Brad Adams and HRW: Who Watches the Human Rights Watch(Men)?

ইয়ামেন's picture
Submitted by yhoque [Guest] on Tue, 13/01/2015 - 6:46am

On January 8th, 2015, the prominent human rights advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a statement criticizing the Awami League government of Bangladesh for what it deemed as excessive use of force against the opposition as well as imposing censorship on the media. The release can be found here. Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia Director is quoted as:

“The government’s indiscriminate use of force, arbitrary arrests, and censorship will only inflame an already tense situation,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Authorities have an obligation to protect the public, but need to do it in a way that doesn’t throw human rights and the rule of law out the window.”

Unfortunately, the entire statement displays a tendency to cherry pick bits and pieces of what is actually happening in Bangladesh while ignoring other crucial facts, thus presenting a picture that is not at all consistent with the ground truth. HRW and Mr. Adams are quick to point out that ‘hundreds of opposition activists have been rounded up and arrested across the country in recent days’, but seem to be oblivious of the context of such crackdown. The blame has been laid almost entirely at the feet of the government, while ignoring the acts of vandalism and terrorism that has been perpetuated by members of the opposition party, namely BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami and their respective student wings, JCD and Shibir. This includes innocent people being killed, vehicles being torched and vandalized, and law enforcement officials attacked and injured. Such acts have been too widespread even in the last two weeks to list here in their entirety, even over the last two weeks. However, a few examples with links to news reports are provided below.

1) On Dec 28, 2014, Shamsunnahar, a schoolteacher, was killed when a stone hurled by opposition activists hit her in the head during a nationwide shutdown enforced by BNP/Jamaat and their allies. Details can be found here.

2) On Jan 6, 2015, members of Shibir attacked law enforcement officials in the city of Rajshahi, injuring four of them. Details can be found here.

3) As recently as today, Jan 12, 2015, several vehicles were torched all across the country, including 10 on the outskirts of the capital city of Dhaka. Details can be found here.

It is obvious just from these three news reports that there is more to the story than HRW and Mr. Adams have been telling in their statement. When members of the opposition parties are showing such blatant disregard for the lives and properties of the general public and law enforcement officials, the government has a duty to provide protection to the people of the country as best as it can. One can argue that some of the police action may have been heavy-handed, but portraying only one side of the story while ignoring another is quite unbecoming of a ‘reputable’ international organization that is supposedly neutral.

Further examples of HRW/Mr. Adams' ignorance abound within their statement. At one point, concern is expressed over the apparent ‘censorship’ of media by the government:

“The authorities have also targeted media perceived to be sympathetic to the opposition. Abdus Salam, chairman of Ekushey TV (ETV), was arrested and detained on January 7, allegedly for charges of broadcasting pornography. His arrest came one day after ETV’s broadcast of an anti-government speech by Tarique Rahman, a senior member of the BNP and the son of Zia. Shortly after the speech was broadcast, the government announced a ban on any further public dissemination, by any medium, of any political speeches by Rahman, without citing any reason.”

Some reasons why the segment quote above is quite misinformed:

1) The ban was not ordered by the government on its own accord. Rather, the government was ordered to enact this ban on an interim basis by the country’s High Court (HC), who passed this ruling based on a petition made by a concerned individual (details found here).

2) Tarique Rahman is the chief accused in money laundering case in Bangladesh and has been a fugitive living in the UK under the pretext of ‘undergoing medical treatment’ since 2008. The ruling by the HC stated clearly that his speeches/statements cannot be broadcast/published ’as long as he is absconding’. This is quite different from the ‘without citing any reason’ charge leveled by HRW in their statement.

3) On any given day inches are devoted to columns in leading dailies that are highly critical of the government. Every night the several news channels in the country run live talk shows where talking heads can be found criticizing the government, sometimes in very harsh terms. If the government was truly ‘censoring’ the media, almost all the newspapers and news channels in Bangladesh would have been shut down by now, and more than just one television channel owner would be languishing in prison. Also, statements and proclamations (some of which so laughably false that they call to mind Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, the information minister under Saddam Hussein during 2003 US invasion of Iraq) made by BNP leaders are covered extensively in both forms of media. Hence, to any truly objective person who is familiar with the media in Bangladesh, any accusation of ‘censorship by the AL government’ would seem ridiculous.

It should also be noted that right after the HC ruling the homes of both of the HC judges who presided over this petition and passed ruling on it were attacked by supporters of BNP. The ancestral home of Justice Qazi Rezaul Haque was torched (details here) while a bomb was hurled near the house of Justice Taher Md Saifur Rahman (details here). HRW and Mr. Adams make no note of this in their statement. Repeatedly, it seems, they are less concerned with the human rights of the victims of the vandalism of BNP/Jamaat followers than they are with the human rights of those same perpetrators of violence as well as preserving a fugitive convict’s freedom of speech.

Over the last few years, BNP/Jamaat have turned distorting the truth and trying to present it to the international community as the ‘true picture of Bangladesh’ into an art form. Only in the last few days, BNP has been caught red-handed twice in their attempts to falsify support for their cause among the international community. In the first instance, Khaleda Zia’s spokerperson Maruf Kamal claimed that the chief of India’s ruling party BJP, Amit Shah, had telephoned Mrs. Zia during her current ‘confinement’ in her party offices to ask about her wellbeing. However, both BJP and Amit Shah have come out denying strongly that such a telephone conversation had taken place (details here). In the second instance, a statement attributed to six US Congressmen (including the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ed Royce, and Eliot Engel, a ranking member of the same Committee) was publicized by BNP and reported in some Bangladeshi media outlets. The statement, among other things, condemned the ban on broadcasting Tarique Rahman’s speeches, and called on both AL and BNP to initiate dialogues to solve the ‘political crisis’ in Bangladesh. However, it transpired that this statement was as fake as the Amit Shah phone conversation, with both Congressmen Royce and Engel denying ever having released such a statement, stating ‘It is unacceptable that any party would seek to use a fraudulent press statement from the U.S. Congress to advance their political goals.’ (Details found here).

Hence, when it comes to BNP/Jamaat, one expects that whatever they say needs to be taken with a substantial grain of salt. However, throughout the HRW/Brad Adams statement, astonishing levels of ignorance towards what is really happening in Bangladesh has been revealed. This then begs the question, what really is the difference between BNP’s lies HRW/Mr Adams’ extremely one-sided version of reality? One can argue that it almost seems as if both BNP and HRW/Mr. Adams are reading off the same script, as the distorted version of reality that is being propagated by this statement is quite reminiscent of recent statements that have been made by BNP leaders, including their chairperson Mrs. Khaleda Zia. It is extremely unfortunate that a noted human rights organization and its Asia Director has done such a poor job of carrying out their due diligence when releasing a statement expressing concern for the ‘lack of human rights’ in a country, instead choosing to cherry pick the version of ‘truth’ as presented by one vested quarter and run with it blindly.

Human rights watchdog organizations such as HRW and people who work for them, like Brad Adams, have a responsibility to highlight and raise awareness on human rights violation issues across the world in a transparent and neutral manner. But when they fail in such an abysmal manner to do their job properly, they should definitely be held accountable. To use a paraphrased version of the famous quote from Alan Moore’s classic graphic novel ‘Watchmen’:

“Who watches the Human Rights Watch(men)?”


হিমু's picture

People like Adams are not so different to the BNP henchman who forged the statement of Royce and other congressmen. IB Times apologised for publishing the forged statement because they consider disseminating lies in the name of Congressman Royce to be a magna culpa. But we have seen international media pick up misinformation disseminated by Adams and his ilk without even bothering to check facts. This is preposterous.

ইয়ামেন's picture

And it should not be forgotten that Brad Adams has made misinformed statements critical of the ICT and the war crimes trials in Bangladesh more than once as well. Once or twice is a mistake, but he seems to have a repeated pattern of either not doing adequate research before pontificating on human rights issues in Bangladesh, or willfully choosing to ignore the complete picture.


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শেহাব's picture

Brad Adams is never available when he is asked for clarification.

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