Lord Eric Avebury slates Bangladesh HC in UK

 Ajoy Roy 

Published on May 03, 2009

Under the initiative of UK Parliamentary Human Rights Group a one day conference was held on June 17 in London entitled “European Human Rights Conference on Bangladesh : Extremism, Intolerance & Violence” at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London University . For the purpose of holding the conference an organizing committee named “Bangladesh Conference 2005 Steering Committee” was constituted under the chair of Lord Avebury who is also the Vice Chair of the UK Parliamentary Human Rights Group (UK-PHRG). Apart from UK Parliamentary Human Rights Group, many human rights groups throughout the world extended support to this conference that includes School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS, University of London), Minority Rights Group International, Ahmadiyya Muslim Association (London), Centre for Research on Nationalism, Ethnicity & Multiculturalism (University of Surrey, England), Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI, UK office), Survival International, South Asian Solidarity Group, European Bangladesh Forum, International Humanist & Ethical Union (IHEU), Liberation, Bangladesh Hindu Buddhists Christian Unity Council (UK), World Sindhi Congress, National Coordinating committee for the Realization of Bangladesh Liberation War Ideals and Trials of Bangladesh Criminals of 1971 (UK Branch), .. .. & many other human rights organizations and many prominent individuals such as Lord Dholakia as patron of the steering committee, Baroness Northover, Sally Keeble MP, Tom Brake MP, Tony Baldry MP, Simon Hufhes MP, Jeremy Corbyn MP, John Wilikinson MP, Gareth Thomas MP, David Drew MP, Angela Watkinson MP, Piara Singh Khabra MP, Peter Bottomly MP, Keith Vaz MP, Karen Buck MP, Ann Clwyd MP, Robert Evans MEP (Member of the European parliament), Baroness Sarah Lundford MEP, Jean Lambert MEP and many others. 

The organizing committee invited many human right organizations, human right defenders, individuals, academicians, NGOs, secularists, Bangladesh Government representatives, political sufferers, representative of persecuted minority communities- ethnic, cultural, religious, sectarian .. to cover different shades of opinions. To quote the opening remarks of Sir Eric, which reflects the mind of the steering committee: “ The meeting has been carefully planned to allow as many different points of view to be expressed as possible.” Referring to the presence of strong team of representatives of Bangladesh Government Sir Eric expressed hope that “they will not only give the conference an official viewpoint on the many allegations of violence, persecution and discrimination which are likely to be made, but will also take back these concerns to the authorities in Dhaka.”

But in reality the representatives of BD government did the opposite- they only played the old broken record of Mrs. Khaleda Zia Rahman and her 4-party alliance Government of Bangladesh. 

As the conference started taking shape, the Bangladesh High Commissioner Mr. A H Mofazzal Karim started campaigning that the aim of the conference was to malign the Bangladesh, its government to tarnish the ‘image’ of Bangladesh in the international community. He further charged that the organizers of the conference were conspirators against Bangladesh. The BD HC took up the matter very seriously, perhaps at the instruction of his Government, and asked the Steering Committee to stop holding the conference. Failing to do at the organization level the HC took up the matter with the foreign office of the UK government to intervene and stop the conference. Failing to achieve his goal, the HC then asked the Steering Committee chair to increase the number of representatives to 20 instead of six to which the chairman of the committee declined very politely. The conference was held strictly on the basis of invitation. The HC as usual using BNP tactic forcibly tried to push in unauthorized BNP supporters into the conference premises. The strict SOAS guards, who did not allow any one to enter the place except the invitees, foiled this.

The conference was a great success and it was established conclusively that challenged faced by today’s Bangladesh includes extreme form of Islamic fundamentalism, repression on secular liberals, minorities of all sorts, political opponents, intolerance to opposition views which sometimes takes form of police torture on protesting masses (with special target to women) and rallies, violence and lawlessness, extra judicial killings and police torture under police custody and ineffectiveness on the part of government to deal with the conditions obtaining in Bangladesh either willingly or because of its incapacity.

During the proceedings of the conference Bangladesh government representatives were given ample time, scope and opportunity to defend the BD government’s position and project the ‘official viewpoints’ of the Government. In trying to do so these gentlemen cut very sorry figures and miserably failed, to the utter dissatisfaction of Mrs.  Khaleda Rahman and her government, impress or convince the audience. Failing to project the government view and to impress the conference as a whole, the BD High commissioner, to save his skin from the rage of disgruntled BD PM Begum Khaleda, resort to falsification and hate campaign against the conference organizers and its leaders.

Failing the carry out the instructions imposed on BD High Commissioner and the delegates by the Bangladesh government to filibuster and disrupt the conference proceedings, the Bangladesh government representatives led by Mr. Karim, the BD HC in UK withdrew from post luncheon sessions of the conference quietly. He hurriedly called a press conference at Brick Bane lane, inhabited mostly by Bangladeshi people, in the afternoon attended by mostly BNP supporters and pro government elements. In the press conference Mr. Karim said that June 17 London conference on human rights in Bangladesh “break up in disarray”. Once more he claimed that the purpose of the conference was organized by a group of persons conspiring against Bangladesh aiming to “tarnish the image of Bangladesh” He further alleged that BD government representatives were not given enough time and opportunity to put up their case before the conference audience, further they were hackled by a section of the audience.

I myself was present in all plenary sessions (in all there were three in pre luncheon sessions). No speaker had been interrupted except when one was found talking gross lies or citing false evidence against an established fact(s). The learned chairs of every session were polite, respectful to the speakers, and maintained strict neutrality & discipline. I am sorry to say the BD government failed to utilize the adequate time and opportunities were provided with. BD Government must asked explanation for their poor performance. I myself was a sympathetic & patient listener to what were BD government representatives’ version of the events of human right violations committed and still being committed against the religious-ethnic-cultural-sectarian minorities of Bangladesh and extremism of violence and Islamic fundamentalism. They spoiled their time by arguing against the very theme of the conference and each one challenging the legality of such a conference being held at London and trying to prove that organizers were evidently biased, and giving his unnecessary, superfluous introduction etc.

On June 19, 2005 Lord Eric Avebury, chair of the conference and vice chair of the ULPHRG, issued a press statement in order to clarify and refute the false allegations made by the Bangladesh High Commissioner in a press conference held by him on June 17, 2005 in the after noon. In the press statement Sir Eric in a very clear term said that the His Excellency BD HC Mr. Karim had made a false statement on the proceedings of the conference thus depicting him a “liar”.

Here is the full text of Sir Eric’s press statement, which he so kindly forwarded to me.


Bangladesh Conference 2005 Steering Committee

Patron Lord Dholakia Chair Lord Avebury 

131 Commercial Street. London E1 6BJ. UK

Tel: Sujit Sen 07766 704005 or 07956 890689

Fax:  020 8586 1098

Email admin@shadinata.org.uk or sujit7@hotmail.com



19 June 05 



Ref: European Human Rights Conference on Bangladesh
Friday 17 June 2005 University of London. 


Lord Avebury, Vice Chair of the UK Parliamentary Human Rights Group, and Chairman of the Steering Committee of the ‘European Human Rights Conference on  Bangladesh’ held in SOAS, University of London on 17th June 2005, has issued the following statement in response to allegations of the Bangladesh High Commissioner in London.

I am disappointed by the false statement issued by the H E Mr A H Mofazzal Karim, Bangladesh High Commissioner in London about the holding and conduct of the one day conference on Bangladesh. The UK Parliamentary Human Rights Group was one of the sponsors of this Conference and its aim was to provide an opportunity for a factual analysis of the very serious problems affecting secular political parties/groups as well as ethnic & religious minorities in context of the growing extremism and the worrying culture of impunity in Bangladesh.

These are areas of legitimate and continuing interest for the UK Parliament as well as the international community and it was hoped that the Bangladesh Government would use the occasion of the Conference to provide its inputs and engage in a constructive and mature manner.

We were very fair to the Government of Bangladesh in allotting them two slots in the Conference whereas all other Groups including even the main opposition party, the Awami League were given only one slot filled by its representative, Saber Chowdhury.

The meeting did not "break up in disarray" but continued till 18:00 as scheduled and was participated by all including Advocate Sigma Huda.

All participants agreed the Conference was an outstanding success in bringing together representatives of all the beleaguered and persecuted groups, and in agreeing to further the initiative of the Conference by forming an international network.

The High Commissioner was interrupted during his presentation by other participants when he tried to assert there was no violation of human rights in Bangladesh and later on, in response to questions when he stated that "many" BNP MPs were assassinated during the 1996-2001 Awami League term of office. The participants also objected when he appeared to assert that the rights of the Ahmadiyyas were less important, because they were less numerous.

But the Chair of Plenary session, Professor Werner Menski had no difficulty in maintaining order and in fact allowed the High Commissioner additional time to compensate for the interruptions.

There was a disturbance in the afternoon Plenary Session when the second of the two Government speakers, Advocate Khondker Mahbubuddin Ahmed MP refused to accept the ruling of the Chair, Lord Dholakia that his time was up. All the Speakers were strictly limited to ten minutes but the Chair had allowed Mr. Ahmed an additional five minutes.

The High Commissioner had been alerted in writing on three occasions that a list of five persons named by him were invited to attend the Conference but he brought along an additional five, and together they shouted and protested the ruling of the Chair as Mr. Ahmed sought to continue his speech. Some people in the audience shouted back. The High Commissioner and his party then withdrew.

Professor Mable Gomes was one of the five people invited at the request of
the High Commissioner and although she had asked questions in the morning Plenary and participated actively till then, she also left with him, forfeiting opportunity to participate in the afternoon workshops.

It is clear to me, from the High Commissioner's determination to bring in extra people who were not invited, and from the conduct of his group when they refused to accept the Chair's ruling, that their object was not to contribute to the discussion of the unacceptable human rights situation in Bangladesh but to sabotage the initiative if possible, and if not, to creating disorder by wilfully choosing not to comply with universally accepted rules of debate.



Lord Avebury

House of Lords

London SW1A 0AA

020 7219 3438



Prof. Ajoy K. Roy, a reputed scientist of high esteem, ardent activist of Human Rights writes from Bangladesh. He can be reached at avijit@citechco.net