Bangladesh government backtracks on rights

London, Feb 2 (IANS) Bangladesh's human rights situation worsened in 2012 as the government sought to narrow political and civil society space, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said.

Its 665-page World Report 2013 also said that Dhaka shielded security forces from prosecution for abuses, failed to probe disappearances and killings, and announced stringent rules to monitor NGOs.

The practice of disguising extrajudicial killings as "crossfire" killings continued in Bangladesh as did disappearances of opposition members and political activists, it said.

A prominent labour activist was kidnapped and killed while other labour activists were threatened. Civil society and human rights defenders reported increased pressure and monitoring.

"This government came to power promising the end of extrajudicial killings, a liberal environment for activists and critics, and an independent judiciary," said Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch.

"But the government no longer seems to even be trying to achieve these goals."

HRW said that while Bangladesh had a strong set of laws to tackle violence against women, the implementation remained poor.

Violence against women including rape, dowry-related assaults and other forms of domestic violence such as acid attacks, sexual harassment and illegal punishments in the name of "fatwas" continue.

Discriminatory personal laws continued to impoverish many women at separation or divorce, and trap them in abusive marriages for fear of destitution.

Workers in the lucrative tannery industry suffered physically from terrible conditions inside the tanneries, HRW said, causing both acute and long-term hazardous health situations.

One of the most disturbing trends in 2012 was increased pressure and monitoring of civil society.

NGOs, including human rights groups, reported increased threats, harassment and intimidation.

Several rights groups, particularly those openly critical of the government, reported problems with registration and government blocking of funds for their projects.

Several leading labour rights activists faced criminal charges, some of which carry a possible death sentence.

Flawed trials against members of Bangladesh Rifles accused of mutineering in 2009 continued, HRW said.

The report referred to glaring violations of fair trial standards in the trials of the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT), a wholly domestic court set up to try those accused of war crimes in the 1971 independence war.

HRW has long called for justice for victims in the 1971 liberation war.

Serious flaws in the law and rules of procedure governing these trials have however gone unaddressed, despite proposals from the US government and many international experts.

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