Democracy survives and thrives on various opinions provided by and debates by political parties, civil society organizations, and individuals. However, if the opinions contain misinformation and disinformation with the intention to malign the opponent, it cannot help democracy flourish. Unfortunately, this is exactly what’s happening in Bangladesh – writes Professor Dr. Mizanur Rahman
Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), an opposition political platform, prepared a list of 500 police personnel and sent that to foreign diplomats. These policemen of different ranks, BNP leaders alleged, were involved in human rights abuses and voting irregularities in Bangladesh’s national election held in late 2018.
Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain, one of the standing committee members of BNP, told the media that the information would be presented to the international community.
BNP claimed that most of these 500 policemen were working in the field level during the 2018 national election and got promoted for their actions at that time. Promotion is a regular phenomenon in governmental and non-governmental offices. Many policemen apart from those who have been targeted by the BNP also got promoted for their performance. How can we differentiate? Probably, the BNP would have been happy if the policemen lent their support to the party. Police did not have any constitutional obligation to declare the BNP winner in the 2018 national election. BNP already had internal problems with the nomination business and external problems of distance from the people due to failure to represent public interests.
Before the state visit of Jean-Pierre Lacroix, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, to Bangladesh, some human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International raised the demand for not including Bangladeshi security force members in peacekeeping missions and stricter screening processes.
BNP shared a post of the Human Rights Watch from their official Twitter handle and wrote: “Killers should not be peacekeepers.” The fact is that every member of the armed forces is not selected for UN peacekeeping. They must fulfil some criteria. Respecting human rights is, of course, one of them. In most cases, this rule is followed. So indiscriminate allegations against our patriotic and world-renowned peace-loving members of the armed forces as “violators of human rights” will demoralize the armed forces.
On January 5, 2014, the 10th national election took place. BNP, the main opposition party, did not participate in the election. Rather they decided to resist the elections violently. They launched a terrorizing protest movement. They jeopardized people’s lives and properties. Ironically, on February 4, 2014, Khaleda Zia claimed that law enforcement agencies and activists of Awami League killed 242 BNP-led alliance members in 34 districts of Bangladesh. On February 10, 2014, The Daily Star, a prominent national daily, published a report after cross-checking data from different sources and came to the conclusion that it was a “jugglery of figures”. The report said, “Khaleda put the death figure in Sirajganj at 14 that includes seven members of the BNP, Chhatra Dal and Jubo Dal.” But Harunar Rashid Hasan, office secretary of Sirajganj district BNP, informed The Daily Star that “only one Jubo Dal leader was killed during that time.” The Daily Star gave an interesting title to the report, “Sorry, Khaleda” because the figure provided by Khaleda Zia did not match facts on the ground. It was far-fetched from the truth.
Lies have many facets. In Bangladesh, it mainly revolves around the number of victims of human rights abuses. In this way, unfortunately, the discourse of human rights has been politicized. The numbers of disappearance given by different human rights groups are far from the number provided by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Definitely, the UN report is not beyond question. Sultana Kamal, a leading Bangladeshi human rights activist, said that the UN and international human rights organizations should not bank on a single source in their collection of data relating to human rights abuses. She argued that political parties would have allegations against each other but human rights organizations should ensure the veracity of their data. She also said that the government should not evade its duty to uncover the truth. It also has a duty not to blame either non-state actors as the sole perpetrator of the human rights abuses or the victims themselves.
Another facet of lies is to manipulate human emotions for narrow party interests. Let’s consider Mayer Daak for this purpose. It was formed in 2013 to work for the disappeared persons and their families. Without a doubt, it was a noble cause. They initially did some good work. However, this organization has been transformed into a forum for the aid of foreign powers by supplying them with fake stories of human rights abuses to help in their mission. This has doubly jeopardized the real victims of human rights violations.
Bangladesh became independent through a bloodbath during the War of Liberation. The United States and some other powers were against the birth of Bangladesh at the time. Nevertheless, we want a good relationship based on mutual respect and sovereignty. BNP ran the government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh in the past. It should have thought twice before lowering the dignity of our motherland before the foreign powers. We fought against British colonialism and Pakistani internal colonialism. Both of them came from the West. Now we are fighting Western imperialism in its new form — disguising itself as a saviour of human rights.
We all need to work together to improve the situation of human rights and democracy in Bangladesh. Unfortunately, democracy cannot flourish if major political parties like BNP act like a party of pathological liars. From their fake history of Ziaur Rahman as the proclaimer of our independence to present-day misinformation on human rights violations, BNP has a pandora’s box of lies and half-truths. Lastly, democracy depends on mass movement — based on people’s support for a cause. BNP has failed to show the people that they have a people’s cause.
The writer is the former chairman of the National Human Rights Commission of Bangladesh. The views expressed in this article are his own.