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COUNTRY PROFILES


PROFILE

Country Profile

Area: 144,000 sq km (55,599 sq miles)
Population: 164.4 million (UN, 2010)
Capital City: Dhaka, 6.7 million population (approx)
People: Bengalis (98%), and small numbers of tribes people.
Languages: Bangla, and some tribal languages. English is quite widely spoken by those with education.
Religion(s): Islam (89%), Hinduism (10%). Buddhists and Christians make up about 1% of the population
Currency: Taka
Major political parties: Bangladesh Awami League (AL), Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh, Jatiya Party (N) (JPN)
Government: Parliamentary Republic. Bangladesh is a Parliamentary Democracy with a non-executive President elected by Parliament. Parliament and President are both elected for five years.
Head of State: President Zillur Rahman, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina
Membership of international groupings/organisations: Commonwealth, South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), UN, Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC).

Did You Know?

-- The Sundarbans in south west Bangladesh is one of the largest Mangrove forests in the world.

-- Bangladesh is the most densely populated major country in the world.

-- Bangladesh has some of the largest Non-Government Organisations (NGO) in the world and has played a major role in developing micro-finance schemes to help poor people.

-- Bangladesh instigated the process in the UN that led to the establishment of International Mother Language Day.

-- Bangladesh gained its test status in cricket in 2000.

-- Bangladesh has the 3rd largest Muslim population and the 7th largest overall population in the world.

-- The Bengali Tiger is the national animal.

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HEALTH

Malaria is not prevalent in Dhaka. It is, however, common in some parts of Bangladesh. There is a risk of dengue fever throughout Bangladesh.

Hygiene and sanitation standards are poor throughout the country and intestinal diseases are common. Water should be boiled and filtered before drinking.

The high levels of humidity during certain times of the year and pollution in downtown Dhaka can cause problems.

Local clinics and hospitals are generally of a poor standard. There are no adequate psychiatric services in Bangladesh.

A growing concern for many Bangladeshis is the presence of arsenic in groundwater supplies. The scale of the problem is not yet fully understood, but some people fear that it will be the most significant health problem in Bangladesh in the coming years.

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ECONOMY

Basic Economic Facts

GDP: US$ 105bn (IMF)
GDP per head: US$638 (IMF)
GDP Growth: 6.0% (IMF 2010 est.)
Human Development Index Ranking: 129th out of 168 countries (UN)
Inflation: 8.1% (IMF)
Foreign Exchange Reserves: $11.2 billion (IMF)
Export partners (goods): EU27 (51%), US (26%), India (4%), Canada (3.5%), China (1.7%) (WTO)
Import partners (goods): China (15.6%), India (13.2%), EU27 (9.7%), Kuwait (7.2%), Indonesia (5.1%) (WTO)
Inward Remittances: US$ 11bn, 12% of GDP (World Bank 2010 est.)
Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index ranking: 146th of 187 countries
World Bank Doing Business Ranking: 107th of 183 countries
Principal Exports: Garments account for 80% of Bangladesh’s exports to the UK. Seafood is also a significant Bangladesh export. Almost 10% of Bangladesh’s world-wide exports go to the UK.
Aid & development: 115 million people still live on less than US$2 per day. The UK is the largest bilateral donor to Bangladesh (£1 billion during 2011-2015), helping very poor Bangladeshis secure a better quality education for more children; improving family planning and reducing deaths in childbirth, strengthening livelihoods and encouraging private investment, helping more people adapt to climate change and prepare for natural disasters, and strengthen key democratic systems and institutions.

Outlook for Bangladesh: Bangladesh has made significant economic progress in the past 10 years. Annual economic growth has averaged 5-6% since 2000 and incomes have doubled in less than 30 years. GDP growth risks being dented in 2012 by double digit inflation, high levels of government borrowing and a growing trade deficit.

The agricultural sector is a major component of the Bangladeshi economy, such that weather conditions can have a significant impact on growth. The sector contributes 20% of GDP and employs around half of the working population. The financial, telecommunications and energy sectors have the potential for high growth, but Bangladesh’s challenging business environment has meant foreign direct investment has remained stagnant at around US$ 1bn.

Remittances play a major role in reducing poverty and increasing economic growth by driving consumer spending. Remittance inflows have more than doubled in the last five years but this growth is expected to slow following the global financial crisis. Developments in the Middle East could affect remittances going forward.

Constraints to growth: According the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report, companies find inadequate infrastructure, inefficient government bureaucracy, corruption and political instability the most problematic factors for doing business.

Shortages of power and gas are impeding industrial growth. Energy infrastructure in Bangladesh is inadequate and current levels of investment in the sector are low. The government is however planning expansion of oil and coal fired power-generation capacity, as well as awarding contracts for gas exploration.

In the longer term, low levels of education also limit Bangladesh’s growth prospects. With adult literacy at only 56% (World Bank 2009 est.), significant improvements are needed if Bangladesh is to reap its demographic dividend.

UK Trade & Investment Country Profile: Bangladesh (http://www.uktradeinvest.gov.uk/ukti/bangladesh)

International Monetary Fund: IMF and Bangladesh (http://www.imf.org/external/country/BGD/index.htm)

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HISTORY

Before the independence of India and Pakistan, the territory formed part of the Indian provinces of Bengal and Assam. Following partition in 1947, East Bengal, with a Muslim majority population, emerged as the eastern wing of Pakistan.

During the period of East and West Pakistan there was a growing sense of Bengali nationalism, stimulated in part by the insensitivity of the central Government in West Pakistan, particularly on language (Urdu was declared the official language although few in East Pakistan spoke it).

In the 1970 General Election, the Awami League (AL), a Bengali nationalist party led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, won a landslide victory in East Pakistan. Since the East had the larger population this gave it an absolute majority in the national parliament. After West Pakistan failed to recognise the AL's majority, Sheikh Mujib launched a secessionist uprising. The Pakistan government responded with vicious military tactics, including the targeted murder of “intellectuals” (including many Hindus) and mass rape. This became known as the Bangladesh Liberation War which began on 26 March 1971 (when Sheikh Mujib called on Bangladesh to become an independent nation). The war ended on 16 December 1971 (known now as Victory Day) shortly after the intervention of the Indian army.

Sheikh Mujib became the first President and then Prime Minister of Bangladesh. His AL government introduced a secular and democratic constitution in 1972. In December 1974, facing growing economic difficulties, the government declared a state of emergency and a month later amended the constitution, replacing parliamentary rule with an executive presidency and providing for the introduction of one party rule.

Sheikh Mujib, who had assumed the role of President, was assassinated in August 1975 in a military coup. The Army, under its new Chief of Staff General Zia ur Rahman, took control. Zia became President in 1977 and set up his own political party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). In May 1981 he too was assassinated by a group of army officers. The Vice-President, Abdus Sattar, was elected the new Head of State a few months later.

The Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen Ershad overthrew President Sattar in a bloodless coup, in 1982. Ershad suspended the constitution and re-imposed martial law. He founded his own political party, the Jana Dal and declared himself President in 1983. The following year he began talks with the two opposition alliances - one led by Sheikh Mujibur’s daughter, Sheikh Hasina, and the other led by Begum Khaleda Zia, Zia ur Rahman's widow. In 1986 Ershad's renamed party, the Jatiya Party, won parliamentary and presidential elections and martial law was lifted. The main opposition political parties forced Ershad to step down in December 1990 when he lost army support after massive protest demonstrations.

With the support of all opposition parties, Chief Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed assumed the post of Acting President, appointed a neutral caretaker government and conducted General Elections in February 1991. Khaleda Zia's BNP won a surprise victory and she took office as Prime Minister. The constitution was amended and a return to Parliamentary rule approved in a referendum in September 1991. Abdur Rahman Biswas was elected to the now largely ceremonial office of President, while Shahabuddin Ahmed returned to his post as Chief Justice (he was re-elected as President in 1996).

All the main opposition parties boycotted the next general elections, in February 1996. Although a new BNP government was sworn in, opposition agitation increased, bringing the economy near to collapse. The Government resigned in March following a constitutional amendment which provided for a caretaker Government. Fresh elections were held on 12 June 1996 under a caretaker Government. These elections were conducted peacefully, with a high turnout of voters. The AL won most seats and formed the Government with Sheikh Hasina becoming the Prime Minister.

In the summer of 1997 the Opposition staged a walk-out from parliament, complaining about harassment of BNP members and about their treatment in parliament where they claimed they were not getting their due in terms of speaking time and seats on select committees. The government and the BNP reached an agreement in March 1998 which led to the return of the BNP to parliament, but they subsequently staged further walk-outs and political strikes or hartals. This pattern continued on and off throughout the next three years. Efforts by the Speaker to get the Opposition to return to parliament failed and public invitations by the Prime Minister to the Leader of the Opposition were rejected.

In the elections held in October 2001, the BNP-led 4 Party Alliance won an overall majority with 219 seats out of 300 (BNP – 196 seats; Jamaat-e-Islami –17 seats; the JPN – 4 seats; and the IOJ – 2 seats). The Awami League won 58 seats. International observers reported that the election was generally free and fair although there were reports of election-related violence, ballot rigging and other election malpractice. However the AL publicly refused to accept the result. From 2001 – 2006 AL attendance in parliament was sporadic, with AL MPs complaining of discrimination by the BNP Speaker.

In the summer of 2006, opposition parties, led by the Awami League (AL), claimed that the BNP-led government was seeking to manipulate Bangladesh’s electoral infrastructure and announced a boycott of the general election scheduled for January 2007.

On 11 January 2007, the President declared a state of emergency and resigned his supplementary role as Chief Adviser. On 12 January 2007, Fakhruddin Ahmed, a former Governor of the Bangladesh Central Bank, was sworn in as the new Chief Adviser of a reconstituted Caretaker Government promising to hold the election in December 2008.

On 29 December 2008, the Awami League (AL)-led Grand Alliance won an election widely regarded as free, fair and neutral. Sheikh Hasina took on the role of Prime Minister for the second time. The AL Government committed to widen access to primary education, address the country’s serious power generation deficiencies, open more community clinics, conclude the trials of Sheikh Mujib’s alleged killers and bring to justice alleged perpetrators of war crimes during the struggle for independence.

In February 2009, a section of the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), a paramilitary force responsible for patrolling the country’s borders staged a mutiny over pay and welfare conditions. A number of BDR soldiers took over the BDR headquarters in Dhaka, killing 74 people, 57 of whom were military officers. Following a series of discussions and negotiations with the government, the mutiny ended on day two. The mutineers surrendered their arms and released the remaining hostages. As a result of the mutiny, the BDR was restructured. The trials of the alleged mutineers are ongoing.

The trial of the 1975 killers of Sheikh Mujib Rahman concluded in January 2010 when the Supreme Court upheld guilty verdicts against twelve defendants. Five of them were executed shortly thereafter. Six remain overseas and a seventh man, also found guilty in absentia is thought to have died abroad. BBC News Country Timeline: Bangladesh (http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/south_asia/newsid_1160000/1160896.stm)

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INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

Bangladesh's Relations with India

The relationship with India is of great importance to Bangladesh for geographical and historical reasons. Relations are dominated by issues of security, water, market access, illegal immigration and transit rights. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Indian Prime Minister Singh have spoken of their determination to improve bilateral relations. In January 2010, during a three day visit to India by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, agreements were signed on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters, transfer of convicted prisoners and combating international terrorism. There were also agreements to allow India some transit rights across Bangladeshi territory and for India to supply up to 250MW of electricity to Bangladesh. Bangladesh's Relations with the International Community.

Indian Prime Minister Singh visited Bangladesh in September 2011.

Bangladesh's Relations with the International Community

Bangladesh is a member of the Commonwealth, the UN, South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC). Bangladesh is a major troop contributor to UN peacekeeping operations and currently has more than 10,000 personnel deployed on UN missions.

Bangladesh relations with the UK

The relations between the UK and Bangladesh are wide-ranging. There have been a number of high profile visits between the countries.

In January 2012 the Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell MP, visited Bangladesh.

In March 2011, the Princess Royal visited Bangladesh and met a range of senior officials, including the President, Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition, as well as NGO’s, charity projects and a laid a wreath at the Savar Martyrs Memorial in advance of the 40th Anniversary of Bangladesh’s independence.

In January 2011, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina came to the UK and met the Prime Minister, David Cameron, and a number of senior Cabinet members.

The Minister of State for International Development, Alan Duncan, visited Bangladesh in July 2010. He met Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Foreign Minister and Leader of the Opposition.

The former Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, John Denham, visited Bangladesh in January 2010.

In November 2009, the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown met Prime Minster Sheikh Hasina at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Trinidad. The then Secretaries of State for International Development and Environment & Climate Change, Douglas Alexander and Ed Miliband, paid a joint visit to Bangladesh in August 2009. The then Foreign Secretary David Miliband, and then Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, visited Bangladesh in 2008.

The then Secretary of State for International Development (DfID) Douglas Alexander visited Bangladesh in December 2007. He saw areas affected by cyclone Sidr, where UK funding is supporting rehabilitation and met the Foreign and Finance Advisers.

Previous Prime Ministerial visits were by Prime Minister Tony Blair in January 2002 and John Major in 1997. The Prince of Wales visited in February 1997.

Chief Adviser Fakhruddin (Head of the Caretaker Government) visited the UK in March 2008. He met the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for International Development. Bangladesh’s Ministers for Trade and Commerce and Environment and Forestry paid separate visits to the UK in March 2010.

The relationship has also been shaped by the approx 500,000 people of Bangladeshi origin in the UK (mostly from the Sylhet region) who help to keep the ties between the two countries strong.

UK Development Assistance

The UK’s long-term goal is for Bangladesh to be a stable, prosperous and moderate democracy, playing a positive role in the global community. The UK’s development programme is a significant part of the UK’s relationship with Bangladesh. During the period 2009-2010 DFID helped:

-- expand primary school facilities – 52,000 teachers recruited and 2,500 classrooms built

-- give 2.1 million people new and improved access to sanitary latrines

-- 200,000 people able to eat more and better food, through food security assistance

-- vaccinate over 1.5 million one year olds against measles

Over the past five years DFID helped:
-- facilitate a return to democracy through free, fair and non-violent elections

-- people to voice their opposition to corruption through new citizens’ committees in over 60% of districts

-- Five million people to access better (more equal, fair and free) police services

-- double access to skilled birth attendants and life saving caesarean sections in targeted districts

-- over 200,000 poor families receive livestock, worth £16.5 million

-- modernise the banking system for ordinary and poor people, making transfer of remittances ($9bn/year) faster, safer, cheaper

-- strengthen government capacity to prepare for and respond to disasters

-- nearly 500,000 people through flood protection, cyclone shelters, food or drought resistant crops

The UK remains fully committed to working with the Government and people of Bangladesh to support their economic, social and political reform ambitions.

Climate Change

Bangladesh is one of the countries with the most at risk from climate change. The prospect of rising sea levels and melting glaciers makes this low-lying country particularly vulnerable. Adaptation to the impact of climate change is already a reality. For example, the effect on people living on chars (sand islands) in Bangladesh’s major waterways.

Climate change is a priority for the UK’s development agenda in Bangladesh, which includes:

-- Helping Bangladesh implement its new Climate Change Strategy, aimed at protecting the lives and livelihoods of some 15 million people who live in the most vulnerable places of Bangladesh.
-- A Chars Livelihoods Programme: as a result of the programme, 60,000+ homesteads have so far been raised above previous flood level, with livestock, seeds and other support provided to almost 50,000 families.

-- Assistance on capacity building for international climate negotiations.

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GEOGRAPHY

Bangladesh has roughly the same land area as England and Wales. It is enclosed by Indian territory except for a short south-eastern frontier with Burma and borders the Bay of Bengal in the south. The alluvial plain of the Ganges-Brahmaputra river system - the largest delta in the world - forms most of the country; water flow is second only to that of the Amazon. To the east of the delta lie the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Flooding is normal and life has adapted to take account of this. But occasionally excessive flooding, as in 1988, 1998, and 2004 causes widespread destruction and loss of life. Bangladesh remains vulnerable to natural disasters and to the impact of climate change. Arable land is extremely fertile. Bangladesh's principal natural resource is natural gas.

Climate

The climate is tropical and governed by the monsoon winds which in summer (June to September) bring very heavy rainfall (up to 200 inches), often accompanied by cyclonic storms. The short winter is mild and relatively dry. In winter the mean temperature is about 16 degrees centigrade (53F) and in summer 27 degrees centigrade (80F).

Trade and Investment

The bilateral commercial relationship between the UK and Bangladesh is deep rooted. We expect the bilateral trade and investment to increase as the Bangladeshi economy modernises and develops.

UK exports to and investment in Bangladesh: Exports
The last several years have seen a steady growth in the level of our bilateral trade. Between 2006 and 2011, the value of our bilateral trade in goods has almost doubled – from £822m to £1.63bn.

Bangladesh investments in the UK are relatively modest with Sonali Bank having a full banking operation and half a dozen other banks having Exchange business. Mono Ceramics, Paragon and Eastern Union have representative offices.

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HUMAN RIGHTS

Bangladesh signed the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in September 2000 and was re-elected to the UN Human Rights Council in 2009. Bangladesh is also a signatory to the other five core human rights instruments.

Extra-judicial killings:
Since 2004, more than 1,300 persons have allegedly been killed by law enforcement agencies, including the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and the police. Nearly 800 of these have reportedly taken place since 2006. Many of these killings are claimed as being in self-defence. Although the government promised to show "zero tolerance" to extra-judicial killings and other human rights abuses during the examination of Bangladesh’s human rights record under the Universal Periodic Review process February 2009, the killings have continued.

Violence against women:
Discrimination against women in Bangladesh is commonplace and domestic violence, acid attacks still take place. With a strong commitment to stop all kinds of domestic violence, the cabinet approved the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill 2010 in July 2010 and it was passed by Parliament in October 2010. Implementation of the act will need to include raising awareness of the new legislation amongst implementing agencies and women themselves. The government has announced a National Women Development Policy to enhance equality for women. However, this has met with fierce resistance from Islamist groups who rallied in protest, particularly on the issue of Islamic inheritance law. Meanwhile some women’s groups have voiced a concern that the policy does not in fact go far enough.

In recent years Bangladesh has taken some positive initiatives to establish women’s human rights and gender equality in some areas. But the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women has yet to be fully implemented. Bangladesh signed this convention in 1984 but has continued to maintain reservations on two articles (Article 2 and 16.1c).

Chittagong Hill Tracts

After an insurgency of almost two decades, the Bangladesh government signed a peace accord with the indigenous inhabitants on 2 December 1997. The peace accord recognises the re-establishment of the rights of the indigenous people over the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) region with the formation of four local councils as controlling and supervisory bodies over land management, a separate ministry for CHT affairs, law and order, civil administration, police (local), development, primary and secondary education, forest and environment, and many more. The accord has also allowed more than 50,000 displaced indigenous people to return to their homes.

Failure to fully implement the peace accord over the last few years has resulted in ongoing tension and sporadic outbreaks of localised violence. Greater progress had been expected from the present government which had initiated a number of steps to implement the peace treaty, including the formation of a national peace treaty implementation committee and the reconstitution of the parliamentary standing committee on CHT Affairs. The Land Commission and land disputes remain the biggest source of tension between communities in the region. Visitors should ensure they check the latest travel advice for the region.

In August 2009, as part of the accord, the government started to withdraw one brigade of troops consisting of three infantry battalions and 35 security camps from CHT areas naming it “the biggest single withdrawal”.

Torture:

Bangladesh ratified the Convention against Torture (CAT) in 1998 and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 2000. However, the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture has not been ratified by Bangladesh. Bangladesh did however ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court on 23 March 2010 as 111th state following more than a decade of campaigning by national and international civil society groups since Bangladesh signalled its willingness to adhere to the terms of the statute by signing on 16 September 1999.

The Bangladesh constitution states that 'no person shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment or treatment.' [Article 35(5)]

Death Penalty

Bangladesh retains the death penalty. In December 2008, Bangladesh voted against a UN General Assembly resolution calling for a worldwide moratorium on executions. In 2011 there were 4 death penalty executions, and Amnesty International reports 9+ executions in 2010 with 32+ sentenced to death. Those executed included five who were found guilty during the trial of the 1975 killers of Sheikh Mujib Rahman.

National Human Rights Commission

The National Human Rights Commission came into being in 2009 but has yet to acquire the resources required to carry out its role fully.

Freedom of religion

Although initially Bangladesh opted for a secular nationalist ideology as embodied in its Constitution, the principle of secularism was subsequently replaced by a commitment to the Islamic way of life through a series of constitutional amendments and government proclamations between 1977 and 1988. The Constitution establishes Islam as the state religion but provides for the right to practice — subject to law, public order, and morality — the religion of one's choice.

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Last Updated: February 2012

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