Saturday, November 14, 2009

Should the US Hold Hearings on Bangladesh?

I recently returned from several days in Washington where I met with legislative leaders and staff, as well as members of various rights commissions from the United States government. Much in the meetings concerned Bangladesh's admittedly false prosecution of Muslim journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, who accompanied me to various offices in Washington. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say I accompanied him, as his case continues to raise concerns in Washington where it has been a significant impediment to better US-Bangladesh relations.

In the meetings, however, I also furthered previously held discussions about the ongoing and government-supported persecution of Hindus and other minorities in Bangladesh. In 1948, after the population transfers that accompanied India's partition, Hindus were about one third of East Pakistan's population. In 1971, when East Pakistan became Bangladesh, they were just under one in five. Today, they are only nine percent. Normal demographic processes do not explain that kind of decline; and SUNY Professor Sachi Dastidar estimates that over 40 million Hindus are "missing" from the Bangladeshi census--killed, forced to convert, forced to emigrate, or never born as a result.

The current Bangladeshi government took office this year with a pledge to change that; but, if anything, persecution has gotten more severe under the center-left Awami League. In its first two months of office alone, we verified one and a half serious attacks on Hindus every week: murder, rape, child abduction, assault, land grabs, forced conversion, and religious desecration. In every case, the victims were attacked because they were Hindu by victimizers who did so because the Awami League allows them to do as as Muslims; it is even enshrined in Bangladeshi Law, the Vested Property Act. In some instances, the government even participated in the attacks. Throughout 2009, these attacks have continued with a wink and a nod from the government.

Several US bodies investigate these matters from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom to the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in the US House of Representatives and many other pertinent bodies. The key to US concern, besides the human rights atrocities, is that the government does nothing to stop them or even participates. That is what we have in Bangladesh. Moreover, US citizens purchase Bangladeshi garments and other goods, and US companies might decide to do business in Bangladesh. Moreover, Bangladesh contributes the second largest contingent to UN peacekeeping missions, which are in large part supported by US taxpayers. We also give millions in aid each year to Bangladesh.

Shouldn't our government make these Americans aware that by doing so they are supporting ethnic cleansing of Hindus--so that Americans can choose to spend their dollars on countries that do not support our enemies?

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