Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1987

The Bangladesh Constitution provides for a presidential form
of government and a unicameral Parliament of 330 members. The
President appoints the ministers, 20 percent of whom do not
have to be members of Parliament. The Prime Minister, also
appointed by the President, serves more as the leader of the
majority in Parliament than as the leader of the Government.
Until Parliament was dissolved on December 6, President H. M.
Ershad's Jatiyo Party enjoyed nearly a two-thirds majority in
Parliament. The parliamentary opposition (with a total of 116
seats) was led by Awami League leader Sheikh Hasina Wajed,
whose party held 76 seats.
The new Parliament, chosen in elections in May 1986, held its
first session for 61 days beginning in January 1987. Its
proceedings were marred by opposition walkouts, by government
tactics to bypass debate on controversial legislation, and by
confused procedure. Dissatisfaction with the Government's
control of Parliament was partly behind the general strike
called by the opposition in late July. Strong-arm tactics by
the Government and significant vote irregularities marred
byelections held in February and June to fill vacant seats in
Parliament. Government candidates won by wide margins. In
the face of opposition protests, the Government exercised
sweeping powers of arrest under the Special Powers Act of 1974
(which allows detention without charge) to detain opposition
leaders and student activists. The Government also invoked
the Act to silence a few newspapers and close drama
performances. In August the President disbanded government
student organizations and called for an end to student politics
in an attempt to control campus violence.
In November the opposition took their protests to the streets
mounting demonstrations, rallies, and marches and organizing
general strikes that continued until the end of December. The
Government arrested thousands of opposition activists under
the Act on the grounds that this was necessary to maintain law
and order. On November 27, President Ershad declared a state
of emergency which suspended freedom of movement, assembly,
association, speech, and profession. "Prohibitory orders" in
force under the state of emergency included bans on
processions, demonstrations, meetings, strikes (the latter for
2 months) and a prohibition on criticism of any government
decision or action. Ershad dissolved Parliament on December 6
after the resignation of 10 members of an Islamic
fundamentalist party, Jamaat-e-Islaami , and a vote by the
Awami League Presidium (the Awami League was the major
Parliamentary opposition party) to withdraw Awami League
Members of Parliament. Under the Constitution, new
parliamentary elections must be held within 90 days from the
date of dissolution; these are now scheduled for March 3, 1988.
Bangladesh's defense forces include the army, navy, and air
force. The army has also undertaken operations in the
Chittagong Hill Tracts against tribal insurgents. Paramilitary
forces include the Bangladesh Rifles, primarily responsible
for border security, and the Bangladesh Ansars, a home guard
which assists the police in maintaining law and order. A
police force, including an armed police reserve, enforces
domestic law by investigating crimes and making arrests.
These paramilitary forces and the police are under the control
of the Minister of Home Affairs.
Bangladesh is one of the world's poorest and most densely
populated countries. The Government's avowed priority has
been economic development; its key programs aim at increased
crop yields, reduced population growth, decentralization of
administration, and development of the private sector.
Serious floods in August and September brought further
economic hardship. Nationwide strikes organized by the
opposition also damaged the economy. President Ershad
assigned the military the lead role in distributing disaster
relief supplies. Foreign diplomats in Dhaka acknowledged that
the Government had performed well in its relief and
rehabilitation efforts.
The human rights situation in Bangladesh in 1987 reflected the
increasing polarization between the Government and the
political opposition. The security measures under the state
of emergency, which the Government claimed was necessary to
maintain law and order, banned political activity, imposed
press restrictions, and led to the detention without charge of
scores of political dissidents.
The Government's attempts to address concerns about human
rights abuses in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, where tribal
insurgents are fighting a guerrilla war against the
Government, left many observers dissatisfied.
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including
Freedom from:
     a. Political Killing
A simmering insurgent movement remained active in the
Chittagong Hill Tracts, where some 600,000 tribal people live,
as clashes continued between government forces and small
groups of armed tribal insurgents known as the Shanti Bahini
(Peace Force). The insurgent movement, which began in the
mid-1970's, reflects concern on the part of the tribal people
that their traditional way of life and their special status in
the hill areas were being undermined by settlers who moved
there from the overpopulated plains.
Insurgent attacks on Bengali settlements and military
personnel, many of which resulted in death and the destruction
of property, continued in 1987. Reliable statistics on the
frequency of confrontations and the number of deaths involved
are not available. The conflict widened in June when Indian
Border Security Force personnel reportedly crossed the border
into Bangladesh, killing 11 persons and injuring 10. Indian
personnel were also accused of attacking and killing seven
members of the Bangladesh Rifles on June 24 in Bangladeshi
territory. The Indian Government has denied that the Border
Security Force was involved in either case. As a result of
clashes at the end of 1986, thousands of tribal people fled
into India and remain in camps awaiting repatriation and
Amnesty International (AI), in a September 1986 report titled
"Bangladesh: Unlawful Killings and Torture in the Chittagong
Hill Tracts," and other human rights groups have provided
accounts of violence and death in the Chittagong Hill Tracts
and accused the Government of sanctioning unlawful killings.
The Government has denied the allegations contained in the AI
report. The Chittagong Hill Tracts are generally off-limits
to foreigners, and contact between tribal people and foreigners
has not been encouraged by the Government. As a result.
independent investigation of allegations of abuse has been
almost impossible. In 1987 the Government organized a 1-day
visit to the Hill Tracts for chiefs of diplomatic missions and
allowed several diplomats and journalists limited access to
certain areas. The outcome of these trips was inconclusive.
However, the Government has agreed in principle to allow AI
representatives access to the Hill Tracts to investigate
allegations of abuse, and AI is currently negotiating with the
Government on a mutually acceptable date, possibly in early
The tribal leaders continue to demand the preservation of their
autonomous culture and an end to ethnic Bengali settlement in
the Chittagong Hill Tracts. No new settlers have entered the
Hill Tracts for at least 2 years, following a government
decision to restrict such settlement.
During the November political unrest, at least 11 people were
killed in clashes between police and demonstrators. The
administration issued "shoot on sight" orders November 12 to
law enforcement personnel to prevent looting, arson, and
bombing, though these orders were rarely carried out.
Violence also increased on school campuses, particularly at
Dhaka University, where student groups affiliated with
political parties took up arms against each other and the
Government. Skirmishes between students and police resulted
in injuries and sometimes death. Following the death of an
opposition student leader in an explosion in March, police and
students clashed at the University. In another campus
incident, two students and a rickshaw driver were killed in
July in a gun battle between student groups affiliated with
two opposition parties. The University then closed "sine
die;" it reopened September 27 only to be closed indefinitely
after the imposition of the state of emergency. In August, in
an apparent move to stop the violence. President Ershad
disbanded the Government's student organizations, but not
those affiliated with opposition parties, and called for an
end to party politics on campus.
     b. Disappearance
There were no confirmed reports of disappearance resulting
from official actions. Armed tribal insurgents in the
Chittagong Hill Tracts, however, have reportedly kidnaped
persons in raids on Bengali villages.
     c. Torture or Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
AI, in a June 1986 report titled "Torture in Bangladesh
1983-1986," reported that the Directorate General for (Armed)
Forces Intelligence tortured some political prisoners held for
short periods of interrogation. Many of the prisoners who
were reportedly tortured were student activists. The
Government has not responded to a 1986 AI request to undertake
impartial and independent investigations into allegations of
torture and file criminal proceedings against law enforcement
personnel when justified. The 1972 Bangladesh Constitution
specifically prohibits torture, although the articles in the
Constitution prohibiting torture were in suspense while
martial law was in effect from 1982 until late 1986.
AI and other human rights groups have charged that security
personnel in the Chittagong Hill Tracts have tortured tribal
villagers. The military stated that it investigated several
such allegations of torture and mistreatment by soldiers which
occurred in the Hill Tracts and punished violators accordingly.
There is some evidence that the military did follow a policy
of reprisals against tribal villagers in 1986, but it was
apparently abandoned in 1987. Human rights groups have asked
the Government to protect the rights of tribal people,
particularly property rights, against settlers from other
parts of the country.
Police treatment of accused criminals is often rough and can
include abusive interrogations and beatings, but reports of
fatalities from such mistreatment are rare. Punishment of
police and jail officials involved in mistreating prisoners
sometimes takes place in cases where the victim or his friends
and family can attract publicity, but mistreatment of ordinary
citizens often goes unpunished.
Bangladesh has nearly 26,000 prisoners in jails throughout the
country, according to the Home Minister. The jails reflect the
country's extremely poor living conditions. In its 1986 report
on torture, AI stated that cells for prisoners in the Dhaka
cantonment had neither light nor furniture, and that the grill
door to many cells was covered by a wooden board, increasing
the sense of the prisoner's isolation. As is customary in
South Asia, in the larger prisons prominent persons and
political prisoners are held in conditions which are markedly
better than those afforded to ordinary criminals. Prospects
for the implementation of prison reforms remain slight.
     d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, Exile or Forced Labor
Under the Special Powers Act of 1974, the Government, through
the Ministry of Home Affairs, can detain a person whom it deems
a "threat to the security of the country." Initially, the
Government can detain the person for 1 month; by the end of
that month, the Government must provide the detainee with a
specific charge for his detention. If the Government does not
provide a specific charge, the detention is considered
"illegal" and the person is released. If the Government
brings a specific charge against the detainee, he can be
detained indefinitely. In practice, although not in the law,
the detainee is given 15 days to respond to the specific
charge in writing to the Ministry of Home Affairs. The
Ministry can then grant early release. The detention is not
reviewed by a judge. After 6 months, a review committee of
three jurists examines the case to ascertain if there is
sufficient reason to continue the detention. If the
Government adequately defends its detention order, the
detainee remains imprisoned. If the Government fails to
convince the review committee, the detained person is released.
The detained person has the right to see a lawyer upon
detention. In practice, however, a lawyer is generally not
allowed to see the detainee until a specific charge has been
The Act was invoked widely in 1987. During the opposition
protest movement against the President in the autumn,
thousands of opposition activists were arrested. The Home
Minister said 4,832 persons were arrested from October 25
through the end of November, a period of heightened political
activity. Of these, 2,465 were taken into custody after the
proclamation of a state of emergency. The two major
opposition leaders, Khaleda Zia, head of the Bangladesh
Nationalist Party, and Sheikh Hasina Wajed, leader of the
Awami League, were placed under house detention from November
11 to December 10. Members of the opposition, student
activists, and businessmen who had not repaid loans were also
detained under the Act. The organization of political
activities against the Government and participation in
demonstrations prompted the Government to detain individuals,
although the authorities generally sought to notify families
expeditiously of the detainees' whereabouts. The arrests and
detentions disrupted the organization of antigovernment
political activities. Altljough these powers provide broad
flexibility, the Act was breached by the authorities' failure
to comply with time limits or to produce a prisoner before a
magistrate. In its 1987 Report, covering 1986, AT expressed
particular concern about the short-term detention of hundreds
of government opponents at times of parliamentary and
presidential elections, when specific restrictions were
imposed on political activities.
The right of a person in detention to a judicial determination
of the legality of the detention is found in local law. Some
prisoners released as a result of such determination, however,
reportedly were arrested again within 24 hours. Bangladeshi
legal and human rights organizations reported cases of
suspects arrested on minor charges who remained in jail for
long periods without trial.
There was no report of forced labor.
     e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Civil and criminal cases are heard by civilian courts in
public trials in which the right to counsel is respected.
Civil courts are overburdened and available only to those who
can afford representation but are generally considered fair.
Processing cases can be both time-consuming and expensive,
working a hardship on the vast majority of litigants and
discouraging many from seeking redress through the courts.
There are few legal aid programs to assist litigants.
As of April 1987, over 500,000 criminal and civil cases were
pending adjudication in the country's courts. Despite a
deadline of 240 days for disposal of criminal cases at the
district level and 120 days for disposal at the magistrate's
level, delays were common. An acute shortage of judges and
the failure to provide new judges with adequate training
prevented the timely dispensation of justice.
A program to disperse magistrate courts to the Upazilla
(subdistrict) level of government and decentralize the
administration of high court appellate branches failed to win
support from the bar. While many considered court
decentralization an important step in bringing judicial relief
to the majority of the population living outside the capital
city, lawyers protested and forced some magistrate courts
functioning at the subdistrict level to close. A strike by
the Supreme Court Bar Association further delayed the
administration of justice. In November lawyers went on strike
nationwide. Courts continued hearing cases during the strike,
but litigants were deprived of legal counsel.
Bangladeshi human rights groups do not maintain statistics on
the number of political prisoners in the country, and estimates
vary widely. Political prisoners are arrested under the
Special Powers Act and charged under criminal statutes. These
statutes do not generally violate human rights standards,
although Section 144 of the Criminal Code restricts the right
of assembly, when invoked. Another exception would be the
prohibitory orders, which included bans on processions,
demonstrations, meetings, strikes (the latter for 2 months)
and criticism of any government decision or action, issued
under the emergency. The judiciary in Bangladesh is generally
considered independent, although pressure may be brought to
bear in political or security cases.
     f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home or Correspondence
The law reguires a judicial warrant before authorities enter a
home, and courts reguire evidence supporting a reasonable basis
of suspicion before issuing a warrant. However, Bangladesh
authorities are known to have entered the homes of opposition
leaders, detained persons, and searched their premises without
warrants. Wiretaps are believed to be used selectively, as is
the monitoring of correspondence. The Government maintains
civilian and military intelligence services which concern
themselves, in part, with domestic events. The influence and
capability of these services is thought to be growing.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
     a. Freedom of Speech and Presso
Freedom of speech is provided for in the Constitution. The
Government owns and operates all radio and television
facilities. For most of 1987, as in previous years,
Bangladesh television and radio focused heavily on the
activities of government leaders and virtually neglected the
opposition. In the print media, the Government controls one
of Dhaka's four English-language daily newspapers, a Bengalilanguage
daily in Dhaka, and a Bengali-language weekly through
two national press trusts. The Government also owns the major
Bangladesh Nevjs Agency (BBS) as well as a daily newspaper in
the regional city of Rajshahi. Three of the Dhaka English
dailies and most of the many Bengali-language periodicals and
newspapers, however, are privately owned; some are supported
by political parties and reflect various political views.
There are 61 dailies and 218 weeklies in the country. Major
newspapers report on both the Government and opposition,
although coverage of opposition political activities is
usually somewhat less extensive than that of official
activities. The Ministry of Information issues informal
directives, often at night by telephone, on how a newspaper
should report an event.
In 1987 the Government exercised its authority under the
Special Powers Act to ban foreign and domestic publications.
As part of the state of emergency declared by President Ershad
in November, a news ban was placed on foreign and domestic
journalists; journalists were told that they could only report
news which came from the Government. Violators of press
restrictions could be jailed for up to 3 years, and foreigners
could be deported.
The Government stopped publication of the weekly Amar Desh in
February for printing an editorial critical of the Government.
The weekly resumed publication in March. The daily Banglar
Bani, closely associated with the opposition Awami League, was
closed in August under provisions of the Special Powers Act
for alleging that the Home Ministry supplied arms to the
government-supported Jatiyo Party. The Government also banned
the Bengali weekly magazine Robbat on December 3 for publishing
objectionable articles. The Bangladeshi correspondent for the
British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) was arrested in Dhaka
November 23 under the Special Powers Act and was released
December 8. A few photographers were beaten by police during
a general strike in July. On December 11, the Government shut
down operations of the BBC in Bangladesh because of its
allegedly biased reporting. A BBC correspondent was asked to
leave the country on December 12. Two books published outside
the country, one concerned with Bangladesh's political
development and the other with the Prophet Mohammad, were
banned in August. A popular weekly, Jai Jai Din, banned in
1985 and reopened briefly in 1986, was not allowed to publish
in 1987. However, the weekly newspaper of the Communist Party
of Bangladesh, banned by the Government in 1986, resumed
publication in April 1987. Selected editions of foreign
newspapers and periodicals were also banned or "delayed" by
Customs authorities.
With the imposition of the state of emergency on November 27,
printers, publishers, and editors of all newpapers were
forbidden to criticize directly or indirectly any government
decision or order. Newspapers, therefore, virtually ceased
coverage of opposition political activities. Restrictions
began to be relaxed after approximately 2 weeks, however, and
government-controlled newspapers, in an unprecedented change
of government policy, began on December 11 to carry statements
by opposition leaders.
The Government approves and licenses newspapers, and only
licensed newspapers are able to purchase newsprint and obtain
government advertisements. Financial difficulties make most
publications dependent on advertisements from the Government
or government owned corporations, which reportedly account for
75 percent of advertising revenues. Although all newspapers
are entitled to receive public sector advertisements if they
meet minimum circulation requirements, publishers complain
that the Government uses advertisements as a means of
controlling the press.
Under a 1987 ordinance, authorities censored plays and
required drama groups to obtain certificates from a censorship
committee. The Inspector of Police was given wide powers over
drama, mime, and dance, including free entry into halls during
shows and authority to stop performances at any time.
President Ershad suspended implementation of the ordinance
after widespread protests.
Prior to the state of emergency, students were free to express
a wide range of political opinion through campus organizations
and their publications. Taking advantage of the relative
freedom enjoyed on the Dhaka University campus, opposition
parties criticized the Government through their student fronts
and organized antigovernment activities there which sometimes
turned violent. In August, in an apparent move to stop the
violence. President Ershad disbanded the Government's student
organizations, but not those affiliated with opposition
parties, and called for an end to party politics on campus.
     b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Government allowed the major opposition parties to campaign
openly and protest peacefully until many opposition activists
were detained beginning in late October. A ban on assemblies
of more than five persons in the Dhaka metropolitan area was in
effect from November 9 to 15. It was not, however, enforced.
Workers in Bangladesh enjoy a limited right to associate, to
organize, and to bargain collectively. Although the right to
strike is not provided in the law, labor strikes and general
strikes are accepted forms of protest in Bangladesh. However,
the Government banned strikes and lock-outs for a 2-month
period from November 27 when the state of emergency was
imposed. Despite this ban, the opposition continued to
organize nationwide strikes into December. Because of a low
level of industrialization, labor unions represent only 3
percent of the work force. Although only a small portion of
the work force is unionized, unions are powerful and important
in certain key sectors such as jute, tea, and transportation.
A survey of violations of trade union rights by the
International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, published in
June 1987, stated that the holding of elections and the lifting
of martial law in 1986 enabled trade unions in Bangladesh to
act with more freedom. The survey noted, however, that
Bangladesh's industrial relations legislation continued to
contain several restrictions on freedom of association and the
right to collective bargaining.
Unions are heavily engaged but of relatively little influence
in politics. Every major political party has a labor wing
which it uses on occasion to encourage workers to accept that
party's viewpoint. Most labor unions and their leaders shift
their allegiance toward the party in power to obtain an edge
over competing unions and to have a friendly ear in government
ministries. The Workers-Employees United Council (known by
its Bengali acronym SKOP) , a federation of trade unions allied
to opposition parties in a strongly antigovernment stance,
organized a successful 24-hour nationwide strike with the
support of opposition parties on July 12. A 48-hour general
strike October 19-20 which tried to win economic and political
concessions for labor from the Government, however, failed to
achieve its aims.
Unions are free to draw up their own constitutions and rules,
elect officers, and formulate programs. There are no
restrictions on joining confederations and affiliating with
international organizations. Union members need government
clearance to travel to international labor conferences and
attend programs sponsored by foreign labor institutions; such
clearances are routinely granted. Under a provision of
Bangladesh's labor law, the Government can suspend or dissolve
individual unions, although no such action was taken in 1987.
In theory, Bangladesh workers enjoy participatory rights in
all union business; in practice, these rights are often
violated by both employers and union leaders. Unions and
their members are also protected legally against antiunion
discrimination, although these laws are generally not enforced
and employers regularly fire workers for union activities and
harass union activists and leaders. Antiunion discrimination
is especially prevalent in the garment industry, where most of
the workers are young women.
Following labor agitation and violence against firms and
personnel in the Export Processing Zone in Chittagong, the
Government banned union activity there in 1985 in an effort to
enhance its attractiveness to foreign investors. This ban was
still in effect in 1987. Employers, through connections in
the Government and the military, sometimes draw out legal
actions that unions file against them until the cases are
eventually abandoned.
     c. Freedom of Religion
Predominantly Muslim (87 percent), Bangladesh continues to
permit conversion from one religion to another. Proselytizing
by Bangladeshi citizens is allowed under Article 41 of the
Constitution, subject to law, public order, and morality.
Proselytization is largely directed toward minority groups
such as Hindus and tribal peoples, who are generally Buddhist.
There is strong social resistance to efforts to convert
persons from Islam. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Sect has claimed
that its members cannot worship freely because of attacks by
Sunni Muslims and the occupation of several of their mosques
by local mullahs. The Government is not known to have been
involved in these incidents. Certain Islamic organizations
continue to voice concern over Christian missionary activities
and the conversion of Muslims to Christianity. Some Christian
missionaries face delays in renewing their visas and are
concerned that the Government might make it difficult for them
to stay in the country.
The Government has continued to pledge equality of treatment
and freedom of worship to Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian
minorities, who constitute approximately 13 percent out of a
total population of 104 million. Although this policy is
substantially respected, the numerical predominance of Muslims
contributes to minority concern.
     d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
Bangladeshi citizens are free to move within the country,
except within designated areas in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
There are also areas near the borders from which nonresidents
are banned. Bangladeshis are generally free to visit and
emigrate abroad, subject to foreign exchange controls. In
some instances, persons deemed to be security risks are not
allowed to travel abroad. Civil servants must obtain
"no-objection certificates" from the ministry responsible for
manpower export to travel outside the country. The right of
repatriation is observed.
Approximately 250,000 non-Bengali Muslims, known as Biharis or
"stranded Pakistanis," remain in Bangladesh pending
resettlement in Pakistan. After independence in 1971, these
persons opted for Pakistani citizenship. Pakistan agreed to
take them back, provided financing for resettlement costs was
made available from outside sources. A Saudi-based Islamic
social organization continues its efforts to raise money for
resettlement costs. Camp dwellers may seek employment and
conduct other activities but face disadvantages as noncitizens.
Some Biharis have lost property as a result of laws
confiscating Pakistani holdings, but those who choose to
become Bangladeshi citizens are granted full rights of
citizenship. Biharis may apply for Bangladeshi citizenship at
any time.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Gonvernment
On November 11, 1986, President Ershad restored the
Constitution and ended the Martial Law Administration which he
had proclaimed in 1982. The lifting of martial law followed a
transition process in 1986 during which parliamentary elections
were held in May, President Ershad resigned from the Army in
August, and a presidential election was held in October.
Several major opposition groupings, including the Eight Party
Alliance, led by the Awami League, and the Islamic
fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islaami , won seats in Parliament but
did not participate in the presidential elections. The
Bangladesh Nationalist Party, founded by the late President
Zia and led by his widow. Begum Zia, boycotted both elections.
The opposition parties claim that the electoral process was
seriously flawed and have long demanded President Ershad's
resignation in favor of a neutral, caretaker government.
Parliament convened in two sessions in 1987. The winter
session (January-March) was the first attended by all members,
including the opposition, since the parliamentary elections of
May 1986. Byelections to fill vacant parliamentary seats took
place in February and June. The government candidates won by
lopsided margins in elections marred by strong-arm tactics and
charges of fraud.
Beginning in November, the law and order situation deteriorated
and the economy was severely damaged by a series of nationwide
general strikes organized by the opposition. On November 27,
President Ershad proclaimed a state of emergency under a
Constitutional provision stating that the President may issue
a proclamation if he is satisfied that the "security or
economic life of Bangladesh, or any part thereof, is threatened
by ... internal disturbance." The state of emergency, covering
the entire country, will cease to operate after 120 days
unless it has been approved by Parliament. The President may
revoke it earlier. The emergency was initiated by a 32-hour
curfew in Dhaka and four other large towns.
Under the emergency, the Government prohibited all political
activity including strikes, processions, rallies, and meetings.
"Indoor politics," however, was permitted again after 2 weeks.
Political parties were not banned. Many opposition activists
were arrested for violation of the emergency rules. Press
censorship made it more difficult for the opposition to
communicate or organize against the Government.
On December 6, the President dissolved Parliament, preempting
the likely resignation of the largest opposition party, the
Awami League. Under the Constitution, new parliamentary
elections must be held within 90 days from the date of
dissolution. These elections have been scheduled for March 3,
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
Several international nongovernmental human rights
organizations, including AI , the International League for
Human Rights, the Law Association for Asia and the Western
Pacific, and the International Commission of Jurists, continue
to be represented in Bangladesh. AI and other groups have
requested permission from the Government to travel to the
Chittagong Hill Tracts to investigate allegations of human
rights abuses by Bangladesh security forces. The Government
reportedly has granted permission in principle for AI
representatives to visit the Hill Tracts, and a mutually
acceptable date for the visit is now under discussion.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Language, or Social Status
Underlying attitudes and social barriers circumscribing the
participation of women in activities beyond the home are
strongly entrenched and show few signs of weakening. For the
approximately 86 percent of Bangladeshi women who live in
rural areas, early marriage, high child-bearing rates, and
long hours of household labor leave little opportunity for
nonfamily interests or outside employment. Even in urban
areas and among the affluent, the traditional social system
makes women economically dependent on their husbands and other
male relatives. By custom and by Islamic tradition, women
occupy a subordinate place in Bangladeshi society. The ability
of a family to seclude its women is a symbol of middle or high
social status. Women are virtually absent from, the cash work
force, except in the export-oriented garment industry. A
woman's income is generally considered "supplemental" to that
of her husband; women are usually employed in different
occupations from those in which men are employed. However,
even when engaged in the same or similar work, women's wages
freguently lag behind men's.
The daily press testifies to a pattern of domestic violence
(murder, rape, torture), breach of matrimonial contract,
denial of inheritance rights, and desertion, which victimizes
women and is particularly acute among the poor. The rate of
suicide among women is reportedly almost three times higher
than the rate among men. The Government promulgated a
stringent ordinance in 1983 to deter such cruelties to women
as murder, kidnaping, abduction, and trafficking in women. In
the 17 months ending in June 1987, the Government reported
nearly 4,400 incidents of abduction, killing, and suicide of
women. The death penalty is imposed against those directly
responsible for "dowry killing" or for killing a woman in the
course of rape. "Dowry killings" usually share a common
theme: The bride's family has not made full payment of a
supposedly promised dowry, so the husband or his family
attacks and sometimes murders the bride. There is generally
little recourse for abused women, especially for crimes within
the family or home.
Members of minority religious groups are disadvantaged in
practice, although not in law, in their access to government
positions and political office. Members of some minorities,
principally Hindus, have lost or have had serious difficulty
retaining their properties as a result of prejudicial
administration of vested property laws which provide that
property belonging to persons who left Bangladesh between 1965
and 1971 should be managed by the Government. The Government
is authorized to use and sell this property, which it has
sometimes done to the disadvantage of the former owner.
Reports also persist that the property rights of tribal
peoples are being violated. Tribal land, for which there is
freguently no deed, is said to have been parceled out by
Bangladesh authorities to Bengali Muslim settlers. Over the
past decade, successive governments settled nearly 300,000
ethnic Bengalis in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, although there
have been no new settlers in at least 2 years. Tribal people
also face loss of land through failure to meet mortgage
payments, false deeds, and physical attacks. In areas where
the tribal insurgency is active, the army can take land
without compensation. Legal aid organizations based in Dhaka
have been offering representation to a limited number of tribal
people illegally removed from their lands.
Regulations regarding minimum wages, hours of work, and
occupational safety and health are not strictly enforced.
Child labor is a serious problem. Bangladesh's labor law
stipulates minimum ages for various types of employment; in
industries where unions are strong, these minimums are
enforced, but the poverty of the country is such that children
are regularly engaged in any line of work they can get,
especially field work. The Employment of Children Act
prohibits the offering of employment to any person under 15
years of age but the Act is not enforced. As elsewhere on the
subcontinent, child labor is prevalent and an accepted
practice. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated the number
of child laborers at approximately 3 million in 1986. These
children pedaled rickshaws, worked as helpers in transport
services, carried loads at railway stations and river
terminals, and worked at construction sites