US rights activists criticised the current human rights and political situation in Bangladesh and expressed worries about the treatment of religious minority groups and children before the upcoming national election.
It came at a discussion styled the “Elections and Human Rights in Bangladesh” held in Washington, DC on Thursday where several panelists from right bodies, political analysts and experts spoke on various critical issues and challenges ahead of the polls.
Taking part in the discussion, John Sifton, Asia advocacy director, Human Rights Watch (HRW), said there was no reason to think that the elections would be conducted in a free or fair atmosphere as many opposition leaders have been jailed amid a slew of politically motivated cases filed against opposition supporters.
He said the authorities had also violated international standards on freedom of speech and expressed concern about the newly enacted Digital Security Act that could further curtail freedom of expression.
Sifton urged the Congress to communicate its concern on the crackdowns and convey the message that it will have no choice but to impose restrictions on future US-Bangladesh military-to-military ties and assistance, and possibly impose new penalties on the economic front.
Members of Congress should also consider recommending that the State Department report to them about those Bangladesh government security officials implicated in gross human rights abuses and to impose targeted economic sanctions, and travel and banking restrictions, on them.
Waris Husain, South Asia policy analyst at the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, in his speech, highlighted the past attacks on minority groups during election period and stressed the need for additional protection and assurances from political leaders that this would not happen during the 2018 election.
Laura Bramon, Senior Program Manager for Child Protection and Education, International Programs Group, while speaking about the upcoming election, said political violence remains a grave, cyclical danger for Bangladeshi children.
“We have seen great progress in Bangladesh, but there is still work to be done and the US plays a crucial role in leading this work. The US should continue these efforts to provide leadership and coordination around ending violence against children,” he added.
Former US Ambassador Marica Bernicat also attended the programme.