WASHINGTON, DC?The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) affirmed its focus on the grave human rights abuses faced by adherents of non-Islamic religions in Bangladesh recently in yet another forum. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), created by the federal government to provide policy recommendations to the US State Department and the White House on global human rights issues, invited HAF to be a respondent at their forum on the upcoming Bangladesh elections. The forum was held at the Gold Room in the Rayburn House Office Building on October 17 in Washington, DC.
Prior to the discussions at the forum, the USCIRF had released a policy brief on Bangladesh.
That policy brief, ahead of the January 2007 General Elections set in Bangladesh, was welcomed publicly by HAF as it reached similar conclusions to those found in the foundation'sannual Hindu human rights report. The USCIRF recommended that the Bangladesh government take ?urgent measures to prevent anti-minority violence in the upcoming elections?; ?urgent measures to protect those threatened by religious extremism?; ?long term measures to protect universal human rights?; and, that the US provide ?assistance to promote human rights, including freedom of religion or belief? in Bangladesh.
?We are pleased to see the Commission taking a proactive role in bringing to attention and outlining recommendations in light of Bangladesh'supcoming elections,? said Ishani Chowdhury, Executive Director of HAF. ?As our annual Hindu Human Rights report notes, the low scale religious cleansing of the already shrinking minority Hindu population in Bangladesh, is of grave concern to not only the Hindu American Foundation, but also to those who share the ethos of pluralism and tolerance.?
At the forum, among other issues raised, HAF urged that international monitoring of upcoming elections in Bangladesh must be implemented, that minority candidates must be nominated by political parties, that attacks on Hindu temples and properties must cease immediately and that a human rights commission be established in Bangladesh to ensure due process and minority rights and representation. Many of these recommendations were corroborated by the Chair of the Forum, Commissioner Felice Gaer, her fellow USCIRF commissioners Preeta Bansal and Michael Cromartie, who all demanded international monitoring of the January 2007 elections, and safety and security for the minority population.
Distinguished invitees like Ambassador Tariq Karim and Mr. Selig Harrison of the Center for International Policy also demanded from the Bangladesh Government the promise of free and fair elections and warned that the homogeneous Bangladesh population, ninety-six per cent of whom are ethnic Bengali speaking, are now deeply polarised and divided because of the Islamisation of the polity enabled and encouraged by the present Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) government.
Cynthia Bunton of the International Republican Institute (IRI) and Patrick Merloe of the National Democratic Institute also weighed in with strong criticisms of the weak institutions and severely flawed democratic process in Bangladesh.
?The recommendations of the USCIRF and the comments by the commissioners and the distinguished speakers go a long way in affirming HAF'sstand on the situation of minorities in general, and Hindus in particular in Bangladesh,? said Ramesh Rao, Ph.D., member of the HAF Executive Council who addressed the forum. ?We hope that this is the first step towards protecting the minorities and ensuring freedom to practice one'sfaith without fear.? (FOC)