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Military must stay neutral in Bangladesh: HR Watch

ICC Note:
This article highlights the critical situation for Bangladesh’s Christians if the military gets involved in the upcoming elections – five years ago the military favored radical Islamist groups who targeted Christians and other minorities for supporting the losing party.

By Indo Asian News Service
IANS (12/13/06) – Concerned over Bangladesh army’s record, a global rights group has urged it ‘avoid partisan sympathies and respect human rights’ before and during next month’s general elections.

‘Past experience with Bangladeshi leaders deploying the military gives us serious cause for concern,’ said Brad Adams, the Asia director of Human Rights Watch.

‘During the last major deployment, in 2002, more than 50 people died after being arrested by troops,’ Adams said.

Media reports have cited a home ministry document that says the military’s role in the 2001 election was partisan and it favoured radical Islamist groups who targeted Hindu, Buddhist and Christian minorities on suspicion that they voted for the defeated Awami League-led alliance.

The military has played a powerful role in Bangladesh since it gained independence from Pakistan in 1971. Two presidents have been killed in military coups.

The last large-scale military deployment took place in October 2002, when the government ordered more than 40,000 personnel to fight soaring crime – a campaign that lasted 85 days. The army arrested over 10,000 people, at least 50 of whom died in custody in unclear circumstances.

Just before the operation ended in January 2003, the parliament passed legislation to ensure that no member of the armed forces could face prosecution for abuses during the campaign.

‘Abusive members of the military have enjoyed near total immunity for their violent crimes in the past,’ Adams said. ‘If the military is to promote law and order today, it must respect the law.

‘Given the military’s record of human rights violations, it’s crucial that the army follow strict rules limiting the use of force,’ he said. ‘The army is not trained in policing, and history shows it abuses people’s rights when asked to work as police.’

The official noted media reports here that President Iajuddin Ahmed’s decision to deploy the armed forces, taken Saturday, was unanimously opposed by his then 10-member Council of Advisors, The Daily Star said.

Ahmed ordered the deployment after weeks of some times violent protests that have led to about 40 deaths… [Go To Full Story]