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Densely populated Bangladesh is located on a delta plain on the Bay of Bengal. After gaining independence in 1971, the country underwent 15 years of military rule, and though now governed by elected politicians, it remains politically volatile. Widespread abuse of human rights by government run security forces remain among the most high profile abuses in the country, including arbitrary and extrajudicial killings.
Bangladesh is a relatively small, though very densely populated, country on the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta and the Bay of Bengal. The country is almost entirely enclosed by Indian territory except for a short south-eastern frontier with Myanmar. The capital city is Dhaka.
Population and Language
Bangladesh is home to more than 150 million people, making it the world's seventh most populous country. This figure has more than doubled over the last 30 years, and has continued to grow at an annual rate in excess of one per cent per annum. Of this population, a large majority are Muslim (89.5 per cent), though there are sizeable Hindu, Buddhist and Christian communities.
Bangla is the most widely spoken language, though English is widely spoken among the formally educated population.
History and Politics
What is now known as Bangladesh was part of the Indian provinces of Assam and Bengal prior to the independence and partition of India and Pakistan, at which point East Bengal became part of Pakistan. In 1970, the Bangladeshi nationalist Awami League won a majority in the Pakistan parliament which led to a political crisis, and ultimately the Bangladeshi Liberation war of the following year. Bangladesh became an independent, secular and democratic country under the 1972 Constitution, but when a state of emergency was declared in 1974, the country was reformed into an executive-led single party state. This system of government continued amidst substantial political turmoil that led to the assassination of two consecutive Presidents and three military coups. Demonstrations in 1990 resulted in the collapse of the government, and triggered reforms under a caretaker government. In 1991 the democratic elections were again held and Khaleda Zia became the first democratically elected Prime Minister since the 1970s as well as the country's first female Prime Minister.
Since the return to democratic politics, the Bangladeshi Nationalist Party, under the leadership of Khaleda Zia, and the Awami League, under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina have been the two major political forces in the country. In 2007 a political crisis developed when the Awami League announced a boycott of the upcoming general election, and a caretaker government took control in order to arrange elections for the following year. The Awami League returned to power in December 2008 as the head of a Grand Coalition which secured 250 seats in the 300-seat parliament.
The Bangladeshi economy is heavily dependent on agriculture, which accounts for 20 per cent of GDP and nearly half of employment, a reliance that has resulted in economic susceptibility to the weather. The country has shown impressive economic progress, however despite frequent national disasters and external shocks. GDP has increased at an average rate of 6 per cent per year in recent years, and poverty has fallen substantially over the past 20 years, from 57 per cent in 1990 to 31.5 per cent in 2010. Nevertheless, Bangladesh faces a number of significant problems if it is to meet its target of becoming a a middle income country by 2021. Infrastructure, remains a significant problem with an estimated 53 per cent of households lacking electricity and a growing labour force that exceeds employment opportunities. The inadequacy of the education system and high level of illiteracy also present serious obstacles in developing the national economy. Bangladesh has substantial natural gas resources which may prove key in diversifying its economy and creating jobs.
Corruption also remains a considerable problem for the country in relation to attracting business and developing its economy. Transparency International has reported year-on-year improvements for the country in its Corruption Perception Index, but still rated Bangladesh at 120 out of 182 countries surveyed, indicated that substantial problems remain.
Media and Civil Society
Bangladesh has a diverse media, with dozens of TV stations, a substantial number of privately-owned radio stations and a large number of Bangla and English-language daily publications. Nevertheless, this media diversity exists amidst a background repressive media laws. Jail terms are possible for the crimes of “sedition” and “defamation”. Press freedom generally improved upon the return of the Awami League to power in 2009, and the relaxation of media controls that had been in place under the military backed interim government. Reporters Without Borders has nevertheless reported numerous repressive measures in recent years, mainly as a result of the tension between the country's two major political parties, the BNP and the Awami League. At least 10 journalists were targeted by activists during BNP protests in 2011, including a bomb attack on a correspondent from a prominent daily publication. Censorship has also taken place in less violent forms, as with the banning of Facebook for a week in May 2010, the closure of Channel 1 by the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission and the threatened closure of the Ekushey Television channel. Reporters Without Borders rated the country 129 out of 179 in its Press Freedom Index of 2011/12.
Though Bangladesh is home to a number of large and highly active civil society organisations, the country was a pioneer in the development of micro-credit, there have also been reports of attacks and harassment of those involved with such organisations.
Human Rights and Children's Rights
A number of serious human rights violations occur in Bangladesh, including torture and extra-judicial killings. The Dhaka based human rights organisation Odhikar has reported that more than 1600 people have been victims of extra-judicial killings since 2004, though recent years have seen a decrease in the prevalence of such violence. Human Rights Watch has found strong evidence that security forces have continued the practice of arbitrary arrest and torture despite the Government's professed policy of “zero tolerance” on the practice. Discriminatory practices against women and girls also persists, including beatings, isolation and public humiliation.
- UNDESA, "Population Statistics 2011"
- Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, "Bangladesh Data Sheet" 2004
- BBC, "Profile: Khaleda Zia" 3 September 2007
- BBC, "Profile: Sheikh Hasina" 29 december 2008
- BBC, "Democracy returns in Bangladesh" 6 January 2009
- The World Bank, "Bangladesh Overview 2010"
- Transparency International, "Corruption Perception Index 2011"
- Reporters Without Borders, "World Report: Bangladesh" 2011/12
- Reporters Without Borders, "Authorities turn up the heat on journalists" 19 March 2012
- BBC, "Microcredit in Bangladesh 'helped 10 million'" 27 January 2011
- Human Rights Watch, "World Report 2012: Bangladesh"
- Odhikar, "Statistics"
- Human Rights Watch, "World Report 2012: Bangladesh"
- OHCHR, "Bangladesh Homepage"
- The World Bank, "Bangladesh Country Overview 2010" and "Doing Business"
- Foreign and Commonwealth Office, "Bangladesh Country Profile"
- BBC, "Bangladesh Profile" 19 January 2012 and news items (see footnotes)
- Reporters Without Borders, "Press Freedom Index 2011/12" and news items (see footnotes)