Hu­man Dig­nity

There is a need for the gov­ern­ment of Bangladesh to stop those who in­cite and com­mit vi­o­lence and to pro­tect the rights of its mi­nori­ties.

Southasia - - FRONT PAGE - By Taha Ke­har The writer is a poet and au­thor. He is a law grad­u­ate of SOAS.

Un­til re­cently, only a few peo­ple in Bangladesh had heard of US Con­gress­woman Tulsi Gab­bard. And yet, the mem­ber of the House For­eign Af­fairs Sub­com­mit­tee on Asia and the Pa­cific has been grab­bing head­lines af­ter she in­tro­duced a bi­par­ti­san res­o­lu­tion re­gard­ing the coun­try.

Although the res­o­lu­tion may have sur­pris­ing ori­gins, it raises some per­ti­nent points about the flaws and in­con­sis­ten­cies in Bangladesh’s po­lit­i­cal sys­tem. It presses the gov­ern­ment to en­hance hu­man rights pro­tec­tion of mi­nori­ties, strengthen democ­racy and thwart the growth of ex­trem­ism in the coun­try.

Over­all, the tim­ing of the res­o­lu­tion is likely to gen­er­ate a pos­i­tive ef­fect. South Asia has be­come a breed­ing ground for rad­i­cal Is­lamic groups who are grad­u­ally try­ing to curb the free­dom of mi­nori­ties and de­rail the demo­cratic process. Bangladesh is not in­su­lated from this emerg­ing trend. For lit­tle over a year, ex­trem­ist groups have pierced through the so­cial and po­lit­i­cal fab­ric and posed new chal­lenges for the coun­try.

At this crit­i­cal junc­ture, Gab­bard’s res­o­lu­tion her­alds a new be­gin­ning. How­ever, there are some loop­holes which could limit the ef­fec­tive­ness of the move.

When the res­o­lu­tion was in­tro­duced in July, the US Con­gress­woman crit­i­cized all the ma­jor in­gre­di­ents that make Bangladesh “a coun­try in tur­moil”.

Dur­ing her speech on the House floor, Gab­bard voiced her con­cerns over the coun­try’s sta­bil­ity and in­sisted the mis­man­age­ment in re­cent elec­tions had re­sulted in po­lit­i­cal vi­o­lence.

The US Con­gress­woman feared that re­li­gious free­dom and mi­nor­ity rights would die their nat­u­ral death in such a toxic en­vi­ron­ment. She in­sisted that the lat­i­tude shown to per­pe­tra­tors of crimes against mi­nori­ties will weaken the scope for jus­tice. As a re­sult, Gab­bard urged the gov­ern­ment of Bangladesh to take mat­ters into its own hands and pro­tect mi­nori­ties.

At first glance, the res­o­lu­tion has adopted a strictly hu­man rights ap­proach and gives pri­or­ity to le­gal con­cerns to change the sta­tus quo and quell ex­trem­ism. How­ever, Gab­bard’s re­quest is largely based on un­re­al­is­tic de­mands which can be dif­fi­cult to im­ple­ment in an ob­jec­tive man­ner. The well-be­ing of mi­nori­ties can­not be quan­ti­fied so easily un­less a proper sys­tem of as­sess­ing the level of sat­is­fac­tion is chalked out and im­ple­mented. Mi­nor­ity rights can­not be safe­guarded un­less proper mech­a­nisms are put in place. If such mea­sures are not taken, the res­o­lu­tion will fail to gen­er­ate the de­sired im­pact.

In ad­di­tion, Gab­bard’s crit­i­cism and sug­ges­tions may stand a risk of be­ing swept un­der the car­pet as yet another at­tempt by the west to en­force a sense of or­der in the east. The res­o­lu­tion pits the de­sire for jus­tice as a clash be­tween hu­man rights and big­otry. A se­ries of un­help­ful and vague com­ments by its co-spon­sors serve as welcome proof of how the move could im­pose un­due pres­sure on Bangladesh’s gov­ern­ment to set things right. Ac­cord­ing to Con­gress­man Matt Salmon, the res­o­lu­tion will help Bangladesh elim­i­nate po­lit­i­cal vi­o­lence and ex­trem­ism and up­hold the rule of law and demo­cratic prin­ci­ples. Salmon ex­pect Bangladesh to re­spect hu­man dig­nity, hon­our com­mit­ments to free­dom of ex­pres­sion and pro­tect hu­man rights.

On the other hand, Con­gress­man Bob Dold rather con­de­scend­ingly be­lieves the US has the right to send un­equiv­o­cal mes­sages to Bangladesh over its fail­ure to pro­tect mi­nori­ties. Such res­o­lu­tions may not only im­pose a fixed stan­dard of right and wrong but also un­der­mines the role of cul­tural nu­ances in the over­ar­ch­ing de­bate on hu­man rights.

In­ter­est­ingly, Gab­bard, who is the only Hindu US Con­gress­woman, has pre­dom­i­nantly fo­cused on the per­se­cu­tion of Hin­dus to em­pha­size the need for mi­nor­ity rights. This raises a se­ries of spec­u­la­tions over how en­thu­si­as­ti­cally she would de­fend the vi­o­la­tion of mi­nor­ity rights if other re­li­gious com­mu­ni­ties were in the line of fire. As an ac­tive pro­po­nent of hu­man rights, Gab­bard may dis­count such con­cerns as en­tirely base­less be­cause her res­o­lu­tion en­com­passes a range of other vul­ner­a­ble com­mu­ni­ties. How­ever, doubts and un­cer­tainty looms large as the US Con­gress­woman has been known for sup­port­ing a Bharatiya Janata Party-led gov­ern­ment in In­dia. These con­tra­dic­tions could un­der­mine the sin­cer­ity of her cause and lead to count­less prob­lems.

The res­o­lu­tion also serves to in­fringe some of the US Con­gress­women’s ac­tions in the past. In Jan­uary 2015, Gab­bard an­nounced that she had voted against the De­fence Au­tho­riza­tion Bill that would grant $1 bil­lion to Pak­istan as mil­i­tary as­sis­tance. This goes to show that the US Con­gress­woman is un­will­ing to sup­port ef­forts to curb the roots of mil­i­tancy.

For lit­tle over a year, Pak­istan has launched a se­ries of mil­i­tary of­fen­sives to elim­i­nate mil­i­tancy and re­store peace and sta­bil­ity. In June 2014, Op­er­a­tion Zarb-e-Azb was ini­ti­ated in North Waziris­tan and has reached its fi­nal stages. A few months later, of­fen­sives were launched in the Khy­ber Agency as well to de­stroy the hide­outs of mil­i­tants. The de­ci­sion to adopt a firm stance to erad­i­cate ter­ror­ism was taken af­ter the Jin­nah In­ter­na­tional Air­port in Karachi was at­tacked by Tehreek-e-Tal­iban mil­i­tants. Pak­istan has paid a heavy price to re­duce the threat of mil­i­tancy. On De­cem­ber 16, 2014, an army-run school in Peshawar was at­tacked and nearly 151 peo­ple, in­clud­ing 132 chil­dren, lost their lives.

The mood of doom and gloom sur­round­ing Pak­istan’s war against mil­i­tancy is vis­i­ble to all. How­ever, Gab­bard ap­pears to have over­looked these chal­lenges and has re­fused to fo­cus on tack­ling the roots of the prob­lem. Fur­ther­more, she has com­pletely ig­nored the fact that over a mil­lion peo­ple have been dis­placed from their homes due to these mil­i­tary oper­a­tions. As a re­sult, the res­o­lu­tion – with its grow­ing em­pha­sis on hu­man rights – has its lim­i­ta­tions as it pro­vides prob­lems with­out pro­vid­ing a so­lu­tion.

Nev­er­the­less, the US Con­gress­woman’s con­dem­na­tion for the crimes or­ches­trated against mi­nori­ties in 1971 is the only sil­ver lin­ing. At a time when the past con­tin­ues to irk the peo­ple of Bangladesh, Gab­bard’s res­o­lu­tion raises the spec­tre of the East Pak­istan imbroglio in an ef­fec­tive man­ner.

Gab­bard’s crit­i­cism and sug­ges­tions may stand a risk of be­ing swept un­der the car­pet as yet another at­tempt by the west to en­force a sense of or­der in the east.

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