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BANGLADESH: NGOs say ‘no’ to elections under state of emergency

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odhikar_logo.jpgBangladesh has decided to hold its general elections on 18 December 2008 under a relaxed emergency rule. The decision has been severely criticised by the country's human rights organizations who insist that free and fair elections "do not go hand in hand" with the state of emergency.

Bangladeshi human rights organization Odhikar considers the continued state of emergency as illogical as the country is no longer facing any political or economic threats that warrant emergency laws to be invoked.

A report issued by Odhikar on 12 October to mark 22 months of emergency rule in the country stated that “the State of Emergency should be lifted in its entirety and on the whole territory of Bangladesh in order to create a climate conducive to free and fair elections”.

While maintaining the general elections as the only solution, Odhikar has reiterated its demand to hold any member of the government responsible for violation of the constitution after the elections is held.

The report also highlighted ineffectiveness of the yet to be operational National Human Rights Commission, where the six-member committee formed to select commissioners has only one Appellate Division Judge while others are political appointees and bureaucrats.

Similarly, the Odhikar report also discounted the Right to Information Ordinance, and claimed that it would curb rather than extend press freedom and the people's right to know.

Commenting on financial dependence of the proposed Information Commission formed under the law, the report suggested “[it] may be effective in acting against the secretive vested interests of a government if its funding is ensured through a parliamentary allocation rather than a line ministry”.

Extra-judicial killing has remained one of the key features of the state of emergency. From 12 January 2007 to 1 October 2008, a total of 296 persons were allegedly extra judicially killed by law enforcement agencies.

The report highlighted that out of 296, 234 killed in crossfire, 37 were tortured to death.

The report also included workers rights issues such as the case of  garment and jute factories workers were not paid their salaries in time, causing them and their families great difficulties.

Many of them are struggling for two meals a day while basic rights such as right to health care and education of family members of these workers were  affected due to apathy by factory owners. Several irate workers were involved in violent activities when demanding for the payment of arrears.

Odhikar called for all sectors to respect the rights of the workers to be paid on time and treated in a dignified manner.

Berlin-based Transparency International ranked Bangladesh at number 10th most corrupt countries in the world, a slide from rank 7th last year.

The report stressed that free and fair elections is not possible with emergency rule and has strongly demanded the government to lift the state of emergency immediately, end extrajudicial killings, while calling on the future elected government leaders to ensure no impunity to members of present government who have been found to be corrupt.