Washington, D.C. (November 20, 2013) – Persecution of Hindus and religious minorities in Bangladesh took center stage at a Congressional hearing entitled ‘Bangladesh in Turmoil: A Nation on the Brink,’ hosted by the Subcommittee on Asia and Pacific yesterday. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affair Committee, and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), who served as the acting Ranking Member of the hearing, peppered witnesses with questions about concerns over growing radicalization and recent violence targeting Bangladesh’s Hindu population. The panel of three witnesses lacked any minority representation.
“I am particularly concerned over issues…regarding religious freedom and specifically over attacks on the minority Hindu community remaining in Bangladesh today,” said Rep. Gabbard. “I think it’s unfortunate that sometimes perpetrators of crimes against this community go unpunished, and it’s up to the Government of Bangladesh to act authoritatively against those who incite and commit violence against anyone and protect the rights of all minorities.”
While noting that the majority of the population in Bangladesh had no role in violence against minorities, Chairman Royce drew a parallel to Pakistan in expressing concern over the growing radicalization of young men being educated in Islamist schools.
“Unless the State in Bangladesh is ready to come forward and close these particular Deobandi schools, the ones that have been identified as the most radical, the ones that are telling their charges, their graduates to go out and commit this kind of violence…[Bangladesh like Pakistan] are going down roads here where the consequences will eventually engulf the state itself,” said Chairman Royce.
For ten years, the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) has highlighted the plight of the Hindu and other minority populations in Bangladesh. Earlier this year, at its 10th annual DC Advocacy Days, HAF delegations urged Congressional leaders to host a hearing that would examine more closely the growing crisis in Bangladesh and its potential impact on U.S. interests in the broader region. HAF also submitted written testimony to the Subcommittee yesterday.
“While we were initially concerned by the lack of Hindu or any minority representation on the witness panel, we’re pleased that the plight of Bangladeshi Hindus as well as other religious minorities became the central theme of the hearing,” said Samir Kalra, Esq., HAF’s Senior Human Rights Fellow. “We appreciate Chairman Royce, Rep. Gabbard, and Rep. Sherman for being vocal critics of the violence being perpetrated against innocent minority populations in Bangladesh.”
The International Crimes Tribunals generated much debate from both panelists and Congressmen alike. Rep. Gabbard marked that despite the “obvious flaws” with the tribunals, clearly this was an issue of bringing about justice, albeit 40 years later, for the absolutely heinous acts of violence against humanity. Panelist Ali Riaz, Ph.D., Fellow in Residence at the Woodrow Wilson Center, agreed in testifying that it was imperative for the international community to allow the Tribunal proceedings to continue and to stand by the verdicts.
The Tribunals are widely popular in Bangladesh and have thus far issued nine convictions, with eight pending trials and three ongoing investigations. The majority of the convicted or indicted war criminals are leaders from Jamaat-e-Islami, a radical Islamist organization with ties to militant networks throughout South Asia and the pro-Islamist right-wing Bangladesh Nationalist Party. Officials and supporters of both groups have also been implicated in recent incidents of large-scale anti-minority violence.
When asked of his overall impression of the hearing, HAF’s Associate Director of Government Relations, Jay Kansara said, “In spite of the efforts of a lobbying firm, hired by the family of a war criminal, to discredit the Tribunal over the past two years, today was a day of reckoning long awaited by Bangladeshi Hindus — especially those in the U.S., who have fled persecution in their home country.”