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Bangladesh must end violence against religious minorities: MRG

16 January 2014

Bangladesh July 2012 small

Dalit community in Dhaka, Bangladesh
Livia Saccardi/MRG

The government of Bangladesh must act swiftly to prevent further violence against religious minorities in the wake of its heavily disputed 5 January general elections, Minority Rights Group International (MRG) warned on Thursday.

At least one man has been killed and hundreds of shops, houses and temples destroyed during a spate of recent attacks targeting Hindus and Christians. Allegations of assault and sexual violence have also been reported, with a number of Hindus believed to have fled across the Indian border for safety.

The violence has largely been blamed on the Islamist group Jamaat-e-Islami, loyal to the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, which boycotted the recent polls amid accusations of vote rigging and political intimidation. Media reports suggest that minorities are being targeted, as they are perceived to be allied to the nominally secular government.

‘The government must immediately hold a fair and transparent investigation into this month's devastating attacks against minorities in Bangladesh, and hold perpetrators to account before the law,' said Carl Söderbergh, Director of Policy and Communications at MRG.

‘It is imperative that the investigation is not politicised, or it is likely to enflame communal tensions and plunge the country further into political turmoil.'

Several opposition leaders and Jamaat supporters have reportedly been detained for their role in the assaults, but it is not clear how their cases will be processed. Minority groups continue to live in fear and the government has failed to publish information about the extent of the damage. Critics have also accused members of the ruling Bangladesh Awami League, led by embattled Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, of colluding in the bloodshed.

On Wednesday, the High Court of Bangladesh ordered the government to protect Hindus, which make up roughly 8 percent of the Muslim-majority population and have borne the brunt of the violence. Some Hindus report being too afraid to leave their homes for fear of being attacked by Islamists.

‘The government has a responsibility to protect all Bangladeshi residents regardless of religion or ethnicity, ensuring their freedom of movement and physical safety,' said Söderbergh.

‘A failure to do so threatens not only the rule of law in Bangladesh but further undermines the legitimacy of the incumbent government, which already faces serious questions about the integrity of the recent election.'

The January elections have been overshadowed by weeks of violent protests and political upheaval, leaving 21 people dead and hundreds injured. Most opposition parties boycotted the 5 January poll, which saw the ruling party surge to victory with a less than 30 percent voter turnout.

Earlier this month, the Bangladeshi human rights group and election monitoring body Odhikar decided not to oversee the ballot, which they described as "one-sided" and "non-participatory".

MRG calls on the Bangladeshi government to:

– Hold a fair and transparent investigation into the cause of this month's violence, holding perpetrators to account in accordance with international norms;

– Swiftly collect and publish verifiable data about the number of casualties and the extent of damage to property and religious buildings;

– Provide immediate humanitarian assistance to communities affecting by the violence; and

– Ensure the full protection of all communities regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, gender or other social status.

For more information contact:

Carl Söderbergh, MRG's Director of Policy and Communications (UK)

T: +44 207 422 4227 / 422 4200

M: +44 7837 533 675

E: [email protected]