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Title:  Bangladesh Human Rights Practices, 1995  
Author:  U.S. Department of State   
Date:  March 1996   
 
 
 
 
                                BANGLADESH 
 
 
Bangladesh is a parliamentary democracy headed by Prime Minister Khaleda 
Zia, leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).  Opposition 
parties include the Awami League, the Jatiyo Party, the Jamaat-E-Islami, 
and several smaller parties.  The opposition began a boycott of 
Parliament in March 1994; opposition members resigned from Parliament en 
masse in December 1994.  Throughout 1995 the opposition demanded that 
the Government establish a caretaker government to conduct national 
elections, which were scheduled to be held in early 1996. 
 
The Home Affairs Ministry controls the police and paramilitary forces, 
which bear primary responsibility for maintaining internal security.  
The army and paramilitary forces are responsible for security in the 
Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), where a tribal force has waged a low-level 
insurgency for 20 years.   A cease-fire between government forces and 
insurgents generally held throughout the year, although each side 
accused the other of extensive violations.  Some police officers 
committed a number of serious human rights abuses. 
 
Bangladesh is a poor country.  Annual per capita income is approximately 
$210; about 40 percent of the country's 119 million people exist on 
incomes insufficient to meet minimum daily needs.  Sixty percent of the 
work force is involved in farming, which accounts for approximately 40 
percent of the gross domestic product.  There is a small industrial 
sector, based largely on the manufacture of garments and jute.  Efforts 
to reform the economy have been hampered by political stalemate, public 
sector enterprises, and other entrenched interests. 
 
The Government continues to restrict or deny many fundamental rights.  
It continues to use national security laws to detain political opponents 
and other citizens without formal charge.  Police routinely use torture 
and other forms of mistreatment in interrogating suspects.  More than 
100 detainees died in police custody.  The Government rarely convicts 
and punishes those responsible for torture or causing unlawful deaths.  
A large case backlog slows the judicial process.  The Government places 
some limitations on freedom of assembly.  Women, minorities, the 
disabled, and indigenous people face societal discrimination.  Violence 
against women remains a serious problem, as does abuse of children.  The 
Government continues to limit workers' rights. 
 
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS 
 
Section 1 
Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from: 
 
   a.  Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing 
 
According to government figures, 101 persons died while in custody in 
the first 9 months of 1995.  Government records indicated that post 
mortems were performed in all cases, and with one exception, there was 
no evidence reported that any prisoner died from mistreatment.  However, 
numerous press and human rights reports concerning police abuse and 
deaths of prisoners indicate that this claim is inaccurate and masks 
serious abuse.  In the one possible case of death by police mistreatment 
reported by the Government, the Government indicated that the five 
police officials in question were suspended and charged in connection 
with the death.  Police brutality appears to occur regularly, and 
government inaction allows it to continue.  For example, in August a 14-
year-old girl travelled by bus to the northern town of Dinajpur and was 
allegedly raped and beaten to death by police from whom she had hitched 
a ride.  The Home Ministry issued a press note claiming that she died 
after jumping from the police vehicle.  Large demonstrations took place 
in Dinajpur in which police killed seven people; several hundred 
demonstrators were reportedly injured.  Public wrath over the 
Government's handling of the incident eventually caused the Government 
to transfer the entire police force out of Dinajpur, suspend the three 
officers accused in the case and the district Superintendent of Police, 
and set up judicial committee to investigate the girl's death.  Partly 
at the recommendation of the committee, whose report has not been made 
public, the three officers were eventually dismissed from their jobs.  
Nonetheless, a climate of police impunity from punishment remains a 
serious obstacle to ending torture and abuse, and the killings that 
result from them. 
 
Violence, often resulting in killings, is a feature of the political 
process.  Demonstrators from all parties, and even within parties, often 
clash with police and with each other during rallies and demonstrations.  
Between January and October, violence among student political groups 
reportedly resulted in 10 deaths, hundreds of injuries, and the closure 
of dozens of educational institutions.  In December armed violence 
between rival student groups at Bangladesh Agricultural University in 
Mymensingh led to four deaths.  Clashes between police and student 
activists at Chittagong Medical College in December led to the arrest of 
84 students and the indefinite closure of the college. 
 
In March farmers and some students, primarily in the north-central part 
of the country, rioted over the shortage and high price of fertilizer 
during the peak of the rice cultivation season.  Farmers in at least two 
areas attempted to loot government stocks.  At least 19 persons were 
killed when police opened fire on rioters. 
 
In June the Government charged former President Mohammed Ershad with 
ordering the 1981 murder of the alleged assassin of President Zia.  
Ershad had already been serving a 20-year sentence for corruption (see 
Section 1.c.).   
 
   b.   Disappearance 
 
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances. 
 
   c.   Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or 
Punishment 
 
Although the Constitution prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman, or 
degrading punishment, police routinely employ psychological and physical 
torture and other abuse during arrests and interrogations.  Torture may 
consist of threats, beatings, and, occasionally, the use of electric 
shock.  In April, two boys (ages 7 and 8) were detained by police and 
beaten and given electrical shocks in an effort to extract confessions 
regarding the supposed theft of a pistol.  The Government rarely 
convicts and punishes those responsible for torture, and a climate of 
impunity allows such police abuses to continue. 
 
Most prisons are overcrowded and lack adequate facilities.  There are 
three classes of cells:  A, B, and C.  Common criminals and low-level 
political workers are generally held in C cells which often have dirt 
floors, no furnishings, and poor quality food.  The use of restraining 
devices on prisoners in these cells is common.  Prisoners in the C cells 
reportedly suffer the worst abuses, including beatings or being forced 
to kneel for long periods.  Conditions in B and A cells are markedly 
better; A cells are reserved for prominent prisoners (former President 
Ershad's cell is reportedly equipped with facilities beyond those 
available in other A cells).  A government-appointed committee of 
private citizens monitors prisons monthly but does not release its 
findings. 
 
Former President Ershad is serving a 20-year sentence for conviction on 
two corruption charges; he has 14 other corruption charges pending 
against him in court.  He was also charged during 1995 with the 1981 
murder of the alleged assassin of President Zia (see Section 1.a.).  In 
1992 Ershad's supporters filed a writ of habeas corpus in the Supreme 
Court asserting that his living conditions were inhumane and that he has 
been denied proper medical care.  Ershad's treatment and condition came 
under particular scrutiny in November when he was diagnosed with 
jaundice.  The Government appointed a five-member medical board to 
examine Ershad and monitor his health.  Following visits to the jail, 
Ershad family members, who claimed that they had been denied proper 
visitation rights, alleged that the former President's treatment was 
inadequate and that he required full hospitalization.  The medical board 
recommended that Ershad be transferred to a city hospital.  Citing 
security concerns, the Government kept Ershad in prison.  Raushan 
Ershad, the ex-President's wife, undertook a 8-day hunger strike to 
press for his transfer.  Toward the end of the year Ershad's health had 
improved, but he is reportedly recovering slowly. 
 
   d.   Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile 
 
The Government continued to use national security legislation, namely 
the Special Powers Act (SPA) of 1974, to detain citizens without formal 
charges.  There was discussion among politicians and Members of 
Parliament about repealing the Special Powers Act, but no action has 
been taken. 
 
Under the SPA, the Government may detain anyone deemed "a threat to the 
security of the country" for 30 days.  At the end of that time, it must 
either charge or release the detainee.  In practice, detainees are 
sometimes held for longer periods without charge.  If the Government 
files charges, detainees have 15 days to appeal the detention order to 
the Home Ministry, which may grant early release. 
 
After 6 months, a review panel composed of two High Court judges 
selected by the Law Ministry examines cases of detainees.  If the 
Government adequately defends its detention order, the detainee remains 
imprisoned; if not, the detainee is released.  Detainees are allowed to 
consult with lawyers while in detention, although usually not until a 
charge is filed.  Detainees may receive visitors, and incommunicado 
detention is not practiced. 
 
From January thru September, the authorities detained 2,371 persons 
under the SPA.  As of October, the courts had ordered 1,918 detainees 
released.  Government figures indicate that 1,417 persons were in 
detention under the SPA at the end of September. 
 
The Government allowed another widely used statute, the Anti-Terrorism 
Act, to expire in November 1994, leaving 489 cases pending.  During the 
year, 37 of the pending cases came to trial. 
 
In July police detained writer Farhad Mazhar under the SPA (see Section 
2.a.). 
 
   e.   Denial of Fair Public Trial 
 
The judiciary displays a high degree of independence, as mandated by the 
Constitution, especially at the higher levels.  The judiciary often 
rules against the Government in criminal, civil, and even politically 
controversial cases.  In one politically sensitive case, an Appellate 
Court in June ruled in favor of former President Ershad's appeal of a 
1991 conviction of illegally possessing a firearm (a 9mm pistol given to 
him by Saddam Hussain) without a license. 
 
The court system has two levels, the lower court and the Supreme Court.  
Both hear civil and criminal cases.  The lower court consists of 
magistrates, who are part of the administrative branch of government, 
and session judges, who belong to the judicial branch.  The Supreme 
Court is divided into two sections, the High Court and the Appellate 
Court.  The High Court hears original cases and also reviews cases from 
the lower court.  The Appellate Court has jurisdiction to hear appeals 
of judgments, decrees, orders, or sentences of the High Court.  Rulings 
of the Appellate Court are binding on all other courts. 
 
Trials are public.  The law provides the accused with the right to be 
represented by counsel, to review accusatory material, to call 
witnesses, and to appeal verdicts.  In practice, the largely rural, 
illiterate population does not always understand these rights, nor do 
the authorities always respect them.  There is a system of bail.  
However, if bail is not granted, the law does not specify a time limit 
on pretrial detention.  State-funded defense attorneys are provided in 
only a limited number of cases, and there are few legal aid programs to 
offer financial assistance. 
 
There is corruption within the legal process.  Small sums must be paid 
to a number of court officials in order for a civil suit to be filed.  
While these may appear to be processing fees, they are more in the 
nature of bribes; they are not established by statute or regulation, are 
paid to officials personally, and there is no accountability for failure 
to discharge duties paid for.  Defendants can sometimes pay to avoid 
being served with a notice or suit.  Because of the difficulty accessing 
the courts and because litigation is time-consuming, alternate dispute 
resolution by traditional village leaders is popular in rural 
communities. 
 
The largest problem of the court system is the overwhelming backlog of 
cases.  As of October, close to 500,000 cases were pending in criminal 
and metropolitan courts, and more than 25,000 people, or almost 60 
percent of the country's total prison caseload, were awaiting trial.  
Government records show that the period between detention and trial 
averages 23 weeks, but reports by the press and human rights groups 
indicate that delays of several years are not unusual. 
 
Although the Government claims that it holds no political prisoners, it 
has arrested some opponents under the SPA for political reasons (see 
Section 2.a.).   
 
   f.   Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or 
Correspondence 
 
The law requires authorities to obtain a judicial warrant before 
entering a home.  However, human rights monitors assert that the police 
rarely obtain warrants, and officers violating the procedure are not 
punished.  In addition, the SPA permits searches without a warrant.  
Some opposition members and CHT tribal leaders maintain that the 
intelligence services illegally monitor their telephones and mail. 
 
   g.   Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law in 
Internal Conflicts 
 
The Shanti Bahini, a tribal group, has waged a low-level conflict in the 
Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) since the early 1970's to deter Bengali 
settlers who seek to exploit the Tracts' fertile and sparsely populated 
land.  Government settlement programs increased the number of Bengali 
inhabitants in the CHT from 3 percent of the region's total population 
in 1947 to an estimated 48 percent in 1995.  Although the Government 
prohibits further settlement of the area except for the purpose of 
starting a business, such as rubber planting, citizens from the 
flatlands continue to move in. 
 
All sides--indigenous tribes, settlers, and security forces--have 
accused each other of human rights violations.  It is difficult to 
verify facts in specific incidents because government travel 
restrictions, tight security, difficult terrain, and unsafe conditions 
created by the insurgency limit access to the area. 
 
In late 1993, violence erupted in the remote town of Naniarchar when a 
tribal group demonstrated for removal of a security checkpoint.  A group 
of Bengali settlers reportedly attacked the demonstrators and other 
persons in the town and looted and burned tribal homes.  At least 27 
people were killed and 100 injured before the police and army restored 
order.  A government commission which investigated the violence has not 
issued an official finding. 
 
There was at least one major violent incident in the CHT in 1995.  In 
March a clash erupted between the Hill Students Council, a group 
representing indigenous Marma students, and a non-tribal group, and 
later police, in Bandarban.  Reports from the area claimed that at least 
50 people on all sides were injured, and several hundred houses 
destroyed by fire.  There were unconfirmed reports of two deaths.  The 
Government appointed a committee to investigate the incident, but no 
report had been issued by year's end. 
 
The Government continued talks with Shanti Bahini's political wing, the 
Jana Sanghati Samiti (JSS), and the two sides agreed at short, regular 
intervals to extend their cease-fire, the latest until March 31, 1996, 
when talks between the two groups were scheduled to resume.  The 
Government also extended the amnesty for insurgents as long as the 
dialogue with the Shanti Bahini continues. 
 
Few Chakma tribal members who had fled the conflict in the CHT and 
sought shelter in refugee camps in India returned to Bangladesh in 1995.  
Officially there was no repatriation during 1995, in part because the 
Shanti Bahini allegedly discouraged refugees from repatriating; however, 
government officials note that some refugees returned voluntarily and 
have been assisted in their resettlement.  Some organizations based in 
the Hill Tracts continue to assert that conditions were not suitable for 
repatriation because of government repression. 
 
Section 2   Respect for Civil Liberties, Including: 
 
   a.   Freedom of Speech and Press 
 
The Constitution provides for freedom of speech, expression, and the 
press, subject to "reasonable restrictions" in the interest of security, 
friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency, or 
morality, or to prohibit defamation or incitement to an offense.  With 
some exceptions--a principal one being perceived criticism of Islam--the 
Government generally respects freedom of speech. 
 
There are frequent public rallies and speeches in opposition to 
government policies.  Opposition political parties have continued to use 
public rallies as the main venue to express their views after they 
walked out of the Parliament in early 1994. 
 
Newspaper ownership and content are not subject to government 
restriction.  The press, numbering hundreds of daily and weekly 
publications, is a forum for a wide range of views. 
 
The Government seeks to influence newspapers by the placement of 
advertising.  Some editors complain that the Government's placement of 
advertising to reward supporters and to punish critical newspapers leads 
to self-censorship. 
 
The Government now allows the import of newsprint, but most newspapers 
still rely on the cheaper, subsidized product from the country's one 
newsprint mill, which is government-owned.  Although the Government 
claims that it allocates newsprint according to a paper's circulation, 
some newspaper owners allege that progovernment papers receive 
preference in the setting of distribution quotas. 
 
Foreign publications are subject to censorship.  While there has been no 
official banning of foreign books this year, at least one English-
language book has been kept from circulation.  The Government banned a 
September issue of Time magazine and censored a December issue of 
Newsweek because they contained allegedly obscene photographs.  In 
November the Government banned a book entitled "Woman" that allegedly 
offended religious beliefs.  The book, written by a professor at Dhaka 
University, had been in circulation since 1992.  The circulation of 
about 10 local books has been prohibited because of their perceived 
misrepresentation of Islam. 
 
In June three editors of the daily Janakantha, arrested in 1994 for 
printing a satirical fable mocking Islamic clerics who misinterpret the 
Koran, were formally charged with attacking religious sentiments.  Their 
appeal to the High Court is pending. 
 
In July officers of the police Special Branch invoked the Special Powers 
Act to detain Farhad Mazhar, chairman of the Board of Editors of the 
weekly Bangla periodical Chinta.  The Government was reportedly unhappy 
with a series of articles about the December 1994 Ansar Mutiny, a 
highly-publicized protest in the main Dhaka garrison of the Ansars, a 
para-military security force.  Mazhar spent 28 days in prison before the 
High Court declared his detention illegal.  Four journalists arrested in 
October for defamation in connection with corruption charges made 
against a local official were released on bail later that month. 
 
In September a government minister filed a defamation suit against three 
newspaper editors for publishing a statement against him from one of the 
leaders of his own party.  The court issued warrants for their arrest; 
in the subsequent hearing, the three editors were granted bail.   
 
Feminist author Taslima Nasreen, whose writings and statements provoked 
death threats from some Islamic groups in 1993 and 1994, did not return 
to Bangladesh following her departure for Europe in August 1994.  The 
Government charged Nasreen under a section of the Penal Code which 
stipulates punishment for anyone convicted of intentionally insulting 
religious beliefs.  The High Court ruled in January that the Government 
must provide a special authorization to bring charges against Nasreen 
because her alleged acts took place in a foreign country.  The 
Government opted to pursue the case in spite of several opportunities 
during the year to let it drop.  In a subsequent hearing, the High Court 
granted the Government authorization to proceed with the case and 
ordered the trial, which has been postponed several times already this 
year, to proceed.  Although the case was scheduled to resume in October, 
a series of legal maneuvers and postponements have continued to stall 
proceedings.  The next hearing in the case is currently scheduled for 
early 1996.  Nasreen may be tried in absentia.  The Government has taken 
no action against those who issued death threats against Nasreen, even 
though such threats also violate the law. 
 
The Government owns and controls radio and television, which provide 
more extensive and favorable coverage of the Government than of the 
opposition.  One legal rights group filed a case with the High Court 
seeking permission to operate independent television stations. 
 
The availability of Cable News Network and the British Broadcasting 
Corporation's international news and features, rebroadcast for several 
hours a day on government television, has considerably increased the 
public's access to international news.  There are no restrictions on 
installation of satellite dishes, so some citizens have increased access 
to foreign media and entertainment. 
 
The Government's film censor board continues to exercise control over 
films.  Three films, all produced locally, have been banned this year, 
primarily for alleged distortions of the National Independence Movement.  
In general, academic freedom is respected.  However, research on 
sensitive topics, which may be perceived to be injurious to religious 
sentiments or traditional social customs, is not encouraged.  Similarly, 
studies relating to bureaucracy and the military need special permission 
from the Government.  Permission to pursue such research may not be 
formally denied, but researchers may find access to appropriate 
materials and sources extremely difficult.  In a  few cases, the 
published work may be banned.    
 
   b.   Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association 
 
The Constitution provides for the right of every citizen to form 
associations, subject to "reasonable restrictions" in the interest of 
morality or public order and in general this right is respected.  In 
practice, individuals are free to join private groups, but a local 
magistrate must approve public meetings.  Occasionally, the Government 
prohibits rallies for security reasons. 
 
The Government frequently, however, interferes with opposition rallies 
and public meetings.  Government officials also often cite a statute 
which allows public assemblies to be prohibited--to prevent possible 
violence--if two or more parties have scheduled rallies for the same 
time and place.  Opposition leaders claim that the ruling party, after 
learning of planned opposition public gatherings, schedules other 
rallies for the same time and place.  Government authorities then cancel 
both events, effectively thwarting the opposition's right to public 
assembly. 
 
The Government and the opposition in October 1994 entered into a 
political dialogue in which one agenda item was agreement on a code of 
conduct that would address issues such as public assemblies.  The 
dialogue failed when the opposition refused to compromise on its demand 
for a caretaker government to supervise the next national elections; 
there was no further progress on the issue in 1995. 
 
   c.   Freedom of Religion 
 
Approximately 90 percent of Bangladesh's 119 million people are Muslim.  
The Constitution establishes Islam as the state religion but also 
stipulates the right to practice the religion of one's choice.  However, 
some members of the Hindu, Christian, and Buddhist minorities continue 
to perceive and experience discrimination toward them from the majority 
community (see Section 5). 
 
The law permits citizens to proselytize.  However, strong social 
resistance to conversion from Islam means that many of the missionary 
efforts by non-Muslims are aimed at Hindus and tribal groups.  The 
Government allows various religions to establish places of worship, 
train clergy, travel for religious purposes, and maintain links with 
coreligionists abroad.  Foreign missionaries may work in Bangladesh, but 
their right to proselytize is not protected by the Constitution.  Some 
missionaries have encountered difficulties in obtaining residence 
permits or reentry visas. 
 
   d.   Freedom of Movement within the Country, Foreign Travel, 
Emigration, and Repatriation 
 
Citizens are able to move freely within the country.  Travel by 
foreigners is restricted in the CHT and some other border areas.  
Citizens are generally free to travel abroad and emigrate.  The right of 
repatriation is observed. 
 
Approximately 250,000 Rohingyas (Muslims from Burma's Arakan Province) 
crossed into southeastern Bangladesh in late 1991 and early 1992, 
fleeing repression.  Approximately 51,000 Rohingyas remain in 6 camps in 
the area of Cox's Bazar.  The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees 
(UNHCR) and the Government were able to intercede in specific cases to 
avoid forced repatriation by Bangladeshi authorities.  Efforts to 
repatriate the refugees slowed over the summer because Burmese 
authorities issued a limited number of clearances.  The UNHCR estimates 
that the majority of the remaining refugees will repatriate in 1996. 
 
There are about 238,000 non-Bengali Muslims, known as Biharis, who have 
remained in Bangladesh since 1971 awaiting settlement in Pakistan (see 
Pakistan report). 
 
Bangladesh is not a party to the 1951 United Nations convention and its 
1967 protocol relating to the status of refugees.  However, the 
Government generally cooperates with the UNHCR and other humanitarian 
organizations in assisting refugees, such as the Rohingyas.  Occasional 
abuses such as the forced return or mistreatment of individual refugees 
have been reported, but these appear to be the exception rather than the 
rule.   
 
Section 3   Respect for Political Rights:  The Right of Citizens to 
Change Their Government 
 
Bangladesh is a multiparty, parliamentary democracy in which elections 
by secret ballot are held on the basis of universal suffrage.  Members 
of Parliament (M.P.'s) are elected at least every 5 years.  The 
Parliament has 300 elected members, with 30 additional seats reserved 
for women who are chosen by Parliament. 
 
The last national elections were held in 1991 after the fall of the 
Government of H.M. Ershad.  The BNP won a plurality of seats.  It 
cooperated with the Jamaat-E-Islami Party to elect enough female 
legislators to give the BNP a slim majority and enable it to form a 
government.  The opposition is led by Sheikh Hasina Wajed and her Awami 
League Party.  While there are a large number of minor parties, the most 
significant opposition parties are the Awami League, the Jatiyo Party 
(former President Ershad's party), and the Jamaat-E-Islami, the major 
Islamic political party. 
 
The Awami League and other opposition groups charged the BNP with 
intimidation and vote-rigging in a parliamentary by-election in March 
1994 in the district of Magura, which the BNP won.  They began a boycott 
of Parliament and have tried, thus far unsuccessfully, to force the 
Government to resign in favor of a caretaker government, which would 
oversee new elections.  The opposition Members of Parliament resigned en 
masse on December 28, 1994.  In June 143 opposition members formally 
lost their seats; the Constitution mandates that parliamentarians absent 
for 90 working days must surrender their seats.  Parliament now consists 
largely of one party, the ruling BNP. 
 
In addition to the 30 parliamentary seats reserved for women (whose 
occupants are chosen by Parliament), women are free to contest any seat 
in Parliament.  Some women were elected in their own right in the last 
national election, making for a total of 35 women M.P.'s before the 
boycott and resignation of major opposition party members.   
 
While seats are not specifically reserved for them, other minority 
groups, such as tribal peoples, are represented in the legislature.  
Prior to the opposition's resignation, there were 12 members from 
minority groups in the 330-seat Parliament. 
 
Section 4   Governmental Attitude Regarding International and 
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights 
 
The Government generally permits human rights groups to conduct their 
activities.  In 1995 such groups published reports, held press 
conferences, and issued appeals to the Government with regard to 
specific cases. 
 
The Government is sensitive to international opinion regarding human 
rights issues.  It sought to defend its handling of the Taslima Nasreen 
case but was open to dialogue with international organizations and 
foreign diplomatic missions. 
 
The Government has put pressure on individual human rights advocates.  
Although the Government issued a reentry visa in April to Father Richard 
Timm, a Catholic priest and human rights advocate who has worked in 
Bangladesh for over 40 years, the process took more than a year and the 
visa was valid for only 3 months.  Father Timm reapplied for an 
extension in July, and in November received a 6-month visa, which can be 
renewed.  In a similar case, after more than a year of deliberation, the 
Government granted a similar 6-month visa to Father Eugene Homrich, a 
long-time resident American priest, who has worked for many years in the 
Madhupur Forest region with the Garos, a minority group. 
 
The Government refused to register the Bangladesh Human Rights 
Commission's Treatment Center for Trauma Victims, making it impossible 
for the Center to receive funds from foreign donor organizations.  Many 
representatives of local human rights groups were physically attacked by 
religious extremists who considered their activities "un-Islamic."  The 
Government failed to bring to justice those who engaged in such 
violence. 
 
Section 5   Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, 
Language, or Social Status 
 
The Constitution states that "all citizens are equal before the law and 
are entitled to equal protection by the law."  In practice, laws aimed 
at eliminating discrimination are not strongly enforced.  In this 
context, women, children, minority groups, and the disabled often 
confront social and economic disadvantages. 
 
   Women 
 
Violence against women is difficult to quantify because of unreliable 
statistics, but wife beating appears to be widespread.  The Government 
allows programs that document and counter domestic violence.  In 1995 
human rights groups and the press reported many incidents of violence 
against women, in only some of which the perpetrators were reportedly 
prosecuted.  In villages, vigilante groups, sometimes led by religious 
leaders, meted out humiliating, painful punishments, including whipping, 
to women accused of moral offenses.  The Government has enacted laws 
specifically prohibiting certain forms of discrimination against women, 
including the Antidowry Prohibition Act of 1980 and the Cruelty to Women 
Law of 1983.  Enforcement of these laws is weak, however, especially in 
rural areas.  The Government seldom prosecutes vigorously those cases 
that are filed.  A new law, the Women Repression Law, was enacted in 
August but has been greeted with skepticism by women's groups, which 
argue that enforcement of existing laws rather than the promulgation of 
new ones should be the priority.  Government records through September 
indicate that 78 persons were arrested under the Women Repression Law. 
 
Although there has been slow improvement over the last few years, women 
remain in a subordinate position in society, and the Government has not 
acted to protect their basic freedoms.  Only 20 percent of women are 
literate, compared to 35 to 40 percent of the general population.  In 
rural areas, only 30 percent of primary school students are female; less 
than 25 percent at the secondary level, and below 15 percent at the 
college and university level.  Women are often unaware of their rights, 
owing to high illiteracy rates and unequal educational opportunities.  
Strong social stigmas and lack of economic means to obtain legal 
assistance frequently keep women from seeking redress in the courts. 
 
According to the 1961 Muslim Family Ordinance, female heirs receive less 
inheritance than male heirs, and wives are more restricted in divorce 
rights.  Men are permitted to have up to four wives.  Laws provide some 
protection for women against arbitrary divorce and the taking of 
additional wives by husbands without the first wife's consent, but the 
protections generally apply only to registered marriages.  Marriages in 
the countryside are often not registered because of the high fees. 
 
While employment opportunities have been stronger for women than for men 
in the past few years, this is almost entirely due to the growth of the 
garment industry, in which female workers are prevalent.  Women still 
occupy only a small fraction of other wage-earning jobs, and hold fewer 
than 5 percent of government jobs.  The Government's policy to include 
more women in government jobs has had limited effect. 
 
   Children 
 
The Government undertakes programs in the areas of primary education, 
health, family planning, and nutrition.  The Government made universal 
primary education mandatory in 1991, but stated that it could not fully 
implement the law because of a lack of resources.  Little progress was 
made in 1995.  The Government has also initiated programs that offer 
incentives for girls to remain in school. 
 
Human rights monitors continue to report that many children have been 
abandoned, kidnaped, sold into bondage, and employed as prostitutes.  
One human rights group claims that there are about 29,000 child 
prostitutes.  The law does not allow anyone under age 18 to engage in 
prostitution and stipulates a maximum sentence of life imprisonment for 
persons found guilty of forcing a child into prostitution.  However, 
procurers of minors are rarely prosecuted.  Prostitution is legal for 
those over 18 with government certification. 
 
International trafficking in both women and children, primarily to the 
Middle East, India, Pakistan, and Southeast Asia, is difficult to 
quantify but appears to be extensive.  Twelve victims of a child-
smuggling ring, ranging in age from 6 to 12 and allegedly enroute to 
Dubai to work as jockeys in camel racing, were repatriated from India in 
October.  The Government has expressed concern about the problem and has 
been working with U.N. agencies and nongovernmental organizations 
(NGO's) to seek ways to combat it. 
 
   People with Disabilities 
 
The laws provide for equal treatment and freedom from discrimination for 
the disabled, but they often confront social and economic disadvantages.  
The Government has not enacted specific legislation or otherwise 
mandated accessibility for the disabled. 
 
   Indigenous People 
 
Tribal peoples, especially in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, have a 
marginal ability to influence decisions concerning the use of their 
lands.  Until 1985 the Government regularly parceled out land in the 
Chittagong Hill Tracts to Bengali settlers. 
 
The Government has moved toward granting the tribal peoples more 
authority in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.  In July 1991, tribal-dominated 
local government councils assumed control over primary education, 
health, family welfare and the agricultural extension service, although 
the real extent of their autonomy remains unclear.  However, government 
security forces continue to control law and order as well as land use 
(see Section 1.g.). 
 
Tribal peoples in other areas have also reported loss of land to Bengali 
Muslims through questionable legal practices and other means.  For 
example, the Garo, who live in the Madhapur Forest region in north 
central Bangladesh, have encountered problems in maintaining their 
cultural traditions and livelihoods in the face of reforestation 
projects.  Human rights monitors in the region claim that the Garos are 
being harassed and intimidated into leaving their homes to make way for 
government-run, internationally financed projects. 
 
   Religious Minorities 
 
Hindus, Christians, and Buddhists make up an estimated 10 percent of the 
population.  Although the Government is secular, religion exerts a 
powerful influence on politics.  The Government is sensitive to the 
Muslim consciousness of the majority of its citizens and has sought the 
political support of the Jamaat-E-Islami, the country's largest Islamic 
political party. 
 
In scattered incidents throughout the country, Islamic extremists 
violently attacked women, religious minorities, and development workers.  
The Government generally failed to denounce, investigate, and prosecute 
perpetrators of these attacks. 
 
Among the most serious attacks were those carried out against NGO's 
accused of conducting anti-Islamic activities.  Some of the violence 
against NGO's was prompted when Islamic religious leaders claimed that 
NGO's denigrated Islam and coerced Muslims to convert to Christianity. 
 
Religious minorities are in practice disadvantaged in such areas as 
access to government jobs and political office.  Selection boards in the 
government services are often without minority group representation. 
 
Property ownership, particularly among Hindus, has been a contentious 
issue since independence, when many Hindus lost landholdings because of 
anti-Hindu discrimination in the application of the law.  Reported cases 
of violence directed against religious minority communities have also 
resulted in the loss of property most recently in December 1992 after 
Hindus in India destroyed the Babri mosque.  Such intercommunal violence 
has caused some members of religious minority groups to depart the 
country.  However, there were no significant instances of intercommunal 
violence in 1995. 
 
Section 6   Worker Rights 
 
   a.   The Right of Association 
 
The Constitution provides for freedom of association, the right to join 
unions, and, with government approval, the right to form a union.  
Approximately 1.6 million members of the country's total work force of 
about 45 to 50 million workers belong to unions.  Only about 3 million 
workers are involved in the formal industrial sector.  There is a large 
unreported informal sector, regarding which no reliable labor statistics 
exist.  While a very small proportion of the labor force is unionized, 
unions are very strong in certain sectors such as jute, textiles, and 
transportation.  Unions in these industries have been able on occasion 
to win government concessions on wages and other demands. 
 
For a union to obtain and maintain its registration, 30 percent employee 
participation in the workplace is required.  However, would-be unionists 
are technically forbidden to engage in any labor "activities" prior to 
registration.  Labor activists have protested that this requirement 
severely restricts workers' freedom to associate and organize. 
 
With the exception of workers in the railway, postal, telegraph and 
telephone departments, government civil servants are forbidden to join 
unions.  This ban also applies to security-related government employees 
such as the military and police.  Bangladesh civil servants forbidden to 
join unions, such as teachers and nurses, have formed associations that 
perform functions similar to labor unions, that is, providing for 
members' welfare, offering legal services, and airing grievances.  
Collective bargaining, however, is prohibited.  Some workers have formed 
unregistered unions, particularly university employees and workers in 
the construction and transport (both public and private) industries. 
 
A small number of workers in the export processing zones (EPZ's) have 
also skirted prohibitions on forming unions by setting up associations.  
In the burgeoning garment industry there have been numerous complaints 
of workers being harassed and fired in some factories for trying to 
organize unions. 
 
Ten to 15 percent of Bangladesh's approximately 4,200 labor unions are 
affiliated with 23 officially registered National Trade Union (NTU) 
centers (there are also several unregistered NTU's).  There are no legal 
restrictions on political activities by labor unions.  However, the 
calling of nationwide general strikes or transportation blockades by 
unions is considered a criminal rather than a political act and is thus 
forbidden.  Some unions complained that the Government used its 
Antiterrorism Law as a means to suppress both opposition political 
workers and union members rather than bona fide terrorists.  In November 
1994, however, the Antiterrorism Law lapsed and the Government decided 
not to renew it--no arrests of labor leaders under the Antiterrorism Law 
had been made since 1993. 
 
While unions are not part of the government structure, they are highly 
politicized.  Virtually all NTU centers are affiliated with political 
parties, including one with the ruling BNP.  Some unions are militant 
and engage in intimidation and vandalism.  Illegal blockades of public 
transportation routes by strikers occurred several times during the 
year, with scattered and sometimes serious violence.  The worst such 
case occurred in February, when clashes between striking jute and 
textile workers and police left several strikers dead.  Pitched battles 
between members of rival labor unions occur regularly; hundreds were 
injured (and at least two combatants died) in 1995 in various large jute 
and textile mills, as well as in the inland water transport sector.  
Fighting sometimes concerns control of rackets or extortion payoffs, and 
typically involves knives, guns, and homemade bombs. 
 
Workers are eligible for membership on their unions' executive staff, 
the size of which is set by law in proportion to the number of union 
members.  Registration of a union may only be canceled by the Registrar 
of Trade Unions with the concurrence of the Labor Court, but no such 
actions were known to have been taken this year.  Several cases were 
filed, invariably by employers claiming that a union's membership had 
fallen below the requisite threshhold, but because of a backlog and 
other administrative problems, these cases have not yet been 
adjudicated.  There are no restrictions on affiliation with 
international labor organizations, and unions and federations maintain a 
variety of such links.  Trade unionists are required to obtain 
government clearance to travel to International Labor Organization (ILO) 
meetings, but no denials of clearances were reported. 
 
The right to strike is not specifically recognized in the law, but 
strikes are a common form of protest.  The most prominent recent strikes 
were called by Inland Water Transport employees claiming that they were 
not receiving the required minimum wage, and by jute and textile workers 
seeking increased wages and benefits along with guarantees against 
future privatization and retrenchment.  Employees organized in 
professional associations or nonregistered unions also strike.  In 1995, 
nurses, private elementary teachers, members of the nonadministrative 
cadre of the civil service, and the Bangladesh Medical Association 
(government-employed doctors) were among the striking groups.  They 
sought better pay or benefits, a greater share of the public budget, 
inclusion in the public sector, or administrative reform.  University 
teachers strike for short periods from time to time over the continuing 
problem of campus violence. 
 
General strikes continue to be used by the political opposition to 
pressure the Government to meet its political demands, causing 
significant economic and social disruption through loss of work hours 
and production.  Wildcat strikes are illegal but occur frequently, with 
varying government response.  Wildcat strikes in the transport sector 
are particularly common. 
 
The Essential Services Ordinance permits the Government to bar strikes 
for 3 months in any sector it declares "essential."  This ban, generally 
obeyed, has so far been applied to national airline pilots, water supply 
workers, shipping operations employees and electricity supply workers.  
The bans tend to be renewed every 3 months.  The Government is empowered 
to prohibit a strike or lockout at any time before or after the strike 
or lockout begins and to refer the dispute to the Labor Court.  
Mechanisms for conciliation, arbitration and Labor Court dispute 
resolution were established under the Industrial Relations Ordinance of 
1969.  Workers have the right to strike in the event of a failure to 
settle.  If a strike lasts 30 days or longer, the Government may 
prohibit the strike and refer the dispute to the Labor Court for 
adjudication.  This has not happened since 1993. 
 
There are provisions in the Bangladesh Industrial Relations Ordinance 
for immunity of registered unions or union officers from civil 
liability.  Enforcement of these provisions is uneven.  In the case of 
illegal work actions, such as transportation blockades, police have 
arrested union members under either the Special Powers Act, the 
Antiterrorism Law (now no longer in effect), or regular criminal codes. 
 
   b.   The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively 
 
Free collective bargaining is legal only for private sector workers, on 
condition that the workers are represented by unions legally registered 
as collective bargaining agents by the Registrar of Trade Unions.  
Collective bargaining occurs on occasion in large private enterprises 
such as pharmaceuticals, jute and textiles, but with unemployment in the 
30 percent range, workers' concerns with job security often outweigh 
wage and other issues.  Collective bargaining generally does not occur 
in small private enterprises. 
 
Public sector workers' pay levels and other benefits are recommended by 
the National Pay and Wages Commission.  The Commission's recommendations 
are binding and may not be disputed except on the issue of 
implementation. 
 
Under the Industrial Relations Ordinance, there is considerable leeway 
for discrimination against union members and organizers by employers.  
For example, the Ordinance allows arbitrary transfer of workers 
suspected of union activities.  Complaints that employers routinely 
engage in antiunion discrimination are particularly common in the 
garment industry.  In practice, private sector employers tend to 
discourage any union activity.  The Registrar of Trade Unions rules on 
discrimination complaints.  In a number of cases the Labor Court has 
ordered the reinstatement of workers fired for union activities.  
However, the Court's overall effectiveness is hampered by a serious case 
backlog, and there have also been allegations that some of its 
deliberations have been corrupted by employers. 
 
Current law prohibits professional and industry-based unions in 
Bangladesh's two Export Processing Zones (EPZ's).  In addition to the 
prohibition on unions, no collective bargaining takes place in the 
EPZ's.  Although no action has so far been taken, the Government has 
stated that restrictions on unions in the EPZ's will be lifted by 1997. 
 
   c.   Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor 
 
The Constitution prohibits forced or compulsory labor.  The Factories 
Act and the Shops and Establishment Act, both passed in 1965, set up 
inspection mechanisms to enforce laws against forced labor.  These laws 
are not rigorously enforced, partly because resources for enforcement 
are few.  While Bangladesh does not experience large-scale bonded labor, 
there is forced labor to the extent that workers are often required to 
work later than stipulated by law, with no special compensation.  This 
is a notable problem in the garment industry, for example, which 
operates in high-volume, short-deadline modes of production. 
 
   d.   Minimum Age for Employment of Children 
 
The law prohibits labor by children.  The Factories Act of 1965 bars 
children under age 14 from working in factories.  This law also 
stipulates that young workers (that is, children and adolescents) are 
allowed to work only a maximum 5-hour day and only between the hours of 
7 a.m. and 7 p.m. 
 
In reality, enforcement of these rules is inadequate.  According to a 
1990 labor force survey by the Bureau of Statistics, the country has 5.7 
million working children 10 to 14 years of age.  United Nations 
estimates are that about one-third of Bangladesh's population under the 
age of 18--the child labor definition is 14--is engaged in some type of 
formal or informal employment.  Children are commonly seen driving 
rickshaws, breaking bricks at construction sites, carrying fruits, 
vegetables, and dry goods for shoppers at markets, and working at tea 
stalls.  They are found as peelers, packers, and beach combers in the 
shrimp industry, and work side-by-side with other family members in 
small-scale and subsistence agriculture.  Children also routinely 
perform domestic work.  Cases of children being physically abused and 
occasionally killed by the head of household where they work are 
reported in the press.  Under the law, every child must attend school 
through the fifth grade.  However, the Government continues to maintain 
that it does not yet have the resources to implement this law 
effectively. 
 
In anticipation of possible foreign legislation prohibiting the import 
of products made by child labor, thousands of underage workers employed 
in the ready-made garment industry were fired in 1993.  Many were 
probably rehired later by other factories or in subcontracting 
operations. 
 
Concerned about a possible boycott of Bangladeshi garments by foreign 
child labor advocacy groups, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and 
Exporters Association (BGMEA) pledged to make its member factories child 
labor-free.  Protracted negotiations were held to ensure that the 
dismissed children were placed into schools rather than onto the 
streets.  These talks led to the July agreement on a Memorandum of 
Understanding (MOU) between the BGMEA, the U.N.'s Chidren Fund, and the 
ILO to eliminate child labor in the garment sector in a way that 
provides a safety net for dismissed children.  The MOU establishes a 
cooperative program to identify underage workers (through surveys of the 
garment factories) and then to remove them from their factories and 
place them in new schools.  The children will receive a monthly stipend 
to help replace their lost income.  According to the MOU, qualified 
family members will be hired to replace child workers when possible, and 
children will not be replaced until surveys are complete and educational 
programs are in place.  Completed in late October, the surveys 
identified some 12,000 children working in the garment sector.  
Preparations for opening the first schools under the MOU were well 
advanced by year's end. 
 
   e.   Acceptable Conditions of Work 
 
There is no national minimum wage.  Instead the Wage Commission, which 
convenes every several years, sets wages and benefits industry by 
industry.  In most cases, private sector employers ignore this wage 
structure, arguing that low labor productivity vitiates any argument for 
a set wage.  In 1993 the Confederation of Labor Unions (SKOP) won a 
minimum wage agreement for public sector factory workers that was 
slightly above the level recommended by the 1992 Wage Commission.  
According to the agreement, government factory workers receive about $24 
(950 taka) a month plus benefits.  Private sector wages tend to fall 
below the total government wage and benefits package.  Organized jute 
and textile workers in particular have called strikes in an attempt to 
win wage parity for their industry's private sector workers.  The 
average monthly wage is sufficient to support life, but is not by any 
means a comfortable wage for a family. 
 
The law sets a standard 48-hour workweek with 1 day off.  A 60-hour 
workweek, inclusive of a maximum 12 hours of overtime, is allowed.  The 
law is poorly enforced in industries such as hosiery and ready-made 
garments. 
 
The Factories Act of 1965 nominally sets occupational health and safety 
standards.  The law is comprehensive but appears to be largely ignored 
by many employers.  Workers may resort to legal action for enforcement 
of the law's provisions, but few cases are actually prosecuted.  
Enforcement by the Labor Ministry's industrial inspectors is weak.  Due 
to high unemployment and inadequate enforcement of the laws, workers 
demanding correction of dangerous working conditions or refusing to 
participate in perceived dangerous activities risk losing their jobs. 
 
(###)


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