Saturday, May 24, 2008

High Court verdict to protect human rights

RIPAN KUMAN BISWAS

THIS IS a victory of human rights protection and people around the world are convinced heart and mind of Bangladeshi people, are very more wealth than those ones of most societies.

Although it takes long time and Pakistan government has made no move to take them in, but Bangladesh's High Court (HC) has ruled that children of Urdu-speaking refugees, awaiting repatriation to Pakistan, have the right to Bangladeshi citizenship. Through the verdict by a two-member panel of Justice M.A. Rashid and Justice M. Ashfaqul on Sunday, May 18, 2008, some 300,000 refugees now languish in 70 crammed camps across Bangladesh, a country of 150 million people, will have the right to live like general Bangladeshis.

After the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971, the majority of the Urdu-speakers in the country applied for repatriation to Pakistan through the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), but Pakistan stopped taking them, saying the nation lacks funds. These people became forced migrants in Bangladesh and first group of stateless, with no access to citizenship rights. Realizing the government of Pakistan was not going to repatriate them, Pakistanis in Bangladesh continued to repatriate themselves and their families by whatever means were available to them.

In addition, in March 1978, Government of Pakistan issued a presidential ordinance stripping all Pakistanis left in Bangladesh after December 1971 of their nationality, unilaterally, retroactively, arbitrarily, and en masse. This ordinance was illegal and the sole purpose of the ordinance was to deprive a group of citizens, the common feature of the group being their language, of their basic right as citizens of Pakistan. There are around one hundred thousand Pakistanis who returned without the blessing of the Government of Pakistan and now living in Pakistan, are not recognized as citizens and are denied all amenities of citizenship. This is the other group of stateless.

Since 1971, people from different parts of the society, organizations of Urdu-speaking people, and numerous non-governmental organizations that have worked with the camp residents for so many years, have been arguing the authority of Bangladesh to give all the camp dwelling Urdu-speaking people Bangladeshi citizenship. But the demand moved strongly while the question was noted to facilitate the exercise of effective citizenship rights by enrolling them as voters and include them in the national Identity Card scheme immediately.

Though the HC verdict was awarded in favor of them who were minors in 1971 or born after the independence of Bangladesh, but according to the inter-ministerial meeting held on September 5, 2007, the older refugees mostly over 40 years old may also get the chance to be citizens if they wish. The refugees are the remnants of about 500,000 Urdu-speaking Muslims who migrated to then-East Pakistan from India during the breakup of the Indian subcontinent along religious lines at independence from British colonial rule in 1947.

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood,” article 1 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserts. During the liberation war, Pakistani army threw to the winds all the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which Pakistan itself is a signatory. The Declaration very solemnly declares the recognition of the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world.

The 90% camps in Saidpur, a sub-district under Nilphamari district in the northern part of Bangladesh, and the rests in Capital and other parts of the urban areas, are all under conditions of severe overcrowding, food insecurity, lack of access to safe drinking water, poor sanitation, and lacking basic facilities of medical services. Due to their camp address and unidentified status, camp-residents often face discrimination in the job market while female face numerous problems including demands for dowry that led to early marriage, lack of privacy, sexual abuse, and abandonment. They are suffering a worse fate in Bangladesh.

Last February, the Nepal government has issued exit permits to Bhutanese refugees who have opted for third country resettlement. The United States has offered to resettle at least 60,000 Bhutanese refugees and Canada has indicated it will accept up to 5,000 while Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Norway have also shown their willingness to take in refugees. Over 100,000 Bhutanese have been living in seven camps in eastern Nepal after allegedly being driven out by the Druk government in the 1980s when Bhutan began an assimilation drive, overriding the culture, language and dress of ethnic communities, mostly of Nepali origin. The first batch of refugees was set to fly to the United States in March while larger numbers will be leaving Nepal starting in July.

The verdict of the HC of Bangladesh is bringing international attention as the refugees now have a homeland they can call “country” and it resolves the identity crisis of them. It’s shame that Pakistan couldn't bring them all to the homeland. In the line of its great effort towards humanity, world community and people of Bangladesh want more reasonable and immediate steps to solve crisis in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) and Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.

Although the mobile network has been launched recently in CHT and according to the Chief Adviser to the present interim government of Bangladesh Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed, in conformity with the Accord, some government steps have already been taken and the process is on, but the overall situation in the CHT remained unchanged under the different governments. The CHT Accord of 1997 was signed in full accordance with the country's sovereignty and integrity and for upholding the political, social, cultural, educational and economic rights of the peoples living in the hilly region.

On the other hand, the Rohingya refugee problem in Bangladesh is a decades-long pending issue. There are over 400,000 Rohingyas who are living in Bangladesh as undocumented refugees without any status and there are about 300,000 Rohingyas who are living in different countries of the world with Bangladeshi passport. Over 250,000 Rohingya Muslims from western Burma were forced into Bangladesh by the Burmese military in 1992 in a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Arakan State. Since then thousands of people have been detained in crowded refugee camps in Bangladesh and tens of thousands have been repatriated to Burma to face further repression. On humanitarian ground, it needs immediate bi-lateral solution.

People appreciate the HC verdict, which will help the Urdu-speaking people to join with the mainstream society and expect more reasonable solution on other issues as no one as human being be truly happy until everyone can get a fair chance to participate in society. #

First published on May 22, 2008, New York

Ripan Kumar Biswas is a freelance writer based in New York. He could be reached at Ripan.Biswas@yahoo.com