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US Commission silent about ethnic cleansing of Hindus in Bangladesh

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www.hinduhumanrights.info

By Dr. Richard L. Benkin

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On April 30, 2015, the United States joined with the Taliban and other South Asian jihadis by supporting the ethnic cleansing of Hindus in Bangladesh. On that date, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) issued its annual report that deliberately ignored the evidence it had about the ongoing atrocities against Bangladeshi Hindus and the current government’s complicity in it.

Since Bangladesh’s independence in 1971, Hindus have gone from almost a fifth of the population to an estimated one in 15 in this country, which has world’s eighth largest population and fourth largest Muslim population. Throughout that time, Hindus have faced ongoing atrocities including murder, rape, child abduction, forced conversion, religious desecration, and pogroms. Through a racist law taken in whole cloth from Pakistan, the Vested Property Act, successive Bangladeshi governments have plundered Hindu property and seized most of it.

The atrocities themselves are horrible enough to cause outrage in all decent human beings and spur them to take action. It’s the Bangladeshi government’s complicity, however, that demanded a stern rebuke from USCIRF and recommendations for US action.

Instead, the Commission did not even place Bangladesh on what it used to call its “Watch List” of nations that do not take action when religious freedom is threatened. A product of the International Religious Freedom Act, USCIRF was passed during the administration of US President Bill Clinton. Its specific mandate involved identifying situations like this and recommending US government action so that we are not complicit in them. Its recent action not only failed to meet its mandate; it also consigned 12 million Bangladeshi Hindus to a terrible fate.

For the past eight years, I have been going to South Asia, comforting victims and confronting victimizers. Had USCIRF acted courageously instead of cowardly, it would have made a difference. The Bangladeshi economy is inordinately dependent on its imports from the US and other western nations, and the powers in Bangladesh will react if any of those states take a strong stand on an issue. I’ve seen it happen before, I’ve been part of it. Bangladesh took action when those nations started objecting to the terrible and dangerous conditions for workers there.

Unfortunately, those same western elites including USCIRF consistently give Bangladesh’s government a pass when it comes to Hindus. Their position in part comes from their naïve belief that the ruling Awami League of Sheikh Hasina Wajed is different from its out-of-power rival, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, and they will do anything to support the Awami League’s ongoing false claim of being “moderate.” Yet, under their watch jihad against the dwindling non-Muslim population has intensified.

  • I personally confirmed unpunished anti-Hindu atrocities at a rate of about one per week under the Awami League rule;
  • Bangladeshi human rights activist Rabindra Ghosh and his Bangladesh Minority Watch investigate atrocities and fight government inaction. They face regular attacks either by the government or by those supported by it;
  • The Hindu American Foundation and others have documented the anti-Hindu
  • Hague based Global Human Rights Defence’s 2013 film, “Culture of Impunity: The rise of Bangladeshi religious extremism,” documented how government inaction enables anti-Hindu atrocities and the rise of Islamists.

The US Congress has begun voicing concern about Bangladesh’s war on Hindus. Bob Dold of suburban Chicago has now been joined by Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce and the only Hindu member of the Congress, Tulsi Gabbard. I also have been working with several Senators through their staff, including Presidential candidate Marco Rubio.

Yet, USCIRF continues down a discredited and deadly path. It had an opportunity to take a moral stance against jihad and instead took the route of silence.

At one point, it looked like things would be different. Chairwoman Katrina Lantos Swett assured me that USCIRF would address the issue. Its representatives reached out to me for contacts inside Bangladesh who could substantiate the ethnic cleansing of Hindus and the government complicity. I connected them with Rabindra Ghosh, who met with a USCIRF staff person in Bangladesh and gave compelling evidence of the atrocities and the Awami League’s complicity. He knew that the government would target him for doing so but told me it was worth the risk.

Yet, USCIRF is more invested with vilifying India than the truth when it comes to Hindus. Their report said precious little about the terrible atrocities against Hindus. In its report on Pakistan, for instance, where Hindus continue to face ethnic cleansing and have been reduced to one percent of the population, USCIRF calls violence against Hindus “allegations,” while it did not similarly question the claims of any other minority group. In 2014, I arranged a meeting between Dr. Swett and Indian officials where we agreed on a path of dialogue that gives equal respect to the US and India. Months later, however, Swett rejected that course telling me she would take another. That choice was clear in the report, which used questionable material to claim religious freedom abuses in India. When USCIRF staff brought the allegations to me for my advice, I provided evidence refuting it. Despite that evidence, USCIRF continued its diatribe and attributed the alleged problems to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s election and “Hindu nationalist groups.” It also called forced conversion of Hindus “media propaganda.”

Why USCIRF chose this anti-Hindu, anti-India approach is something for which they must answer, because if they cannot be of any value in stopping Bangladesh’s war on Hindus, what value do they have at all?

As a patriotic American, I have to challenge my government and ask how, if we cannot stand up to a rump state like Bangladesh, we will confront countries like Iran and North Korea? And what does all of that say about our new role in the world?

Dr. Richard L. Benkin is an American human rights activist whose current mission is to stop the war on Hindus in Bangladesh.

  • rachna

    U.S. will wake up only when it faces severe backlash from Islamic jehadis. Till they massacre Hindus it is fine for narrow minded U.S. politicians who have been well known for double standerds.

  • Tanumadhya Dasa

    America and for that matter European States care only about what is profitable for them. In the 70s and 80s USA ignored the plight of the citizens of Latin American countries and in fact provided the countries who were murdering their citizens with weapons and military training simply to get cheap Coffee. They invaded the middle east for Oil and now Asia which provides their Nikes etc. America wont address the abuse and persecution of their own citizens who come from ethnic communities, so why expect them to care about victims elsewhere. ….

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  • rachna

    U.S. will wake up only when it faces severe backlash from Islamic jehadis. Till they massacre Hindus it is fine for narrow minded U.S. politicians who have been well known for double standerds.

  • Tanumadhya Dasa

    America and for that matter European States care only about what is profitable for them. In the 70s and 80s USA ignored the plight of the citizens of Latin American countries and in fact provided the countries who were murdering their citizens with weapons and military training simply to get cheap Coffee. They invaded the middle east for Oil and now Asia which provides their Nikes etc. America wont address the abuse and persecution of their own citizens who come from ethnic communities, so why expect them to care about victims elsewhere. ….

Next Story

Bangladesh PM Gets Global Support, Will Withstand Calls To Investigate Allegations

She dismissed questions about the fairness of the vote and said it was a “very peaceful election.”

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Bangladesh, media
Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina interacts with journalists in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Dec. 31, 2018. VOA

Congratulatory messages are flowing to Bangladesh Prime Minister-elect Sheikh Hasina, ensuring she will withstand calls to investigate allegations of widespread serious irregularities in Sunday’s election that was dominated by her coalition.

Hasina is set to form her third consecutive government and fourth overall, and on Thursday figurehead President M. Abdul Hamid invited her to form a Cabinet. The new members of Parliament took their oaths on Thursday, though seven opposition members boycotted the ceremony. The new Cabinet ministers are to take their oaths on Monday.

International reaction to the allegations of irregularities was not clear initially, but the scenario quickly settled after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi showed the way and China followed, congratulating Hasina for the massive victory, in which her Awami League party-led alliance won 288 seats in the 300-seat Parliament. The opposition-led alliance had only seven seats.

Saudi Arabia, Russia, Qatar, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Bhutan and Pakistan congratulated Hasina, while the United States and the European Union said they wanted to continue to cooperate with the government.

Bagladesh, election
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina gestures after casting her vote in the morning during the general election in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Dec. 30, 2018. VOA

After coming to power in 2008, Hasina cautiously began building strategic partnerships with India, China, Russia and Saudi Arabia. She repeated that when she returned to power in 2014.

Bangladesh joined a 34-nation Islamic military coalition under the leadership of Saudi Arabia to fight terrorism and is building its first nuclear power plant with Russia and India. Hasina bought two submarines from China and invited Japan to invest in infrastructure development, especially in power plants.

Bangladesh also became a member of the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which is a potential rival to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The European Union is a big export market, especially for Bangladesh garment products. Bangladesh traditionally buys its regular military weapons from China.

The country earns about $30 billion a year from exports of its cheap garment products, mainly to the United States and European Union, and is the world’s second-largest garment producer after China.

China is Bangladesh’s largest import source, while India is the second largest.

Bangladesh, violence, election
An opposition BNP activist is being arrested by policemen in Dhaka. In 2018, thousands of opposition leaders and activists were arrested in Bangladesh on allegedly trumped up cases of political violence. VOA

“So we import from them and then we export to Western markets,” M. Humayun Kabir, a former Bangladeshi ambassador to Washington and an analyst in international affairs, said in an interview.

Bangladesh has other ties to the West beyond trade. “Value-wise we believe in democracy. So, we are also value-wise connected to them,” Kabir said.

European nations and the U.S. are also home to a large Bangladeshi diaspora. “These are people living in those countries becoming or contributing to those societies. So, this … is how we are connected to the Western countries,” he said.

In a statement issued after Sunday’s election, the U.S. expressed concern about “credible reports of harassment, intimidation, and violence” but said it wanted continue to work with Bangladesh.

“The United States remains deeply invested in the future of Bangladesh and its democratic development,” it said. “Bangladesh’s impressive record of economic development and respect for democracy and human rights are mutually reinforcing, and we look forward to continue working with the ruling government and opposition toward advancing these interrelated goals.”

Bangladesh, election
An opposition BNP activist is being arrested by policemen in Dhaka. In 2018, thousands of opposition leaders and activists were arrested in Bangladesh on allegedly trumped up cases of political violence. VOA

Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman congratulated Hasina for winning the election.

Analyst Kabir said during her 10 years leading Bangladesh, Hasina has built a successful relationship with influential and strategically crucial countries and has upgraded her image by hosting Rohingya Muslim refugees who were driven violently from neighboring Myanmar.

“Bangladesh is a good story in terms of development and progress,” Kabir said. And her solid election victory shows that Bangladesh’s economic development has the political support of voters, he said.

“So that story is now resonating well on the international community and that’s why we are seeing (so many countries) are congratulating the prime minister for the outstanding performance in the election,” he said.

Kabir said the international community wants to see Bangladesh as a stable nation. “We need to be more competitive for example, we need to do reforms in our labor sector for example, we need to also develop our infrastructure for example, we need to update our regulatory framework for example, because international investors always look at those issues, so now they’re looking at Bangladesh from a positive frame,” he said.

bangladesh, election
Salahuddin Ahmed, a Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) candidate for general election, is seen bleeding as he was stabbed on a election day in Dhaka, Dec. 30, 2018. VOA

But Kabir said authorities should address the concerns of irregularities in the election.

More than a dozen people were killed in election-related violence Sunday, and the election campaign was dogged by allegations of the arrests and jailing of thousands of Hasina’s opponents. The most prominent of those jailed is Hasina’s archrival, former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, who was deemed ineligible to run for office because of a corruption case her supporters say was politically motivated.

The Election Commission and other departments were accused of overlooking complaints of irregularities. Ahead of the election, a new digital security law was enacted that raised concern it would curb speech and media freedoms.

On Friday, Ravina Shamdasani, spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a briefing in Geneva that they were concerned about violence and alleged human rights violations in Bangladesh before, during and after the elections.

“There are credible reports of fatalities and numerous injuries on polling day alone. There are worrying indications that reprisals have continued to take place, notably against the political opposition, including physical attacks and ill-treatment, arbitrary arrests, harassment, disappearances and filing of criminal cases. Reports suggest that violent attacks and intimidation, including against minorities, have been disproportionately carried out by ruling party activists, at times with complicity or involvement of law enforcement officers,” Shamdasani said.

Bangladesh, election
Women stand in a line at a voting center to cast their ballot during the general election in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Dec. 30, 2018. VOA

New York-based group Human Rights Watch urged an independent investigation into the alleged irregularities. The U.S., the EU and the U.N. all expressed their concerns.

“International donors, the United Nations and friends of Bangladesh should remember that elections are about the rights of voters, not those in power,” Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director, said in a statement.

In Zia’s absence, opposition parties formed a coalition led by Kamal Hossain, a former member of Hasina’s Awami League who was foreign minister under Hasina’s father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Bangladesh’s founding leader.

Hossain’s small party, Gono Forum, does not have much popular support. Hasina and Zia, on the other hand, have much larger support bases and attract hundreds of thousands of supporters to their rallies.

Also Read: Violence And Intimidation Directed Towards Rohingyas In Bangladeshian Camps

A day after the election during a briefing with foreign journalists and election observers, Hasina came down heavily on the opposition. She refused a suggestion that she offer her political foes an olive branch.