the phenomenon. Ironically, beneficiaries of the land grab through the act cut across all political party lines. Prof. Barkat showed, most of the direct beneficiaries of appropriated properties are affiliated by the major political parties.

It is important to focus on major human rights violation issue against minority women and children. Such violation seriously undermines the human dignity and values which is incomparable with the loss of properties or human lives. Since last two decades, rapes of minority women and children have extensively been using as a tool of oppression. Most of the time, perpetrators are backed by the law enforcement and judiciary personals and also aided by the local political elites and fundamentalists.

Through 1991 and 2001 election victory, BNP-Jamaat-e-Islami coalition developed a gang-rape culture where minority women and children were the potential victims. Scores of minority women were raped. In some cases, they were gang raped in front of their relatives. A caretaker government supported by the United Nations and European Union came to the power on January 11, 2007 with the promise to eradicate the Islamic extremisms and political corruptions to revert Bangladesh to a secular and pluralistic democracy. Over a year and a half have passed but no any action has yet been taken to stop minority persecution or reverse the ongoing gang-rape culture.

Only last month alone, seven cases of gang-rapes and abductions were reported. In all incidences, Police were reluctant to register cases. Nevertheless, they insisted the victims to cooperate the perpetrators. These are a few of numerous unreported gang-rape incidences in Bangladesh.

After the assassination of the founding Father Bangabandu Sheikh Majibur Rahman in 1975, the campaign of religious and ethnic minority persecutions resumed with pre-1971 level of intensity. It was officially licensed through the 5th and 8th amendments of the constitution. On June 9, 1988, Islam was declared to be the state religion which was perceived by the Islamic extremists as a license of minority repressions.

In 2006, Human Rights Congress for Bangladesh Minorities filed a writ before Bangladesh High Court for the protection of minorities. Despite the favourable ruling from country’s highest court, Bangladesh authority has not implemented the court order.

Statistics shows that minority population in the country was 38% in 1951 where as about 12% were estimated in 2006. If we consider the normal birth rate of the population, statistically missing minority population in Bangladesh since 1951 would be around 25 million till the date.

Definitely migration is not the solution of the problem. Progressive political parties and civil societies of Bangladesh have to work together with other civilised international communities to combat against fundamentalism and minority repressions.

A secular pluralistic democracy is necessary in Bangladesh to reverse the tides of the Islamic militancy and migration of minority population. Otherwise, Bangladesh will be turned into another Afghanistan in a short span of time.

I urge the European Parliament to exert influence on Bangladesh caretaker government to take necessary measures to save the soul of the 25 million minorities, before vanishing from their ancestral homeland. Your effective intervention in this continuing silent genocide is indispensable. #

The article is based in a speech delivered before the EU Parliament at the forum titled “SOS Bangladesh- Informal Hearing on the Alarming Human Rights Situation in Bangladesh” held on Thursday, June 12, 2008

Manik Paul is Executive Director, HRCBM-EU Directorate, Brussels, Belgium
email: hrcbm@skynet.be

For more information on HRCBM browse: http://www.hrcbm.org/