Sunday, March 16, 2008

All’s well that Ends well


ONE OF my known person who is a mid level army officer, was very sad while he was talking with me as according to him and many others including defence personnel and a large number of civilians in Bangladesh, present military backed interim government is trying hard to improve the country’s total image in politics, businesses, administrations and finally to restore a stable and peaceful democratic political system in Bangladesh, but critics both from local and international, are so harsh on the government and different law enforcement agencies.

Although it’s a part of their duty, but he further mentioned that they are living and spending their lives in the different camps of rural areas across the country leaving their families in different places since January 11, 2007 as because like others they also dream to enjoy a peaceful democratic political system in Bangladesh.

After receiving criticism against the role of Fakhruddin’s government especially regarding on human rights issues from different groups, organizations or individuals both from local and international, government expressed its deep concern while the US Department of State in its annual report "Human Rights Practices 2007" on Bangladesh revealed that human rights record worsened in the country as the state of emergency continued to be in effect with elections remaining postponed.

In the country paper on Bangladesh including other 191 countries across the world published by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Washington on Tuesday, March 11, 2008, the report said the Emergency Powers Rules of 2007 (EPR), imposed by the government in January and effective through year's end, suspended many fundamental rights, including freedom of press, freedom of association, and the right to bail. The report criticized harshly giving priorities against serious abuses, including custodial deaths, arbitrary arrest and detention, and harassment of journalists by the security forces although there was a significant drop of extra-judicial killings.

In addition since last September, although the government eased bans on indoor political gatherings in Dhaka but limited the number of people who could attend and required parties to seek permission from the home ministry to hold meetings, but still it is in the hard line to ease bans on politics across the country while according to the election commissioner of Bangladesh Brig Gen (retd.) M Sakhawat Hussain, without any decision on the state of emergency with the hands and feet of political parties tied, holding of polls would not be possible. Talking to the reporters after holding a meeting with a delegation of the newly launched Bangladesh Kalyan Party on Thursday 13, 2008, Sakhawat felt the need for relaxing the state of emergency not only for creating an environment conducive to elections, but also for registration of political parties.

However in an immediate reaction to the report, Bangladesh government disappointed at the report’s lack of balance in presenting the country’s ground realities as the international communities are very much aware of the circumstances, which led to the declaration of the state of emergency early January 2007. According to a foreign ministry spokesman, the report further failed to mention the significant reform measures taken by the caretaker government for consolidating and sustaining democracy.

The army-backed Caretaker Government has scored some credible successes, especially in the area of law and order to address the challenge of extremism and terrorism in Bangladesh. It has eliminated a large number of terrorist kingpins like Bangla Bhai. They have also revived the case on the assassination attempt on Sheikh Hasina in which preliminary evidence shows complicity of BNP leaders.

Strong democracies also need sound institutions and processes. A stable business climate needs firm foundations of accountability. And people need to be able to trust that public life is not manipulated by a few individuals to satisfy selfish greed for money and power. The Caretaker Government pointed to clear achievements: an overhaul of the country's institutions including the Election Commission, Public Service Commission, the separation of the Judiciary that has eluded past governments for over 35 years and a drive to combat corruption. Government further mentioned its effort to improve human rights situation including the progress toward the formation of the Human Rights Commission and efforts to improve workers’ and women rights. The government which is elected in 2008 will have a responsibility to nurture these gains.

Using countrywide data across the country, the report said the Rapid Action Battalion killed 94 persons throughout the year, although the average number of such deaths dropped from 15 per month in 2006 to approximately 8 per month during the year, but it’s still continuing. Odhikar, a Dhaka based human rights organization, said that 87 persons died in prison and 67 died while in the custody of police and other security forces. The report pointed its concern to the declaration a curfew in August 2007 in response to protests on university campuses in several major cities and unwarranted arrests of teachers, students, and employees.

"This is the best time to get things right in Bangladesh and there is an urgent need to strengthen democracy through free, fair and transparent election for receiving continued US support," said Congressman Joseph Crowley, co-chair of US Congressional Bangladesh Caucus, on Thursday, March 13, 2008 at the Capitol Hill in Washington DC. All of them including Congressman Sheila Jackson and Bangladesh Ambassador to the US M Humayun Kabir, who were present at that meeting, mentioned the vastness of change in Bangladesh while Crowley expected that the government would follow the due process of law during the trials of the arrested leaders.

Credible and fair elections will be vital to the success of democratic renaissance in Bangladesh - the first and fundamental pillar of new foundations. “Democracy is not just about elections and installing governments after definite intervals. It is about empowering the people and ensuring their rights to choose their representatives without fear or intimidation and we always remained focused in our main task of holding a free and fair election by the end of 2008,” Chief Adviser Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed addressed to the Asia Society at New York on September 27, 2007.

As democracy is a right to enjoy the fruits of economic growth and development and a continuous process of building and strengthening institutions, Bangladesh must succeed in creating higher, stronger, foundations for democracy that can endure beyond the elections. #

March 15, 2008, New York

Ripan Kumar Biswas is a freelance writer based in New York.