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ACHR Index: PR/SAARC/01/06
13 December 2006

SAARC Human Rights Report 2006: Address by Suhas Chakma, Director, Asian Centre for Human Rights at South Asia Foreign Correspondent Club, New Delhi

Bangladesh No. 1 Human Rights Violator in South Asia

New Delhi, 13 December 2006: 

Covering eight member States of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), SAARC Human Rights Report 2006 analyses the human rights situation in the South Asian region in 2005. The report covers human rights violations by the governments and the armed opposition groups.

Human rights violations across South Asia are systemic, endemic; and torture forms part of the administration of justice. Prison conditions, which are overcrowded by 400% in some cases, reflect the true and deplorable condition of human rights in South Asia. While lips of the prisoners were sewed before producing them in the courts in Pakistan, a Dalit prisoner was tattooed Neevi Jaat, lower caste, on his back with a hot iron in a prison in Punjab, India.

According to the SAARC Human Rights Violators Index 2006, Bangladesh has been ranked No. 1 violator of human rights, followed by Bhutan (No. 2), Nepal (No. 3), Maldives (No. 4), Pakistan (No.5), Sri Lanka (No.6) and India (No.7).

Bangladesh: No 1 Human Rights Violator

Bangladesh has been ranked No. 1 violator because of the systematic attacks on the opposition and maximum number of peace time extrajudicial killings by the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and other security forces with impunity. The RAB and other security forces were responsible for killings of 340 persons in alleged “crossfire”, an euphemistic term for extrajudicial executions.

The government of Bangladesh failed to protect the judges from the Jihadis and separate judiciary from the executive despite a Supreme Court order of 1999. At least two judges were killed and dozens were injured in the attacks within court premises.

Bangladesh was also ranked No. 1 violator of the rights of minorities. It continued to transfer the plain settlers into the Chittagong Hill Tracts in order to annihilate the identity of the indigenous Jumma peoples. 

The Hindu minorities continued to be targeted and their religious freedoms were severely violated. The government failed to implement the Vested Properties Return Act of 2001 and the lands of Hindu minorities continued to be grabbed by force.

The security forces supported the activists of International Khatme Nabuat Movement to attack the Ahmadiyas, such as in the attack at Sundarban Bazar in Satkhira district on 17 April 2005.

Minority and indigenous human rights defenders were specifically targeted and their organisations were not granted permission to receive foreign grants. At least three NGO activists working on minority and indigenous issues, including Joshi Chakma, an indigenous activist with Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), were killed.

Bangladesh was the most dangerous place for the journalists. They came under attack from the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party activists, armed opposition groups, and security forces. At least two journalists were killed, 142 injured, 11 arrested, 4 abducted, 53 subjected to harassment, 249 received threats and 15 came under direct attacks and cases were filed against 130 journalists in 2005.

Bhutan: South Asia's Gulag

Bhutan has been ranked No. 2 violator because of the absolute denial of political freedom, independent judiciary, press freedom and violations of the rights of minorities and undeclared ban on the human rights defenders.

“If absence of reports on human rights violations were to be the yardsticks for measuring the state of human rights, the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea will be adjudged better than most democratic countries. Not a single political prisoner out of approximately 70 of them arrested during 1991-92 has been released.” – stated Suhas Chakma, Director of Asian Centre for Human Rights.

His Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuk is the judge and jury and the only authority to pardon and hire and fire the judges. Though the Evidence Act was adopted in December 2005, Bhutan did not have necessary laws in place for administration of justice to meet the basic international standards on fair trial.

There is absolute ban on press freedom. The only newspaper, Kuensel, is owned and controlled by the government. In 2005, Indian and other international TV channels were frequently banned in the name of protecting Bhutanese culture.

On the violations of the rights of minorities, Bhutan has been ranked No.2 just behind Bangladesh because of the discriminatory laws, policies and practices against the ethnic Nepalis and Sarchops. In a further attempt to suppress cultural rights, the National Assembly of Bhutan in November 2005 made it mandatory to conduct all public meetings in Dzongkha, the language of the ruling Drukpas.

“Democracy is about inclusiveness. The process of drafting the Constitution of Bhutan is therefore a sham as it does not include over 10% of its subjects sheltered in Nepal. It is a shame that a country which coined “Gross National Happiness”, ironically failed to take any measures in 2005 for the return of its subjects, who have been languishing in “Gross Sadness” for the last one and half decade in Nepal!” – stated Mr Chakma.

Nepal: Most dangerous place for children

Apart from repression on the political parties, the violations of the right to life were widespread in Nepal. About 1524 persons – 815 persons by the security forces and 709 persons by the Maoists – were killed in 2005.

Nepal remained the most dangerous place for children in South Asia with extrajudicial execution, torture and forcible recruitment. An estimated 58 children, including 16 girls, were reportedly killed during January - September 2005 alone. Of them, Maoists reportedly killed 46 children, including 11 girls. Over 140 children were reportedly injured by the security forces and the Maoists during 2005, including at least 80 in bomb explosions by Maoists.

Asian Centre for Human Rights appreciates the role of judiciary in Nepal under trying circumstances. While the words of the King were final and supreme in Bhutan and Maldivian courts were merely rubber stamps of the executive, the Supreme Court of Nepal admitted petitions challenging the constitutional validity of ordinances issued by King Gyanendra, thereby, questioning the authority of the despotic ruler.

Half of all the cases of press censorship in the world in 2005 were reported from Nepal and at least two journalists were killed, 425 journalists were arrested, attacked or threatened.

Accountability for human rights violations in Nepal remains the key challenge.

Maldives: No. 1 abuser of anti-terror laws

All the governments in South Asia mis-used anti-terror laws but it is the government of Maldives which perfected the art of mis-using anti-terror laws. Maldives was the No. 1 abuser of anti-terror laws in South Asia and many opposition leaders including Mr Muhammed Nasheed, President of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party were arrested under anti-terror laws. President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom remained the judge and the jury and sentenced opposition activists like Jennifer Latheef under terrorism charges.

Six months is a long time to test sincerity of a government on political reforms. In June 2005, President Gayoom allowed the registration of political parties; but in the first ever multi-party elections held in December 2005 candidates had to contest as “independent”.

It is clear that President Gayoom has no seriousness for political reforms.

At least a dozen journalists belonging to only independent newspaper in Maldives, Minivan, were arrested for exercising their freedom of expression. Cyber dissident Ahmed Ibrahim Didi who was arrested in January 2002 continued to be detained till the end of 2005.

Only those who are close to the Gayoom's regime are allowed to register non-governmental organisations in Maldives. The Human Rights Association of Maldives, Reporting Network for the Relatives of the Persons in Judicial Care, Maldivian Detainees Network and Maldives Center for Human Rights and Democracy continued to be denied registration because of their “international contacts”.

Pakistan: No. 1 violator of women's rights

Pakistan was ranked No. 1 violator on women rights. It is not only because of high profile rape cases like Sonia Naz and Dr Shazia Khalid but it is the entrenched legal repression and cultural cruelties which make women excessive targets of violence at the hands of the security forces and common men. As many as 4383 women were victims of honour killings and karo kari from January 2001 to December 2004 and 80% of the women prisoners have been held under Hudood Ordinances. Women have been denied the right to participation in public life and many were killed for their attempt to participate in local elections in 2005. 

Custodial rapes were widespread but the government of Pakistan failed to take effective measures.

Minorities continue to be targeted under the Blasphemy laws. Blasphemy cases were filed against 60 persons between January and July 2005 alone. In 2004, a total of 23 blasphemy cases were registered. Of these, 14 cases were registered against 55 Muslims, 7 cases against 24 Ahmadiyas and 2 cases against 3 Christians.

Though the Supreme Court of Pakistan has been blamed for validating military regimes, the judiciary at the level of High Court and lower courts were instrumental for defence of human rights. In 2005, Asian Centre for Human Rights documented 9 cases where bailiffs/ raid commissioners/ lower court judges raided the detention centers/police stations and rescued 33 persons from the illegal detention of the law enforcement personnel.

Pakistan remains repressive on the media and the amendment to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) once again exposes the media to repression. PEMRA empowers the authorities to seize equipment, withdraw licences and conduct investigations and empower the police to arrest electronic media journalists without a warrant.

At least two journalists were killed, 1 disappeared after abduction and at least 120 journalists were allegedly attacked by law enforcement agencies, political activists and fundamentalist groups in 2005.

Sri Lanka: Tamils continue to be targeted

Although Sri Lanka has been ranked No. 6th human rights violator primarily because of the fragile Cease-fire Agreement of 2002, ethnic Tamils whether journalists, political activists or innocent persons continued to be disproportionately targeted.

“The recent killing of aid workers, targeting of civilians and imposition of anti-terror laws will have direct bearing on ranking of Sri Lanka's human rights record in the future.” – stated Mr Suhas Chakma, Director of ACHR.

The nationalist fervour of Chief Justice of Sri Lanka Justice Sarath Nanda Silva adversely affected independence of judiciary in Sri Lanka. The May 2005 judgement of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka acquitting the four accused who were sentenced to death in the case of massacre of 28 Tamil youth at Bindunuwewa Rehabilitation Centre in October 2000 further established that the Tamil minorities couldn't have equal access to justice in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka also took regressive measures for legal reforms. The Code of Criminal Procedure (Special Provisions) Act of 2005 of Sri Lanka increased the detention period from the existing 24 hours to 48 hours without producing before the judge. This law violates basic international human rights standards.

The Tamil journalists were specifically targeted by the security forces, armed groups and rightwing Sinhalese groups like the Janata Vimukti Perumuna. At least 2 Tamil journalists were killed, at least 6 were physically attacked, at least 4 were arrested and at least 4 journalists received death threats in Sri Lanka.

Torture and rape of ethnic Tamil women by the security forces were also reported.

The situation of children in Sri Lanka was as precarious as in Nepal with reports of recruitment of children by the armed opposition groups during 2005 with the tacit approval of the security forces for the Karuna faction.  

India: 60 years of statelessness remain unaddressed

Though India, the largest democratic country, provides political freedom, about a million people, mainly Sikhs, who migrated from Pakistan to Jammu and Kashmir in 1947 continued to be denied the right to vote until today. The government of India also failed to ensure implementation of the Supreme Court judgement pertaining to 65,000 Chakmas and Hajongs who migrated to northeast Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh in 1964.

“The denial of citizenship right to the victims of Partition is a blot to Indian democracy. It is criminal to deprive the vehicle to be considered as persons before the law” – stated Mr Suhas Chakma.

Security forces were responsible for widespread violations of the right to life including killing of 1493 persons in custody; and 355 civilians in police firing in 2005. There were reports of torture, rape and extrajudicial executions.

The vulnerable groups continued to suffer from discrimination, violence and access to justice. In 2005, violence against the Scheduled Tribes (STs) increased by 3.2% in comparison to 2004. A total of 5,713 cases against STs were reported in 2005. Although the average charge-sheeting rate for the crimes against the STs was 91.6 per cent, the average conviction rate was only 24.5%. Similarly, although the average charge-sheeting rate for the crimes against the Scheduled Castes was 94.1 per cent, the average conviction rate was only 29.8%. A total of 26,127 cases were reported against SCs in 2005.

Journalists reporting from conflict areas were more vulnerable to atrocities of the security forces. While in Jammu and Kashmir, security forces targeted the journalists; in Manipur the journalists faced consistent harassment, threats and intimidation from the armed opposition groups.

Minorities particularly the Christians faced systematic attacks because of their beliefs in India. In Jammu and Kashmir, armed opposition groups were responsible for attacks on the minority Hindus.

Armed groups: Maoists lead the violations of International Humanitarian Laws

The armed opposition groups across South Asia were responsible for gross violations of international humanitarian laws including torture, executions, killing, hostage taking and extortions.

The Maoists in Nepal, India and Bangladesh were responsible for majority and widespread violations of international humanitarian laws in South Asia. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Karuna faction were responsible for large scale disappearances.

While a total of 1466 civilians were reportedly killed by the armed opposition groups in India, 62 people died in bomb and grenade attacks in Bangladesh. In Nepal, the Maoists killed at least 709 persons in 2005. 

In Jammu and Kashmir, minority Hindus were specifically targeted. In Waziristan of Pakistan, the armed opposition groups killed a number of tribal elders on suspicion of spying or helping the security forces.


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