Bangladesh is of strategic importance to the United States as a successful, tolerant, secular, alternative to violent extremism. Bangladesh has worked tirelessly to lift millions out of poverty and provide an important voice for regional stability. But for all its progress, Bangladesh still has serious human rights concerns it must address in order to safeguard its role as a moderate democracy with a vibrant press and dynamic civil society. In 2012, the Government of Bangladesh has passed comprehensive anti-trafficking-in-persons legislation that could make a huge difference in protecting some of the country’s most vulnerable citizens.
However, on her recent visit to Bangladesh, U.S. of State Hillary Clinton raised concerns about the murder of labor rights activist Aminul Islam and the disappearance of local opposition leader Ilyas Ali. The United States urges Bangladesh to allow workers to freely form unions, and allow organizations that seek to protect worker’s rights to operate freely. This is not only an ethical question, but also one that has the potential to have a huge impact on the Bangladeshi economy.
The ready-made garments industry employs millions of Bangladeshis, 90 percent of whom are women. American and other foreign buyers are increasingly unwilling to have their brand names associated with abuse of workers’ rights.
There continue to be credible reports that Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion, a paramilitary law enforcement group made up of policeman and Army soldiers, is involved with some extrajudicial killings and disappearances.
The U.S. is concerned by reports from some local non-governmental organizations that space for civil society in Bangladesh is shrinking. Nearly two years after the resignation of Dr. Muhammad Yunus, Grameen Bank has been without a permanent managing director. It is important to find a replacement who is acceptable to all sides and who can preserve the integrity and effectiveness of the bank in fulfilling its commitment to 8.3 million borrowers, most of them women.
On the positive side, the Government of Bangladesh has taken certain actions to proactively address human rights concerns. For four months last year, the United States government embedded a retired U.S. marshal within Bangladesh’s paramilitary law enforcement group to help stand up and operationalize an internal affairs unit. This unit will provide a much- needed mechanism to hold accountable those who commit human rights violations.
The United States will continue to work with and encourage Bangladesh to address its human rights challenges.