People's Republic of Bangladesh

Head of state: Shahabuddin Ahmed
Head of government: Sheikh Hasina
Capital: Dhaka
Population: 125.3 million
Official language: Bangla
Death penalty: retentionist
1999 treaty ratifications/signatures: Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court

Institutional weakness, political instability and unchecked police brutality appeared to be the major factors in continued widespread human rights violations. Hundreds of people were injured and dozens killed, some as a result of police action, in nationwide strikes (hartals) called by opposition parties during 1999. Political party activists and student groups with links to the ruling and opposition parties continued to perpetrate acts of violence, including beating political opponents to death. Apparent corruption within the police and the lower judiciary, and burdensome bureaucracy, facilitated impunity for perpetrators of human rights violations and impeded access to justice for those without money or political influence.


Political confrontations between the major opposition parties and the ruling Awami League, which were at times violent, dominated politics in Bangladesh. A coalition led by the largest opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, accused the government of political and economic mismanagement, boycotted sessions of parliament and local elections and resorted to nationwide strikes which frequently brought the country to a standstill. Violent clashes between government and opposition supporters were a regular feature of the strikes. The government offered to enter into negotiations with the opposition, proposing to hold early elections. It later accused the opposition of not responding and stated that it would complete its term of office.

Torture and ill-treatment by police

Disproportionate use of force by the police against demonstrators continued to be reported throughout 1999. Scores of people were injured when police indiscriminately beat anti-government protesters or journalists covering the hartals . Torture, consisting mostly of beatings by the police, was reportedly routine in all areas of the country. It was used to extract bribes or information, or to inflict punishment on detainees. At least three people were reported to have died in custody as a result of torture.

Violence against women

Women were subjected to an increasing number of violent attacks, highlighting the government's failure to take adequate measures to protect women and address underlying gender discrimination. Custodial violence against women continued to be reported, with at least three cases of women being raped by police. In the wider community, hundreds of women and girl children were scarred and maimed in acid attacks and scores of others were murdered in dowry-related incidents.

The failure of law enforcement officials to exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate and take legal action on acts of violence against women meant that perpetrators were rarely held to account. In one case, the police in Rajshahi were said to have demanded a large bribe before taking action to investigate the reported gang rape of a 12-year-old girl.

Legal and institutional reform

Although the government committed itself to a range of institutional reforms to improve human rights protection, implementation was unduly slow. Neither the proposed National Human Rights Commission nor the office of Ombudsman had been established by the end of 1999. Very few recommendations of the Public Administration Reform Commission, set up to examine ways of improving the effectiveness of public services, had been fully implemented. Despite calls by human rights activists for the Special Powers Act (SPA) to be withdrawn or amended, the law (which allows detention without charge or trial for an indefinite period) was still used to detain hundreds of people including political opponents. Although most people held under the SPA were released after short periods, others remained detained for prolonged periods. Some were released only after the High Court ruled their SPA detention orders to be unlawful.

Death penalty

The death penalty continued to be imposed with at least 19 people sentenced to death for murder. No executions were reported.

The Chittagong Hill Tracts

In May, tribal leader Shantu Larma finally took charge of the interim Chittagong Hill Tracts Regional Council, after delays caused by disagreement over three government-nominated members. AI delegates who visited the area in May found that almost two years after the signing of a peace accord, some of its main provisions had not been implemented. These included the rehabilitation of all returned refugees, settlement of land confiscated from the tribal people, and withdrawal of non-permanent army camps from the Chittagong Hill Tracts.

Tension between pro- and anti-peace accord tribal groups and between tribal inhabitants and Bengali settlers often erupted into violence. At least six people were killed and dozens injured as the different groups clashed with each other.

AI country visit

AI delegates visited the Chittagong Hill Tracts in May to assess the human rights situation there.

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