Foreign Affairs
US Influence on Bangladesh’s Democracy and Human Rights

Bangladesh’s human rights situation has been a subject of scrutiny from both domestic and international observers. Despite significant progress in development, concerns persist regarding the protection and promotion of human rights for citizens. Freedom of expression, extrajudicial killings, gender-based violence, discrimination against religious and ethnic minority groups, labour rights and factory conditions, and the Rohingya refugee crisis are major issues.

Journalists, activists, and bloggers face threats, harassment, and violence for their critical reporting and social media posts. The Digital Security Act, enacted in 2018, has been criticized for stifling freedom of speech and suppressing political opposition. Gender-based violence persists, with incidents of domestic violence, sexual harassment, and child marriage. Indigenous communities struggle for land and resource rights. Labour rights and factory conditions remain critical challenges. International organizations and governments have actively supported human rights initiatives in Bangladesh, pushing for reforms and accountability.

Gender-based violence, domestic violence, and harassment persist in Bangladesh, with women facing discrimination and harassment. The garment industry faces labour rights abuses, with workers facing unsafe working conditions, low wages, and limited union rights. The country’s judicial system is inefficient and corrupt, limiting access to justice. The Rohingya refugee influx presents humanitarian challenges, with resource constraints and international pressure. Political polarization hinders effective governance and human rights concerns. Poverty and economic disparities persist, affecting citizens’ well-being. Building accountability mechanisms is crucial for addressing these issues.

The US is focusing on Bangladesh’s democracy and human rights, aiming to block China’s “Malacca chokepoint” and support Baloch and Rakhine insurgencies. The US has increased pressure on the Hasina government, pushing for fair elections and military-related pacts GSOMIA and ACSA. The US may also provide logistics support for a possible no-fly zone in the Bay of Bengal.

If Hasina doesn’t comply, the US may promote violent opposition agitations and wide-ranging sanctions to effect regime change. The US’s back-to-back visits to Bangladesh by Rear Admiral Eileen Laubacher and the State Department’s Assistant Secretary (South-Central Asia) Donald Lu are seen as part of Washington’s mounting pressure on Bangladesh to comply with its plans on Myanmar.

Chinese foreign minister visited Dhaka to meet Bangladesh’s foreign minister, Abdul Momen, and a CPC delegation. The Chinese have significant development assistance for key infrastructure projects, which Dhaka may leverage to expedite its projects in the election year. China has assured Bangladesh of support in UN forums and called for non-interference in Bangladesh’s internal affairs. However, China would only oblige Bangladesh if Dhaka resists supporting the US and its allies, who may plan to hit the Burmese military junta hard enough.

Hasina’s diplomatic skills will be tested in an election year as her country risks getting drawn into the larger Sino-US rivalry. She will also have to do a tight ropewalk to avoid getting too close or dependent on China, which is bound to upset India. The US strategy is to deny Myanmar air force dominance above Rakhine State, where the Arakan Army rebels control 2/3rd of the state’s land area and cannot neutralize Burmese air power.

On December 23, 2022, President Biden signed the James M. Inhofe National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023 (NDAA 2023), which included a modified version of the Burma Unified through Rigorous Military Accountability Act (BURMA Act). This inclusion was praised by many interested parties in Myanmar and around the world, as it would result in increased U.S. pressure on Myanmar’s military junta and provide more aid to the people of Myanmar.

China fears that if Rakhine gains independence with American support, it could disrupt the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor and potentially hand over the Kyaukphyu deep sea port to the US. An independent Rakhine could also open western Myanmar states, Chin and Kachin, to covert US military assistance, boosting secession. India is cautious about the breakup of Myanmar and its borders with the Pagoda Nation, but may not mind the disruption of Chinese corridors through Pakistan and Myanmar.

The U.S. government has taken several diplomatic and policy measures to promote democratic governance and respect for human rights in Bangladesh. Key areas of focus include free and fair elections, press freedom, civil liberties, human rights, the rule of law, and civic engagement. The U.S. has called for fair treatment of opposition parties and their leaders, ensuring a free and independent media environment.

They have also raised concerns about press freedom and freedom of expression in Bangladesh, advocating for a free and independent media environment. The U.S. has also called for accountability and justice in cases of human rights abuses. The U.S. has also supported civil society organizations and NGOs in Bangladesh that promote democracy, human rights, and good governance.

Bangladesh at the Crossroads: Assessing the State of Democracy

Bangladesh is facing criticism for its increasing authoritarianism, with opposition parties being harassed, press freedom scrutinized, censorship alleged, electoral irregularities, and power centralization within the ruling party.

The government, on the other hand, claims to be committed to democracy and development, claiming that their policies have led to economic growth and improved living standards for many Bangladeshis. They also maintain measures to combat corruption and maintain law and order. The international community, including organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, has expressed concerns about the state of democracy and human rights in the country.

Bangladesh is at a critical juncture, with the world closely monitoring its democratic trajectory. The path ahead is uncertain, but there is hope that the nation can reaffirm its commitment to democracy, ensure fair and transparent elections, protect citizens’ rights, and address the concerns raised by domestic and international observers.

The future of democracy in Bangladesh depends on the ability of its leaders and institutions to uphold democratic principles, respect human rights, and ensure the rule of law. As Bangladesh navigates these challenges, the world will continue to watch closely, hoping that the nation can find a path that preserves and strengthens its democratic foundations while addressing the pressing needs of its people.

Bangladesh’s Current Leadership: A Closer Look at the Power Players

Bangladesh’s political landscape is shaped by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who has been in power since 2009. She leads the Grand Alliance coalition, which has seen significant economic growth and development. Bangladesh has made significant progress in sectors like healthcare, education, and infrastructure, and has committed to reducing poverty and improving living standards. However, Khaleda Zia, the chairperson of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), remains a formidable opponent, facing legal battles and political setbacks. The rivalry between Hasina and Zia has significantly impacted Bangladesh’s political landscape.

The Election Commission of Bangladesh, led by Chief Election Commissioner Mahbub Talukdar, ensures the fairness of elections and maintains the democratic process. The Bangladesh Armed Forces, a civilian-controlled military, has historically played a role in the nation’s history through coups and interventions. However, recent years have seen a shift towards a more democratic and civilian-led government.

In addition to political leaders and institutions, Bangladesh’s youth and civil society have become increasingly influential in shaping the nation’s direction. They advocate for social justice, environmental conservation, and human rights, while organizations and activists work tirelessly to address critical issues like climate change, gender equality, and corruption.

Bangladesh’s Political Landscape: Is It a One-Party State in the Making?

The Awami League, led by Sheikh Hasina, has gained significant power in Bangladesh, winning consecutive elections in 2008, 2014, and 2018. Critics argue that this has led to a concentration of authority, weakening checks and balances, and stifling dissent. The main opposition party, the BNP, has faced internal divisions, legal troubles, and marginalization. The absence of the BNP in the 2014 elections created a political vacuum, further cementing the Awami League’s hold on power.

Civil society organizations and media outlets have faced increasing restrictions, leading to a climate of self-censorship and a lack of critical voices. Concerns about the erosion of freedom of the press and expression raise alarms about the state of democratic values in Bangladesh. International concerns have also been raised, with various human rights organizations and foreign governments calling for free and fair elections, protection of civil liberties, and inclusion of all political voices.

Bangladesh at the Crossroads: Assessing the State of DemocracyBangladesh's Current Leadership: A Closer Look at the Power PlayersBangladesh's Political Landscape: Is It a One-Party State in the Making?Democracyhuman rightsUnited StatesUSUS Influence on Bangladesh's Democracy and Human Rights