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Saturday, October 11, 2008

BANGLADESH: Military must not dominate civil administration

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

THE GOVERNMENT of Bangladesh has directed its civil administration to work in collaboration with the officers of the "Joint Forces" stationed across the country.

The government made the decision on August 25, after having reshuffled its administration by appointing 35 new Deputy Commissioners (DCs), the apex bureaucratic authorities in the district administrations. The government briefed the media on its policies on the proposed local and general elections, implementation and monitoring mechanisms and emphasized the need for friendly relations with the local people. Cabinet Division Secretary Mr. Ali Imam Mazumdar chairing the meeting on 25 August directed the officers to work together with the SPs (Superintendents of Police) and the commanders of the Join Forces across the country.

The direction to the administrators asserting collaboration with the Joint Forces which comprises of officers of the armed forces and which is dominated by the army, practically renders the civil administration officials subordinate to the army. It also generates multiple suspicions regarding the government motives behind such controversial directives. This adds to the already adopted government policy of placing the armed forces over the civil administration. This is a small picture of the ongoing disaster in the governance in Bangladesh. Here are some facts:

The Ministry of Home Affairs is headed by Major General (Retired) M A Matin. Major General (retired) Ghulam Quader, former director general of National Security Intelligence, has been made adviser to the Ministry of Communications. Brigadier General (Retierd) M A Malek is the Special Assistant to the Chief Adviser for Ministries of Social Welfare and Telecommunications

Founding Director General of the Rapid Action Battalion, allegedly the arbiter of hundreds of extra judicial killings, and former head of the Bangladesh Police Mr. Anwarul Iqbal has grabbed the position of the adviser to the Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development and Cooperatives. Another Major General (retired), ASM Matiur Rahman previously occupying the Ministry of Health was later asked to resign from his position for poor performance.

Immediate past army chief Lt. Gen. (Retired) Hassan Mashud Chowdhury is the chairperson of the Anti Corruption Commission while Colonel Mr. Hanif Iqbal occupies the position of Director General (Administration).

Brigadier General (Retired) Muhammad Sakhawat Hussain is in the constitutional position of Commissioner of the Election Commission. Bangladesh Army has been given official responsibility to prepare the voter list for the whole country. The army deputed its Principal Staff Officer (PSO) of Armed Forces Division Lieutenant General Masud Uddin Chowdhury to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs when he had been serving as the Chief Coordinator of the National Coordination Committee for deciding the corruption cases.

Major General (retd) Manzurul Alam chairs Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission while Colonel Md. Saiful Islam takes the position of the Director General and Lieutenant Colonel Shahidul Alam is the Director of its Spectrum Management Department. Lieutenant Colonel Shahidul Alam is the Project Director of a World Bank funded project while Major Rakibul Hassan is a Deputy Director of its Systems & Services Department.

Captain of Bangladesh Navy Mr. A.K.M Shafiqullah is occupying the position of the Director General of the Department of Shipping while Commodore Mr. A K M Alauddin occupying the position of the Chief Engineer and Ship Supervisor.

Navy Captain Mr. Yeaheya Sayeed is a Director of Chittagong Dry Dock Limited, an enterprise of the Bangladesh Steel & Engineering Corporation and also a Member of the Chittagong Port Authority. Captain Mr. SY Kamal is Member (operations), Captain Mr. Ramjan Ali is Deputy Conservator of the Chittagong Port Authority, and Captain Mr. Zahir Mahmood is Deputy Conservator of the Port of Chalna Authority in Khulna.

Brigadier General Md. Rafiqul Islam is the Director (signals) of the Bangladesh Telecommunications Company Ltd.

Major Gen (retd) Manzur Rashid Chowdhury has been made the newly formed Truth and Accountability Commission's member.

Even the sports sector is not safe from their interference. The current army chief General Moeen U Ahmed grabs the positions of the Chairman of the National Sports Council and the President of Bangladesh Olympic Association. The chief of air force Vice Marshal Ziaur Rahman Khan heads Bangladesh Hockey Federation while the naval chief Admiral Sarwar Jahan Nizam heads the Swimming Federation. Major General Ahsab Uddin, the General Officer Commanding of the 9th Infantry Division, is the President of the National Shooting Federation. The chief of general staff of the army Major General Seena Ibn Jamali is the President of Bangladesh Cricket Board with Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Md. Abdul Latif Khan as Vice President. Lieutenant Commodore A K Sirker is occupying the post of General Secretary of the Basketball Federation.

These are very few out of the numerous positions occupied by the officers of the armed forces in the civil administration and autonomous institutions of Bangladesh. All information on such events is not available as the authorities suppress information to skip criticism.

Moreover, the armed forces have been deployed in all the district headquarters of the 64 districts of Bangladesh since the state of emergency besides the decades' long full-fledged militarization of three districts in the hill tracks of Chittagong region. Initially, the government deployed armed forces in all the upazillas (sub-district units) as soon as the emergency was imposed.

The DCs have been severely humiliate because army Majors being much junior to them have been placed in the districts levels. These Majors hurl abusive and exert illegal influences before the DCs, making the district heads embarrassed and frustrated. "People should no longer have patience and resist the audacity of these uncivilized Majors", commented a DC, who did not wish to be identified.

All the national level policy decisions are made, changed and influenced by the top officials of the armed forces. The "National Coordinating Committee", which oversees the corruption issues staying atop all administrative setups, recommends the Anti Corruption Commission as to who will be charged and who will not be. The top officers of the armed forces occupy the coordinating body.

The Rapid Action Battalion, also drenched with the officers of the armed forces on deputation, is extended to the district and upazilla levels with their own setups besides the regular police force.

The police who are supposed to be responsible for maintaining law and order in the country have excessively been supported by the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and the armed forces during the state of emergency. So, in reality, all the forces arrest people. The common people have access only to the police stations for enquiring on the whereabouts of the arrested and detained persons, and none of the law-enforcing agencies explain to anyone whenever arrests are made. When the armed forces and RAB arrest, detain and torture people the police remain out of the picture and none of the police stations record any case regarding such incidents. Even the lawyers rarely agree to assist the victims by drafting and lodging a complaint with the Magistrate's Court, which is last resort for the vulnerable people to seek redress following a denial by the police.

According to reports, the armed force officers frequently make phone calls to the Magistrates and Judges regarding pending cases to address the issues meeting the interest of the officers. Magistrates also cannot ignore fearing the security of themselves, their families and relatives. However, none of these magistrates agreed to disclose it officially other than "off the record". The condition of the prosecutors is worse than that of the judges and magistrates. The offices of the prosecutors and attorneys are filled up with members of the intelligence agencies and in special cases the officers of the armed forces, who insist and direct them to lead the proceedings as the agencies wish.

Surprisingly enough, under the coverage of emergency provisions, officers of the armed forces remain present in the courtrooms and relevant offices of the courts during, before and after the trials as members of "Task Force". They visit the courts and the relevant offices to monitor, dictate and insist the staffs for the cases they are more interested.

The military remains far away from any mechanism of accountability unlike any other organizations of Bangladesh. Thus, the armed forces enjoy absolute impunity for their unlawful actions supported by the laws made by the government during the state of emergency.

The existing situation evidently shows the silent but gradual, and eventually complete, militarization in Bangladesh. The joint forces deployed across the country frequently intervene into many local and private institutions including the activities of the media, NGO, and human right activisms though they are not eligible and competent to do so. These unlawful attempts have already demoralized the concerned professionals. As a consequence of regular interventions by the armed forces into their work, they cannot contribute to the society and to their respective fields by accomplishing their official responsibilities.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is highly concerned about the all out militarization in Bangladesh. The military cannot be capable or substitute of the civil administration in any place of the world because of their training with arbitrariness. The armed forces are accustomed to command rather than being accountable to any civil authority. The ongoing huge militarization has been destroying the fabrics of democracy and rule of law in the country. AHRC urges the civil society and human rights groups in the country and the international community to insist the authorities of Bangladesh to immediately demilitarize all institutions the armed forces have been occupying illegibly. #

First published on Posted on September 01, 2008

The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984

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