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Bangladesh’s Rights Record on Display

An integrated display of Bangladeshi culture, which will draw from more than 1,000 years of history, artwork, photographs and newspaper articles, will be featured today and Tuesday in the foyer of the Rayburn House Office Building.

Organized by the Human Rights Congress for Bangladesh Minorities and the Foundation Against Continuing Terrorism, the exhibition seeks “to look at human suffering in that part of the world,” according to Utsav Chakrabarti, a volunteer from FACT who designed the display.

As such, it aims to educate Members about the persecution of minorities, mostly Hindus, and the threats posed by Islamic fundamentalism in Bangladesh.

According to the event’s promoters, religious persecution in the region predates the inception of Bangladesh and came to a head in 1971 as the would-be country fought for its independence from Pakistan.

Over the past decades, the number of Hindus living in the mostly Muslim country has declined and they now constitute only around 10 percent of the population — down from around 15 percent in 1971 — as many have been pressured to convert or relocate, primarily to India.

“The problem is that over the years you’ve had a series of attacks on Hindu minorities,” said Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), who will serve as the Congressional sponsor for the exhibit. “It’s gotten worse in the last few years, I think in part because of fundamentalism.”

The display will be divided into 28 boards, each of which will be 2 feet by 3 feet. They will follow a roughly chronological order, and while many will zero in on persecution, others will guide viewers through the history of the country.

Most pieces on display will focus on the past 50 years, but some, including a picture of a Sanskrit scripture from 1,400 years ago, date back much further.

Organizers hope that Members passing through the exhibit will be inspired to step up Congressional interest in the country and begin making policy decisions based on information from the ground in Bangladesh. “The policymakers don’t make decisions based on the sound information that is available there,” HRCBM Executive Director Amalendu Chatterjee said.

Pallone, a member of Congress’ Bangladesh Caucus, agreed that his peers should focus more on the country. He said one possible way forward would be for the United States to tie aid and trade policies to human rights records, thereby pressuring the government in Bangladesh, currently a caretaker one until a new round of elections is held, to reform itself.

The U.S. accounts for a large portion of Bangladeshi exports, and the State Department has placed American food and development aid to the country at $4.3 billion since 1971.

While Pallone currently is not calling for retributive cuts in these areas to Bangladesh or countries with poor records, he said that in theory, the connection between money and performance should exist. “I think we’d like to link our foreign policy to human rights, but oftentimes we fail to do that,” he said.

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