Freedom in the World
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Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Bangladesh’s political rights rating improved from 4 to 3 due to the installation of a new elected civilian government and related gains in government functioning and accountability.
A new civilian government took office in January 2009 after the Awami League party won a sweeping victory in December 2008 elections, ending a period of indirect military rule. It moved to implement an ambitious reform agenda, which called for trials for those suspected of committing war crimes during the 1971 war of independence, restoration of the 1972 constitution, and a crackdown on Islamist political and militant groups. The government demonstrated its staying power in February, when it effectively quelled a mutiny by paramilitary Bangladesh Rifles troops in which dozens of officers were killed. Despite significant openings in the political environment, human rights abuses—particularly extrajudicial executions—remained a concern during the year.
The government faced an early test in February, when troops from the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), a paramilitary force tasked with border security, mutinied in Dhaka and killed some 70 officers and civilians, including the BDR commander and several officers’ families. The mutiny quickly ended after Hasina, with the army’s support, threatened to use force. An official investigation, released in May, ruled out the involvement of politicians, Islamist militants, or foreign governments, but failed to clearly identify the cause of the revolt by the BDR, which was known to harbor resentments over poor pay and other conditions of service. At the urging of the army, the government said it would prosecute suspected mutineers, and at least 3,500 BDR members had been arrested by August. Several dozen of the detainees died under suspicious circumstances, leading the government to promise an inquiry. The Supreme Court ruled in September that alleged mutineers would not be prosecuted under the Army Act (which called for the death penalty), but would instead be tried under either the BDR Act for minor offenses or a special tribunal under the penal code for criminal offenses. The trial of a first group of BDR members accused of taking part in the mutiny started in late November.
Bangladesh is an electoral democracy. It regained that status through the December 2008 parliamentary elections, which were deemed free and fair by European Union observers and other monitoring groups. Terms for both the unicameral National Parliament and the largely ceremonial presidency are five years. Parliament is composed of 345 members, of which 300 are directly elected, and 45 are women nominated by political parties—based on their share of the elected seats—and then voted on by their fellow lawmakers. The president is elected by Parliament. The 1996 polls were the first held under a constitutional amendment requiring a CG to oversee the election process.
Under the legal codes pertaining to Muslims, women have fewer divorce and inheritance rights than men. In rural areas, religious leaders sometimes impose flogging and other punishments on women accused of violating strict moral codes. Women also face some discrimination in health care, education, and employment. They remain underrepresented in government, although a 2004 constitutional amendment reserves 45 parliamentary seats for women, and a large number of women participated in the December 2008 elections. Trafficking in both women and children remains extensive, but the government has taken steps to raise awareness and prosecute traffickers more vigorously; several dozen were convicted during 2009, with many receiving life sentences. Child labor is widespread.