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BBC Makes a Mockery of Bangladeshi Suffering ( 0) Printer friendly page Print This
By T. J. Coles. Axis of Logic
Axis of Logic
Tuesday, Aug 21, 2012

The BBC’s interview show Hardtalk recently featured Bangladesh’s Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina. The episode was a master-class in propaganda. The presenter, Stephen Sackur, pressed the Prime Minister hard over her human rights abuses, citing UN reports that confirm disappearances and torture. Sackur also condemned the poverty in the country and the government’s corruption.1

Ignoring UK human rights abuse in Bangladesh, BBC presenter, Stephen Sackur's "most impressive feat was not turning red with shame." Sackur's failure to mention the RAB death squads sponsored by the UK "brought a smirk to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s face."

Sackur’s most impressive feat was not turning red with shame. For decades, the UK has been one of the principal causes of Bangladesh’s misery. Scholars note that the political duopoly, based on Britain’s parliamentary system, has kept most of the country’s seventy-plus political parties from gaining ground.2 Other scholars note that “aid” (a euphemism for loans) forced on Bangladesh by the UK helped to bolster Bangladesh’s dictatorships.3 In 1992, the still-active Westminster Foundation for Democracy was established, with the stated aim of merging the so-called “three pillars” of state (the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary) in poor countries.4

Similarly, the UK’s Department for International Development allocated several hundred million pounds of UK tax money to Bangladesh for investment in private businesses operating in Export Processing Zones,5 a move condemned by Christian Aid for its lack of transparency.6 EPZs are militarised areas for labour-intensive production. Bangladeshis produce cheap garments, tea, chemicals, and other products for the UK, yet most workers do not benefit:

One in four Bangladeshi children are malnourished (which often means brain damage), 290 women out of every 100,000 die in childbirth (one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world), and most live on less than a dollar a day.7 The Bangladesh High Commission recently boasted: “The economy’s biggest asset is its plentiful supply of very cheap labour, a major attraction for foreign investors,” which includes 100% foreign direct investment rights.8

Malnourished children in Dhaka. In 2009, UNICEF reported that about 7.2 million children equivalent to 43 percent of total children under five are moderately or severely suffer from malnutrition in Bangladesh. (Photo by Karen Kasmauski for National Geographic)

Sackur presented the World Bank as being “concerned” about Bangladesh’s failure to implement certain programmes, giving the impression that the Bank is some kind of benign development agency. In reality, Save the Children commented: “the famous Bangladesh credit programmes typically do not benefit the poorest strata of society and although, they are targeted at women, may tend to exploit or burden women further.”9

This is standard practice in the age of “globalisation.” In 2010, the UK Ministry of Defence stated in a long-range projection that “globalisation” means open investment, intellectual property rights, and “the guaranteed access to and exploitation of these resources in developing states.”10 Presumably, that is why MI6 and the Metropolitan Police trained the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), which Sackur acknowledged was a “death squad” (quoting human rights groups). Sackur failed to say anything about the UK’s sponsoring of the group, a fact which brought a smirk to Sheikh Hasina’s face.

Members of the Rapid Action Battalion, a death squad in Bangladesh, trained by the UK's Metropolitan Police and MI6. The BBC's Stephen Sackur conveniently omitted this UK complicity with the RAB.

In 2009, the Foreign Office acknowledged that the UK had been training RAB.11 In 2011, both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch condemned this fact.12 HRW reported that RAB’s “Detainees have been subjected to electric shocks, rape, severe kicking, and beating with objects that include iron rods, belts, or sticks.”13 According to HRW, most of RAB’s 600-plus fatalities were the leaders of political parties, trade unionists, entrepreneurs, and other threats to UK businesses. Victims also include children and the elderly.14

In December 2010, the politician Salauddin Quadar Chowdury “was severely tortured” by RAB, according to Public Interest Lawyers (PIL).

“His torture included slitting the right side of his stomach with a knife, pulling out his toenails, tying him to a chair and repeatedly kicking him to the body and face, beating him with bats, pouring cold water into his nose so as to induce vomit and repeated standing on his chest ... Thereafter, after Mr Chowdury was taken into custody, he continued to be subjected to serious torture, including the electrocution of his genitals. … [H]e was not able to stand without assistance.”15

In December 2010, the politician Salauddin Quadar Chowdhury “was severely tortured” by RAB. Photos from Channel I footage - At PG hospital in the middle of his torture. Blood on his shirt, nose and bandages on his chest is visible. More photos at Due Process Bangladesh.

According to PIL, RAB admitted to having been trained by the British as late as December 2010. By omitting all of the above, Sackur portrayed the UK as having little to no relationship with Bangladesh. Hasina’s brief and quiet admission that RAB had received “human rights training from the UK” passed unnoticed, giving the impression that Britain is trying to do its best for poor little Muslim countries incapable of looking after themselves.



  1. Hardtalk: Sheikh Hasina, BBC, 6 August, 2012.

  2. G. W. Choudhury, “Bangladesh: Why It Happened,” International Affairs, Vol. 48, No. 2, April, 1972, pp. 242-249 and Talukder Maniruzzaman, “The Fall of the Military Dictator: 1991 Elections and the Prospect of Civilian Rule in Bangladesh,” Pacific Affairs, Vol. 65, No. 2, Summer, 1992, pp. 203-224.

  3. Nizam Ahmed, “From Monopoly to Competition: Party Politics in the Bangladesh Parliament (1973-2001),” Pacific Affairs, Vol. 76, No. 1, Spring, 2003, pp. 55-77.

  4. Westminster Foundation for Democracy, “Business Plan 2011-12,” 30 March, 2011, London: WFD.

  5. Bangladesh High Commission (London), “Trade and Investment Promotion,” website, No date.

  6. 6. Cited in House of Commons International Development Committee, “DFID’s Programme in Bangladesh,” Third Report of Session 2009–10, Volume I, HC 95-I, 4 March, 2010, London: The Stationery Office.

  7. Ibid.

  8. Bangladesh High Commission (London), “Trade and Investment Promotion,” website, No date.

  9. Cited in House of Commons International Development Committee, “DFID’s Programme in Bangladesh,” Third Report of Session 2009–10, Volume I, HC 95-I, 4 March, 2010, London: The Stationery Office.

  10. Ministry of Defence (UK), “The Future Character of Conflict,” May, 2010, London: MoD.

  11. Foreign and Commonwealth Office (UK), 2009, Annual Human Rights Report, London: FCO.

  12. Amnesty International, “Bangladesh: UK-trained security forces must stop extrajudicial executions,” 27 January, 2011.

  13. Human Rights Watch, “Bangladesh: Government Should Support Anti-Torture Bill No Law on the Books to Punish This Endemic Problem,” 29 March, 2011.

  14. Human Rights Watch, “Judge, Jury, and Executioner,” December, 2006, NY: HRW.

  15. Public Interest Lawyers, “Lawyers challenge UK Government over Torture of Bangladeshi MP,” no date.
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