Washington, DC: Today, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D, HI-02) a member of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, introduced a bipartisan resolution calling on the government of Bangladesh to increase human rights protections, strengthen democratic institutions, and prevent the growth of extremist groups in the country. The resolution comes as ISIS and other trans-national radical Islamic groups continue to grow their influence in areas like South Asia. Co-sponsors include Asia and the Pacific Subcommittee Chairman Matt Salmon (R, AZ-05) and Rep. Bob Dold (R, IL-10).
In a speech on the House floor introducing the resolution, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard stated, “Bangladesh is a country in turmoil. There are many concerns about the stability of the country, particularly since flawed elections were held last year, and the political violence that has ensued. I am particularly concerned over issues of religious freedom, and specifically, attacks against minority Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, and others, in Bangladesh. All too often perpetrators of crimes against minorities go unpunished. It’s up to the government of Bangladesh to take action to stop those who incite and commit violence and protect the rights of these minorities. [This resolution] calls on the government of Bangladesh to protect the human rights of all its citizens, particularly its vulnerable minorities, strengthen democratic institutions and rule of law, and prevent the growth of extremist groups.”
“It was an honor to work on this resolution with Rep. Gabbard,” said Congressman Matt Salmon. “In Bangladesh, there is great potential. Through this resolution, we have encouraged Bangladesh to embrace non-violent democratic competition and rule of law, and to shirk political violence and religious extremism. We expect Bangladesh to respect human dignity, honor commitments to freedom of expression and religion, and protect the human rights of all citizens, no matter one’s political disposition, creed, or religion. This resolution reaffirms our dedication to these principles.”
“Religious persecution is on the rise around the world, with 77% of the world’s population now living in countries with high restrictions on religious freedom,” said Congressman Bob Dold. “As the greatest force for human dignity in the world, the United States has an obligation to send the unequivocal message that we will not tolerate countries that fail to protect the fundamental freedoms of all citizens, especially minorities. I am pleased to join with my colleagues from both sides of the aisle calling on the government of Bangladesh to protect the rights of minorities, eliminate violent extremist groups and restore the rule of law.”
Bangladesh, a Muslim-majority nation in South Asia, is the world’s eighth most populous country in the world. The country’s faltering democratic system has been subjected to an array of pressures in recent years, including a combination of political violence, corruption, poverty, and increasingly, Islamist militancy. Religious minorities, including Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, and Ahmadiyya Muslims, in Bangladesh face high levels of persecution, including the destruction of temples, homes and businesses.
U.N. agencies and the Bangladesh government have begun distributing liquid petroleum gas stoves in Cox’s Bazar to help prevent further deforestation, which has been accelerating with the huge influx of Rohingya refugees during the past year.
Cox’s Bazar is home to large areas of protected forest and an important wildlife habitat. The arrival of more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees fleeing violence and persecution in Myanmar has put enormous pressure on these precious resources.
U.N. Migration Agency spokesman, Paul Dillon tells VOA, the refugees have been cutting down the trees and clearing land to build makeshift shelters. He says they and many local villagers also rely almost exclusively on firewood to cook their meals.
“Consequently, the forests in that area are being denuded at the rate of roughly four football fields every single day. We are told by the experts at this rate, by 2019 there will be no further forests in that area,” he said.
Scientists note deforestation has devastating consequences for the environment leading to soil erosion, fewer crops, increased flooding and, most significantly, the loss of habitat for millions of species.
Dillon says disappearing forests are putting great pressure on the animals in the region.
“It interrupts migration pathways and regrettably forces these, sort of, artificial confrontations between animals in the wild and communities as they move into areas that have been logged out often-times in search of arable farmland and that type of thing,” he said.
The project aims to distribute liquid petroleum gas stoves and gas cylinders to around 250,000 families over the coming months. U.N. agencies say the stoves will have additional benefits besides helping to prevent deforestation.
For example, they note smoke from firewood burned in homes and shelters without proper ventilation causes many health problems, especially among women and children who spend much of their time indoors. (VOA)