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Amnesty Says South Asia Human Rights Defenders At Risk

Amnesty International says the human rights situation in two South Asian countries - Sri Lanka and Bangladesh - has deteriorated in recent years. The human rights watchdog says that in Bangladesh people promoting human rights are under attack, while in Sri Lanka an escalated ethnic conflict has resulted in the killings and disappearances of many civilians. Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, where Amnesty has two reports.

Amnesty International says that in Bangladesh hundreds of people working to protect human rights have received death threats, been attacked, charged without cause, arrested or tortured.

Amnesty says the victims are people who criticize authorities or speak about human rights abuses. They include journalists, writers, academics and lawyers.

Amnesty's India Director, Mukul Sharma, says state agencies and other groups target these people.

"We have seen that the government and state police and army, they are primarily responsible for the human rights attacks and violations, but at the same time we have seen that the political parties and their mass organizations are also fighting amongst each other and that is also causing some of the political killings and harassment," said Sharma.

Amnesty says at least eight "human rights defenders" have been killed since 2000 by assailants believed to be linked to criminal gangs or armed factions of political parties.

Bangladesh is being run by an interim administration since October last year. Amnesty says its report does not specifically refer to this administration, but to the governments that have recently ruled the country.

In Sri Lanka, Amnesty says a large number of political killings have occurred since security forces and Tamil Tiger rebels resumed fighting early last year after a four-year lull. It says many people have been killed or tortured in police custody.

Amnesty's Mukul Sharma blames both the government security forces and the rebels for rights abuses against civilians.

"We have seen unlawful killings, recruitment of child soldiers, abductions, disappearances, and many other human rights violations and war crimes are on increase," said Sharma. "We have seen civilians being attacked from both sides. Homes, schools, places of worship have been destroyed."

On Thursday, Human Rights Watch in a statement also criticized the Sri Lanka government for failing to investigate the abductions of children by a breakaway rebel faction believed to be allies of the security forces. The young boys and girls are used as soldiers.

Amnesty is calling for international involvement to monitor the human rights situation in Sri Lanka. The group also wants both Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to establish independent national commissions to investigate rights abuses.