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Bangladeshi government blocks EU-funded anti-torture project
The Bangladeshi government is blocking an EU-funded program aimed at stopping torture, according to Odhikar, a human rights group.
Odhikar has become the victim of numerous acts of harassment by the government agencies. The NGO Affairs Bureau (NGOAB), under the Prime Minister’s Office, has kept pending its approval and fund clearance of Odhikar’s project for more than 6 months when this process should not take more than 45 days. And Odhikar’s human rights defenders are under the surveillance of the intelligence agencies.
According to its circular, the NGOAB must make a decision on a proposed project within 45 days after the reception of all relevant information. Odhikar sent a letter to NGOAB on December 28, 2010 for the project titled ‘Education on the Convention against Torture and OPCAT Awareness Programme in Bangladesh’. (OPCAT refers to the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture.) Odhikar has already clarified a number of queries made by the NGOAB. The bureau, to date, has not given approval to the project.
Moreover, the NGOAB issued a letter on 21 June 2011, which was received by Odhikar on 14 July 2011, asking to withdraw objectionable statements pointed out by the Ministry of Home Affairs and submit a corrected FD-6 with acceptable statements. Odhikar wonders how long it would take to re-assess the project with revised FD-6 as it took 6 months just to issue a letter for revision. It seems that the government is unwilling to approve the projects of Odhikar.
The planned ‘Education on the Convention against Torture and OPCAT Awareness Programme’ relates to issues affecting several minority communities:
- Ethnic minority communities in Chittagong Hill Tracts will be benefited as the area is under militarisation. Non-recognition of community land is a major problem in Chittagong Hill Tracts. People of the area often become victims of torture and ill-treatment by the state and non-state actors.
- The government was trying to make Eco Park (Reserve Forest) in Modhupur under Tangail district and in Moulvibazar district. In doing so, the government has been removing ethnic minority communities from their ancestral homes. Minorities of these areas have become victims of harassment and torture.
- People belonging to ethnic minority communities have been internally displaced due to an open cast coal mine project at Phulbari and Boropukuria in Dinajpur. Members of Shantal community have become victims of torture and police atrocities while protesting against exploring open pit coal. Numbers of minority people were arrested and still under detention.
Under the EU-funded programme, Odhikar will be campaigning for the criminalization of torture and will focus on raising awareness for OPCAT. Once OPCAT is ratified by Bangladesh, preventive mechanisms can be developed, and international vigilance teams can visit all places of detentions in order to prevent torture or other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. Human rights defenders including minorities in those areas would also be mobilised against torture and ill-treatment.
Download and read the letter from the NGOAB to Odhikar and a piece from a Bangladeshi newspaper on the issue.