State Minister for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam has expressed disappointment over the observations made about the 'concentrated power' of the prime minister in a US government report on the state of human rights in Bangladesh.
In the 2022 edition of the annual report published on Monday, the US State Department said Bangladesh’s constitution "provides for a parliamentary form of government that consolidates most power" in the office of the prime minister.
It also cast doubt on the fairness of the 2018 national election, where Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League won a third consecutive term.
Reacting to the report on Tuesday, Shahriar said, "Of course, Bangladesh is a parliamentary democracy and every country understands and knows how thorny our journey has been and still is."
“A prime minister has only as much power as she needs to have. A friendly country has no moral right to raise concerns or doubts or raise questions about its degree of application or anything else.”
Shahriar believes that there is plenty of scope to criticise the US as well. “We can say a lot of things that can make matters very unpleasant. So, I will try to restrain myself.”
“In a country with a presidential system of governance, a lot can happen on presidential orders. It is part of their constitution and the government of a country is run and managed accordingly. So, should we say that the president is all-powerful?"
Laws in Bangladesh are enacted in line with the principles of parliamentary democracy, according to Shahriar. "We are seeing a tendency to undermine a constitutional office, which is very disappointing."
The state minister also believes there are some 'weaknesses' in the report on Bangladesh.
The lack of opportunity given to Bangladesh to defend itself was one of them, along with the use of information from unregistered organisations such as the rights group Odhikar, according to him.
“These reports have some fundamental shortcomings. First of all, when a friendly nation is preparing a country report, we ask them in bilateral discussions to inform us before it is published so that we can defend our position.
"Promises were made in this regard at various times, but they weren't kept this time either. So, I think it's a major shortcoming.”
Shahriar labelled the US claims on the right to freedom of speech in Bangladesh as 'self-contradictory'.
"It is often said that freedom of the media is being curtailed and attempts are being made to limit the freedom of speech. But there are countless references from open sources in this report. And this proves that the government does not stop any media from producing any news.”
“There are references to several NGOs, INGOs or CSOs, one of which is Odhikar. We want to state clearly that they do not have valid documents or licence to operate in Bangladesh at present.”