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Donald Lu’s mission to Bangladesh: Opportunity for introspection

Published : Saturday, 25 May, 2024 at 12:00 AM  Count : 331

Donald Lu’s mission to Bangladesh: Opportunity for introspection

Donald Lu’s mission to Bangladesh: Opportunity for introspection

“In conclusion, while Donald Lus visit underscores the U.S. intention to build stronger ties with Bangladesh, it also offers an opportunity for introspection. The U.S. must address its own human rights and labor issues to maintain credibility on the global stage. By rectifying these internal challenges, the U.S. can better advocate for the values it seeks to promote internationally”

Donald Lu, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, recently came to Bangladesh on a two-day visit. Although it was a routine visit, Lus visit generated significant buzz in Bangladeshs political sphere. This was his first visit to Bangladesh following the recent 12th parliamentary election, although he had visited the country a few times before the election.

Before the election, Lu was outspoken about the human rights situation in Bangladesh, labor rights issues, and the visa restrictions imposed by the United States on specific Bangladeshi individuals. However, during his latest visit, he stated that the primary purpose was to rebuild trust between the people of the two countries. This marked a notable shift from his tone before the election, sparking significant discussion about his visit.

He acknowledged that before the election, U.S. discussions about ensuring free, fair, and participatory elections in Bangladesh created some tension. There were also tensions over issues like the ban on Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), human rights, freedom of expression, and labor rights. During his visit, Lu aimed to deepen the relationship with Bangladesh, but it seems that the U.S. will continue to monitor human rights, labor rights, and freedom of speech in the country.

In an interview with a private news channel in Bangladesh, Lu did not clearly state whether the ban on RAB would be lifted. He noted that RAB had significantly reduced extrajudicial killings and disappearances last year, which was good progress. However, he expressed concerns about other law enforcement branches committing similar crimes and emphasized the need for accountability for RABs past actions.

He emphasized the crimes committed by Bangladeshi law enforcement and admitted the U.S. also has human rights issues but did not mention allegations against U.S. police. Organizations like Human Rights Watch and the ACLU have highlighted systemic racism, police brutality, and suppression of protests in the U.S. Recent police crackdowns on Gaza protests in cities like New York and Los Angeles raise questions about the U.S. commitment to freedom of speech and assembly.

According to Statista, a Germany-based online statistics provider, 1,163 people were shot to death by U.S. police in 2023. Of these victims, 425 were white, while 738 were Black or from other races.According to a Lancet study, over the 40-year period from 1980 to 2019, Black Americans were 3.5 times more likely to die from police violence than white Americans.These data clearly indicate that the United States falls short of being a haven for human rights.

Then there is the issue of labor rights. Recently, the United States raised concerns about labor laws in Bangladesh, with Donald Lu emphasizing this issue. While labor rights problems exist in Bangladesh, similar issues are present in the U.S as well. Following the Tazreen Fashions fire and Rana Plaza collapse, the U.S. suspended the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) for Bangladesh in June 2013 over labor rights issues.

While advocating for improved labor standards abroad, the U.S. faces significant labor rights issues at home, especially in the gig economy. According to Pew Research Center, many gig workers face income insecurity and lack basic labor protections. Californias Proposition 22 allows companies to classify gig workers as independent contractors, creating a permanent underclass with substandard working conditions.

In contrast, the U.S.s suspension of the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) in 2013 significantly impacted Bangladeshs garment sector, leading to job losses and wage cuts for workers. The increased cost of garment production further strained the industry, highlighting the urgent need for the U.S. to restore GSP facilities to support Bangladeshs efforts in improving labor rights and factory safety, and to stabilize its economy.

Many experts and politicians suspect that the U.S.s increased pressure on Bangladesh regarding labor rights may be influenced by the recent sentencing of Nobel Laureate economist Dr. Mohammad Yunus to six months in jail for violating labor laws. This high-profile case has drawn international attention, potentially prompting the U.S. suspected by the analysts to leverage labor rights issues as a means to advocate for Dr. Yunus and influence Bangladeshs domestic policies.

The U.S. has criticized Bangladesh for limiting freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Recently, the country faced backlash for handling Gaza protests on campuses like Columbia University, where police used tear gas and arrested over 2,000 protesters. This heavy-handed response, especially against those protesting U.S. support for Israeli actions in Gaza, which have resulted in significant civilian casualties, raises questions about the U.S.s commitment to these rights.

Then the U.S. critique of Bangladeshs freedom of the press must be viewed in light of challenges faced by American journalists. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker has documented numerous instances of arrests and violence against journalists covering protests and political events.

In the first half of this year, 27 journalists were arrested in the United States.In comparison, 14 journalists were arrested in the U.S. throughout 2023. These incidents undermine the U.S.s position when criticizing other nations for press freedom violations, highlighting the need for a more consistent approach to human rights advocacy.

In conclusion, while Donald Lus visit underscores the U.S. intention to build stronger ties with Bangladesh, it also offers an opportunity for introspection. The U.S. must address its own human rights and labor issues to maintain credibility on the global stage. By rectifying these internal challenges, the U.S. can better advocate for the values it seeks to promote internationally.

Simultaneously, Bangladesh should take U.S. concerns seriously, as addressing these issues can pave the way for better economic cooperation and improved labor conditions. This balanced approach is essential for fostering genuine and lasting partnerships based on mutual respect and shared aspirations. Working together can lead to mutual benefits and stronger relations.

The writer is former Chairman of Bangladesh Human Rights Commission







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