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2005-01-19 07:08:00
Embassy Dhaka
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This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.


E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: 04 SECSTATE 267453


The Government's poor human rights record worsened in 2004,
as the Government continued to commit numerous abuses, and
there was a significant rise in extrajudicial killings.
Torture by security forces continued to occur on a regular
basis. Police corruption continued to be a problem, and a
climate of impunity was an obstacle to ending the abuses and
killings. Prison conditions remained extremely harsh and
life threatening and contributed to some deaths. Violence
was a pervasive element in the country,s politics. Fair and
expeditious trials were problematic due to lengthy pretrial
detention, corruption and a large judicial case backlog.
Freedom of speech, movement, assembly, and political
association was restricted. In June, the main opposition
party, the Awami League, ended its boycott of Parliament,
though it continues to allege that it is prevented from
exercising parliamentary prerogatives. Child labor and abuse
of child workers remained widespread and were serious
problems. Trafficking in women and children for the purpose
of prostitution and forced labor received renewed focus from
the Government, which, beginning in the summer, moved
aggressively and successfully to arrest, prosecute, and
convict traffickers. Violence against women and
discrimination against indigenous people and religious
minorities persisted. Members of the Ahmadiyya sect remained
under pressure in some areas from Islamist bigots, but by the
end of 2004 there was significant improvement in Government
efforts to protect the Ahmadiyyas.

The U.S. human rights and democracy strategy in Bangladesh
aims to strengthen democratic institutions, transparency and
accountability to citizens, and respect for the rule of law
and human rights. To do this, the United States seeks to
reform political parties, increase informed citizen political
participation, strengthen local government, improve police
and military professionalism, encourage better governance,
reduce corruption, promote religious tolerance, reduce
violence against women and address trafficking, as well as
improve women, children and worker rights.

U.S. officials publicly highlight the need for improvements
in human rights conditions by using the State Department,s
annual Country Report on Human Rights Practices as a key tool
for moving the dialogue on human rights forward. The Country

Report is widely publicized in Bangladesh and closely
scrutinized by the Government, opposition, press and
non-governmental organizations (NGOs) both in Bangladesh and

The Ambassador and other U.S. officials work publicly and
privately to engage the Government, the opposition and
diverse elements of civil society on the importance of
democratic institutions, including the parliament, the rule
of law and respect for human rights, and have condemned
violence in the form of strikes and personal assaults as an
instrument of political coercion. In 2004, Secretary of
Defense Donald Rumsfeld, USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios,
Under Secretary of Labor Roy Grizzard, Assistant Secretary of
State for South Asia Affairs Christina Rocca, Deputy
Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Affairs Torkel
Patterson, and Voice of America Director David Jackson all,
during visits to Dhaka, raised the importance of human
rights. The Ambassador and Deputy Chief of Mission delivered
seven major speeches that focused heavily on human rights,
including keynote addresses on events marking Press Freedom
Day and International Human Rights Day. Key themes included
respect for due process, the exercise of peaceful, legitimate
political rights, and tolerance and protection for religious
minorities. To commemorate International Human Rights Day,
editorials by the Secretary of State Powell and the
Ambassador were widely placed in local media. Addressing a
human rights fair, the Deputy Chief of Mission devoted
special emphasis to combating the scourge of domestic

Responding to the growing incidence of extra-judicial
killings by paramilitary police units, the Ambassador and
other Embassy officials publicly, and in meetings with senior
Government ministers, expressed strong concerns over the
appearance of Government-sanctioned executions as a
crime-fighting instrument. Additionally, IMET, E-IMET, and
counter-terrorism training courses sponsored by the USG for
Bangladeshi law enforcement and security personnel emphasized
respect for human rights. Human rights were included in the
curriculum in USG-funded peacekeeping courses and in joint
training involving Bangladeshi peacekeepers, over 8,000 of
whom are now abroad serving in 12 countries.

Because many of the human rights abuses centered on issues of
governance and corruption, the Embassy focused its democracy
promotion efforts on the sector of political reform and
improving local governance. For example, the U.S. Agency for
International Development (USAID) is funding projects
totaling $12 million to strengthen parliamentary committees,
reform political parties, and assist elected local
governments to play a more active role in society. Over the
past year, USAID has continued to support the formation of
the Municipal Association of Bangladesh (MAB), which
represents 231 of the 281 municipalities in the country, as
well as the creation of the National Union Parishad Forum
(NUPF), a network for the second level of local government
(equivalent to locally elected councils). Assistance to the
MAB included carrying out a membership campaign, organizing a
national convention and establishing and collecting
membership fees. A total of 43 policy workshops were held at
the district level, along with two national policy workshops.

Despite the national level stalemate between the two major
political parties, training for mid-level party leaders has
made significant progress. USAID funds a program with the
National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International
Republican Institute (IRI) to implement these training
programs. In the past year, NDI conducted a series of
training for mid-level political party leaders in six cities.
A total of 160 political leaders participated in these
events, including 32 women. One of the major focuses of
these trainings was on building internal democratic practices
within the political parties. A regional conference,
supported by IRI, on the roles and responsibilities of
political parties was held for political party youth
leadership. Nearly 4,000 young party members participated.

The United States also continues to support local human
rights groups through a four-year, $7.4 million program that
provides critical services such as monitoring police stations
and providing shelter to abused women through sub-grants, as
well as training and technical assistance to human rights
NGOs. Its initiatives to combat the endemic problem of
corruption and train Bangladeshi journalists in investigative
journalism continue to evolve. USAID also co-chairs a local
donor working group on anti-corruption initiatives with the
World Bank.

In the past year, the Embassy has sponsored 22 Bangladeshis
on the International Visitor program to advance the goals of
respect for rule of law, leadership development for women,
student leaders and civic responsibility, freedom of the
press, and the U.S. political process among other topics.

This past year, the Embassy also focused on the security and
freedom of journalists, who face pressure and sometimes fatal
violence from persons likened to criminals, political bosses,
and Islamist extremists. The Ambassador made five high
profile visits to major newspaper offices to underscore our
support for freedom of the press. Embassy,s press section
placed in several newspapers an editorial by Ambassador
Thomas on World Press Freedom Day.

Since the police have perpetrated many of the human rights
abuses, the Embassy is focusing on enhancing their
professional skills and their commitment to human rights and
the rule of law. The Regional Security Office and Office of
Defense Cooperation are also heavily involved in promoting
human rights through the programs they sponsor to improve the
professionalism of Bangladesh,s security and military
forces. Anti-Terrorist Assistance, International Military
Education and Training, and Counter-Terrorism money has been
used for this purpose. A Department of Justice Investigative
Training Assistance Program began this year to improve police
professionalism through an integrated training curriculum at
the police academy and detective training school.

The Islamic Foundation, a Government of Bangladesh agency,
provides religious training to approximately 45,000 imams
nationwide. USAID provided orientation to 200 imams from the
Islamic Foundation about U.S. programs in human rights
women,s rights, health care, HIV/AIDS, agriculture, economic
growth, democracy and governance. These imams also visited
several U.S.-sponsored project sites in an effort to promote
dialogue and work with the Government of Bangladesh to show
them an aspect of U.S. foreign policy not typically featured
in the local media.

When the Bangladesh Government began in January a process to
ban the publications of the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam, the
Ambassador met with high-level host country officials to
convey our deep concerns and to stress the importance of
religious freedom. By the end of 2004, efforts to give
legal authority to the &unofficial8 ban had stalled, the
Government had effectively stopped bigots from attacking the
Ahmadiyya headquarters in central Dhaka, and, Ahmadiyya
community leaders reported, local police had become more
responsive to their requests for protection.

Improving conditions for Bangladeshi workers has been a
consistent aspect of the U.S. overall human rights strategy.
Working with the Government, the American Center for
International Labor Solidarity (ACILS), the International
Labor Organization, and local labor and industry groups, the
United States has had many achievements, including the
virtual elimination of child labor from the export-oriented
ready-made garment industry through a $1.5 million project.
The U.S. Labor Department and USAID also fund programs to
eliminate the worst forms of child labor, to support working
women,s education centers, empower rural women in the
informal sector and provide opportunities for persons with
disabilities. The International Program on the Elimination
of Child Labor activities include a $6 million project to
eliminate the worst forms of child labor in five targeted
industries ) beedi production (the hand-rolled cigarette
industry), match-making, tanneries, construction and child
domestic workers. As of December 2004, 22,900 children had
been removed from hazardous work, and more than 30,000
children have been placed in either non-formal or formal
education or pre-vocational training. In 2004, Parliament
passed legislation authorizing full freedom of association in
the export processing zones; the embassy is closely
monitoring implementation of the legislation, including
provisions for worker representation elections. . Supported
by USAID, the ACILS Solidarity Center, and the Bangladesh
Independent Garment Workers, Union Federation (BIGUF) played
an instrumental role in the drafting of this legislation.
Work has begun to assist workers in EPZ factories to better
organize themselves and to understand their new rights and
responsibilities under this legislation.

Following the designation in 2004 of Bangladesh as a Tier III
country in terms of its commitment to combat trafficking in
persons, the Embassy and USAID worked closely with the
Government to devise and implement an anti-trafficking action
plan. Within the 90-day window, Bangladesh was able to
demonstrate sufficient progress to justify a reassessment of
its designation to Tier II (watch list). An aggressive public
diplomacy campaign, backed up by continuous engagement with
Bangladeshi Government officials, highlighted the importance
of trafficking as a U.S. concern and eventually a significant
success reflecting effective bilateral partnership

USAID, which leads a thematic working group on
anti-trafficking with the Government, civil society and other
donor representatives, also worked closely with the Minister
of Women and Children,s Affairs to carry out road marches to
raise awareness about trafficking. TV channels aired USAID
sponsored anti-trafficking spots and messages free of charge.
The successful imam outreach program, under which imams in
the border areas received training in anti-trafficking, will
be expanded to other critical areas of the country. Over the
past year, ten major village gatherings totaling 4000 persons
were organized by imams to raise awareness about trafficking.
Many imams now address this issue periodically after Friday
prayers and at other community events. Several thousand
people attended two anti-trafficking film festivals that the
Public Affairs section of the Embassy coordinated in outlying
regions of the country. The Public Affairs section also works
with local NGO and other cultural groups on their efforts to
educate rural Bangladeshis about the dangers of TIP in the
form of specialized folk songs.