Friday, October 24, 2008

Students Must Carry Books and Pen, NOT Stick or Gun?

NIRMAL L. GOMES

CLASHING BETWEEN students in the college and university campus is not a new incident in Bangladesh. Historically since Bangladesh independence, student groups mostly have political party affiliation to maintain their power. During the last 36 years it is uncountable clashes occurred between students groups. Many of them political conflicts between students and some of them are non-political issues that later it turned into a political issue. Many of us are the eye witness of blood shading of student’s conflicts and damages of millions of dollars government and non-government property. In the past numerous of innocent citizens and students killed on the spot, and uncountable people injured for students clash. When clashes started, general public suffered lots for hours and hours due to traffic jams; college/university shut down and administrative work closed for limitless days. If the question asks to the genuine students and teachers who benefits from this clashes? Did the conflict bring a constructive solution? Or did any riot bring the life of the dead person when students and teachers protested violently for killing student by bus/truck accident? Never! It looks like “the eye for eye and the world makes blind” as MK Gandhi said. It means that whoever participates in this kind of inhuman violent activities they do not realize their status and they do not realize that they are the students in the higher educational level. As the college/university students their behaviour and attitudes must be more matured and self-controlled.

As we find that clash between students groups were very common fights when political party ruled the country. But, when clashes between students occurred during the emergency law or care taker government, then students do not know about nation’s law too. Do the students care anybody (law and authority) in the nation? It shocked me and felt very uncomfortable to see when students carry book and pen one hand, and the other hand they carry stick fighting against the other student groups (Ittefaq, Oct. 21, 2008). Recent clashes between the students of Dhaka College and Dhaka City College, campus violence at Jagannath University and Dhaka Polytechnic Institute over separate matters on Oct. 20, left at least 60 people injured and more then 20 cars and many other property damaged. From various news reports and eye witnesses said that the conflicts begun with very simple issue such as, girl students of the City College complained of eve teasing by some Dhaka College and Ideal College students while the girls were taking tea at a stall in front of their college, the other hand JU clashed with admission form distribution. Don’t we think that these kinds of conflicts can be solved without any violent activity? Of course, it is doable to resolve the problem without hurting or harming anyone and damage any property. In the both accidents students should complain the police/appropriate authority to solve the problems. If not, they must go to higher authority which could take long time to resolve the problem, but it is possible to solve the problems non-violently. It seems that respect, honesty, tolerance, love, and prudence, self-discipline, compassion, care, and courage such social values are disappearing from the schools and family teachings. Students are not getting authentic education in the early age (primary and high schools) what education means? What is most worth knowing? What knowledge, skills, and moral principles students ought to accomplish during their time at school? What knowledge and abilities do they need to lead good lives? Seeing student’s daily behaviour and activities in the various incidents, it seems that students are getting education only for academic learning, but holistic education is very insufficient on physical, spiritual, and mental development. Education must be emphasized and enhanced to make a whole person.

Without implementing character/moral education in the primary schools towards college/university levels there is no alternative way to teach our students to be responsible and good citizens. The school is the best social institution for children to teach character education. School is a learning lab where children reproduce activities in such way that the children will gradually learn the meaning of the subjects and be able to interact with others with their own ideas and thoughts. The school is a community life, not an individual life. It is not place to act violently and inappropriately. It is a place to correct of any inappropriate behaviours and attitudes by the discipline curricula. The school is the heart of social change and individual development. It is not too late but it is the right time to reframe our nation’s education curriculum that integrates character/moral education to produce responsible citizens. Character education involves moral knowing, moral feeling, and moral action. It means, good character consists of knowing the good, desiring the good, and doing the good—habits of the mind, heart, and action. Students must carry books and pen, not stick or gun. #

Washington DC, USA, October 21, 2008

Nirmal L. Gomes (http://www.blogger.com/Nirmalgomes@aol.com.com or http://www.blogger.com/Nirmalgomes@aol.com) is a freelance journalist, international scholar winner, & graduate student in education, specialty with Admin., Curri, Found, & Policy studies, CUA, Washington, DC

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Religious extremists shouldn’t be encouraged

RIPAN KUMAR BISWAS

THIS IS absolutely shocking news. Government pulled down the sculptures in the face of pressure from a group of obscurantist Islamists.

There was an international outcry, when the Taliban destroyed two Buddhist statues including others in Afghanistan in the spring of 2001.The two statues in Bamiyan, 175 and 120 feet tall, were hewn from the side of a mountain. The largest, carved in the third century AD, was thought to be the world's tallest standing Buddha. But the then Islamist Taliban government decreed that the statues, which had survived for over 1,500 years, were idolatrous and un-Islamic.

After seven years, everyone who witnessed and came across the news, was surprised and incensed when the military-controlled interim government of Bangladesh was forced to pull down a monument of bauls (folk singers) on the roundabout at Zia International Airport in Dhaka.

As part of the city beautification programme and to uphold the rich Bangladeshi heritage, the Dhaka City Corporation decided to erect a monument in front of the airport so that each and every foreigner along with other local countrymen could know the rich baul tradition of Bangladesh. According to the sculpture Mrinal Haque, the sculptures of five bauls holding ektaras were about to finish as eighty percent of the work had been completed, but the Muslim bigots were able to force the authorities and took part the demolition job on Wednesday, October 15, 2008.

Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritages are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration. Cultural heritage is based on aspects of our past that we want to keep, appreciate and pass on to future generations. These elements reflect our history, and can evoke special meaning for us as individuals or as members of a community.

The culture of Bangladesh has a unique history, dating back more than 2500 years ago. It has evolved over the centuries, and encompasses the cultural diversity of several social groups of Bangladesh. There is an enormous amount of influence of folklore in the old and modern Bengali literature. Baul songs, the mystic folk songs of Bangladesh can be compared with any other of the world rich in folklore. Bauls constitute both a syncretic religious sect and a musical tradition used as a vehicle to express Baul thought. Bauls are a very heterogeneous group, with many different streams to the sect, but their membership mainly consists of Vaishnavite Hindus and Sufi Muslims. Baul songs always propagate humanism and tolerance.

During Pakistan period, cultural struggle for national identity of Bangladeshi, starting from language movement of 1952, has always been integral part of national struggle. As a result, struggle of Bangladeshi people from language movement of 1952 to armed resistance in 1971, lead to emergence of Bangladesh as secular democratic nation in the world.

The religious extremism has been growing in Bangladesh for decades now. Although these forces were put in total disarray after their defeat in 1971, they have managed to regroup due to subsequent political patronage. They were further helped in their revival by the confrontationist politics of Bangladesh. The recent demolition of those sculptures is not only an example of destroying the secular fabric of Bangladesh’s tolerant heritage but also a slap on humanity and one of its superheroes. And the worst part of it is that the extremists were able to force the government to fulfill their fundamental ideologies. Like its predecessors, this incident raised the question about the present government's commitment to protecting Bangladeshi culture, upholding non-communal spirit and democratic values.

Protesters from other side including freedom fighters, educationists, cultural activists, politicians and general people, who believe there is a conspiracy against the country's Liberation War, culture and its secularist character, are raising voice to secure the country’s secularism, but the extremists seem more strong as no one with authority is ready to stop patronizing obscurantism and bigotry and to realize the idiocy of this kind of action. "We will not accept anything but a hajj minar at that place and its design must be finalized upon our consent within October 23," said Mufti Nur Hossain, Committee Chairman of Bimanbandar Golchattar Murti Protirodh Committee after succeeding in demolition. The bigots further demanded the immediate release of Mahbub Jamil, special assistant to the chief adviser, for taking initiative to erect the sculptures.

These obscurantist were succeeded to send Arifur Rahman to behind bars, cartoonist of daily Prothom Alo for drawing a cartoon which according to them was against the spirit of Islam whereas a similar piece of cartoon was published in one of their mouthpiece magazine (Kishore Kantha by Chattra Shibir, November 1998 issue), but none of Islamists groups did utter a single word against that cartoon. Matiur Rahman, editor of Prothom Alo and recipient of the 2005 Ramon Magsaysay Award for journalism, had to offered unqualified public apology more than once and appealed to the agitating Islamists for compassion.

Even a similar group of extremists recently forced the government to review and amend the sections of a drafted women development policy 2008, which ensure equal rights for women under the law. On October 17, 2008, a new fresh threat came when chairman of a faction of Islami Oikya Jote Fazlul Haq Amini declared that all statues in different places of the country would be pulled down if Islamists would come to power. He pronounced Shikha Onirban, the eternal flame in Dhaka Cantonment in memory of the military personnel martyred in the liberation war, is an anti-Islamic symbol. Every time they were gathered in such an organized way, particularly under emergency where all the democratic forces are barred to conduct overt political activities, to advance their common obscurantist politics, which eventually aims at setting up of theocratic state in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh is a moderate Muslim democratic country, but this type of activities may tarnish the secular image of Bangladesh as fundamentalism is the belief in absolute religious authority and the demand that this religious authority be legally enforced. Fundamentalism is the product of a clash between religious belief and the ‘modernity’ of the society. The clash is based on fear – fear that the secularized nature of society will lead to the destruction of their religion and seduce them and their loved ones to the path leading to Hell . . . and leave them bereft of meaning and hope in this life. Fundamentalism is incompatible with democracy. Democracy is based on the belief that people with radically different beliefs and cultures can live together in peace if they respect each other’s right to disagree. As Bangladesh is heading towards democratic transition this December, its cultural heritages, social values and secularism must be maintained.

We believe that the present government is very much concerned about these extremists’ activities and determine to keep peace and harmony in the society in any way, but as long as the concern of spirit of the birth of Bangladesh, any such extremists shouldn’t be encouraged or tolerated so that they can able to deter the democratic norms of Bangladesh. #

First published on October 18, 2008, New York

Ripan Kumar Biswas (Ripan.Biswas@yahoo.com) is a freelance writer based in New York

Jamaat's politics of hatemongering, discrimination and violence

A.B. M. NASIR

Those who led the bleeding of innocent civilians, raping of women must be tried: we must compel the government to bring the collaborators to justice. The future of liberty, democracy, peace and stability in Bangladesh largely depends on the trial of the perpetrators of the genocide in 1971. We must resist any attempt by the government and/or any interest group to legitimise Jamaat's politics of hatred, violence, and discrimination in our democratic process
WHEN KARL Rueger, an ultranationalist renowned for his hatred against the ethnic and religious minority and abhorrence for individual liberty, won the mayoral election of Vienna, Austria in 1895, it shook the foundation of emerging liberty in Europe (Fareed Zakaria, 2003, The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad, p59-60). The emperor Franc Joseph I of Habsburg, fearing that Rueger's induction would jeopardise the future of liberty, refused to recognise him as the elected mayor. Despite his indignation, the emperor eventually had to submit to the choice of majority and recognise Rueger as the mayor. Much later the emperor's fear was vindicated. The emperor had rightly feared that Rueger's intention, as ingrained in his ideology, was not to promote the virtues of democracy and liberty but to exploit the democratic process to promote his ultra-nationalism. Rueger's induction later led to the ascent of the Fascists and the Nazis, respectively, to the Italian and German political powers as organised minority albeit through democratic election.

The Fascists (1922-1943) and the Nazis' (1933-1945) ascent to the political powers can be attributed, inter alia, to three important factors: (i) the failure of the political establishments in Italy and Germany to live up to the expectation of the people; (ii) the rise of ultra-nationalism; and (iii) the activism of the extremely organised propaganda machines and dedicated foot soldiers deployed by both the Fascists and the Nazis to undermine the credibility of the politicians and dismantle the political establishments.

Once ascended to power, both the Fascists and the Nazis continued their onslaught on individual liberty and democratic institutions. They unleashed the infamous Black Shirts and Gestapo to suppress the voices of freedom. About 20 years of Fascist rule in Italy and 12 years of Nazi rule in Germany ended up with the greatest human disaster in history, the World War II, which annihilated 50 million people across the world including the massacre of six million Jews by the Nazis.

The turn of the event in the history now proves that Karl Rueger, who abhorred individual liberty, democratic values, religious harmony and diversity, should never have been allowed to participate in the democratic process in the first place.

In Bangladesh, Jamaat-e-Islami is the reincarnation of the Fascists of Italy and the Nazis of Germany. Its antipathy like that of Karl Rueger toward democracy and liberty, its penchant for organised violence similar to those of Black Shirts and Gestapo, and its discriminatory principles against religious minority like that of Nazis are causes for serious concern. The reasons that should have prohibited Karl Rueger from participating in the democratic process equally apply to Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh. At least four compelling reasons would justify why Jamaat must be rejected from participating in the democratic process. These reasons are as follows.

First, Jamaat-e-Islami doesn't believe in democracy or any form of godless materialism. The excerpt 'Muslims who form the overwhelming majority will not tolerate secularism, socialism, capitalism or godless materialism' (Abbas Ali Khan, Jamaat-e-Islami's views on defence of Bangladesh, p4) bears testimony to this effect. A political party or any organization which doesn't believe in democracy must be cast out from the democratic process.

Second, Jamaat's view on political participation is discriminatory. Once ascended to political power, Jamaat will not hesitate to restrict or even deny the rights of religious minorities and women, thereby degrading their status to second-class citizens. This fear is rightly justified when one reads the following passage extracted from the article 'An Introduction to the Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh'. The passage reads: 'Any sane and adult person can become a Member of the Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh if he or she accepts the basic creed of the Jamaat-e-Islami as his or her own creed, accepts the aims and objects of the Jamaat-e-Islami as his or her own aims and objects, pledges to fulfil the demands of the constitution of the Jamaat-e-Islami, performs the obligatory duties ordained by Islam' (An Introduction to Jamaat-e-Islami; http://dailyalochona.blogspot.com/2008/10/mukto-mona-why-jamaat-e-islami-shouldnt.html, p2). Jamaat's creed being the belief in Islam, for any non-Muslim aspiring to hold political office under Jamaat's hegemony must submit to the creed of Jamaat-e-Islami. Such membership criterion is discriminatory, exclusive and unconstitutional. Any form of forced exclusion is anti-democratic. And, by requiring individuals to submit to the belief of any particular religion to be eligible to participate in the political process is against the country's constitution. Therefore, Jamaat is working against the constitution and must not be allowed to participate in the political process.

Third, Jamaat's ultra-nationalistic view is anti-democratic and is a threat to the regional peace and stability. Jamaat's ultra-nationalistic view, similar to those of Karl Rueger, Mussolini and Hitler, is reflected in the statement 'the psychology of the defence forces in Bangladesh must be anti-Indian' (Abbas Ali Khan, Jamaat-e-Islami's views on defence of Bangladesh, p4). Such jingoistic attitude is a serious threat to the regional peace and stability of South Asia.

Fourth, in 1971, Jamaat not only opposed to the creation of Bangladesh, but it collaborated with the Pakistani army in perpetrating one of the worst genocides in the world history. Jamaat's crime against humanity led to the death of three million civilians and rape of more than 200,000 women and destruction of billions of dollars worth of properties. It's leadership including Golam Azam, Motiur Rahman Nizami, Ali Ahsan Mujahidi, Kamaruzzam, Delawar Hossain Saidi have never been tried in the court of law for committing such a heinous crime. Nor have they ever apologised for their opposition to the creation of Bangladesh. In contrast, they are thriving and constantly resorting to shenanigans to rub their dirty and bloody hands off their complicity in the crime against humanity and treacherous acts against the creation of Bangladesh. On October 28, 2006, the way few hundred armed Jamaat cadres stood up against thousands of angry opposition activists can be reminiscent of the way a few members of the black shirts used to dismantle political rallies during the Fascist rule in Italy. The thousands of rounds of bullets that came out of the guns of Jamaat cadres on that day indicates how ferocious Jamaat's foot soldiers can get, even today, to protect their fervent belief from being strolled or discredited.

All these indicate that hatemongering, discrimination, and violence have always been the principle strategies of Jamaat's politics to rise to political office. A political party whose strategy and politics is based on such principles is anti-democratic and must be rejected.

If we are to learn any lessons from the consequences of the Fascist and Nazi rules, then, to protect democracy and liberty, we must stop the recurrence of the same in Bangladesh. We must constantly remind citizens of the country that Bangladesh is born out of the sacrifice of millions. Those who led the bleeding of innocent civilians, raping of women must be tried: we must compel the government to bring the collaborators to justice. The future of liberty, democracy, peace and stability in Bangladesh largely depends on the trial of the perpetrators of the genocide in 1971. We must resist any attempt by the government and/or any interest group to legitimise Jamaat's politics of hatred, violence, and discrimination in our democratic process. If we fail to resist the Jamaatification of the institutions of the country, Bangladesh will fall into the grip of the forces of darkness of middle age. #

ABM Nasir (nasnc@yahoo.com) teaches economics at North Carolina Central University, Durham, North Carolina, USA

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Looking for good politicians with good image

RIPAN KUMAR BISWAS

IT SEEMS the time has come for political image-makers to consider ways to recast their own public image.

A good image is very important for a political candidate to get elected. We usually make judgments about a person according to the way that he or she dresses, behaves, and expresses his or her opinions. But to make a good image in politics, a person must work hard, listen to what people need and do that not just promoting own interests, be inclusive, accept good ideas whether they are right wing or left wing. One that has the fortitude to tackle the hard situations with fervence and integrity, despite the whinging antics of any opposition when it is obvious it is in the best interests of the people they represent.

Although Bangladesh started its political journey with a parliamentary system right after independence, but very few came out as successful politicians with good image. Part I of the constitution of Bangladesh asserts that all power belongs to the people and the constitution, being the supreme law of the country, which supersedes any other laws and regulations. Instead it seems that all the people of Bangladesh belong to the power of politicians. Experiment with the people of Bangladesh time to time was a matter of exchanging power between the political parties. They were busy to grab power and make money whether they were in power or not. They always tried to control the desire or need of Bangladeshis. They hardly had time to give any attention to reform anything for public interest.

No doubt, Bangladesh is now in critical political juncture, but people still have faith and hope and glad to know that some major political parties are looking for candidates who have good image and clean records in their political career for the next general election which is scheduled to be held on December 18, 2008. According to the news, BNP (Bangladesh Nationalist Party) is going to launch a countrywide survey to pick out prospective candidates with clean image. The party has appointed 150 professional researchers to do the job who will look for candidates irrespective of if they are reformists or non-reformists and the ones who are popular among the voters and have unblemished character. The survey personnel will report to a high profile team appointed by the chairperson.

Awami League (AL) president Sheikh Hasina, who is now in abroad for treatment after being released by an executive order, emphasized the same necessity if someone would have political ambition. “Without paying attention to the best interests of the people, nobody can achieve state power in a democratic system,” she said recently in Brussels, Belgium while she was addressing party’s Belgium and European chapters. In a recent interview with a Dhaka based English daily, her party member, Begum Motia Chowdhury, the former minister (1996-2001) and presidium member of AL, said that their party will obviously focus on good politicians in the next general elections who respect people's power and their judgment. Having lesson from 1/11, no one should encourage those quarters who always use politics for their own purposes, she added.

Promoting democracy, ensuring development, and denying space to terrorism are the key challenges Bangladesh faces right now. Thanks to the then lawmakers, a parliamentary system of government was proposed in the Twelfth Amendment Act in August and this was ratified by a constitutional referendum on September 15, 1991. The belief that parliament is the arena of the people or that the politicians are representatives of those people, is sadly waning rapidly. Rather, they are seen as only self-seeking self-interested individuals who use the political role as a stepping stone to fame and future opportunities of wealth. Most people feel they are duped into believing they have a say in how their country runs by the sham that is voting, especially the compulsory preferential type. Though parliamentary elections were hotly contested and placed, the parliament never functioned as an effective accountability mechanism. A parliament usually lasts long with genuine arguments. Politicians tried to demonize their political opponents. Very few posed fair-minded approach to politics.

It's crucially important for Bangladesh to find good candidates as many of the leaders of different political parties have already been convicted, accused or on the run. Nowadays, it is more important than ever. Corruption is endemic in Bangladesh, and greed seems to be limitless. Bangladesh needs politicians who fit the mood not only of their own populace, but that of the world and who tackles well the fiscal policies of the country and encourages growth and confidence in the community and the standing in the eyes of the world. Many Politicians in Bangladesh have forgotten that they are the servants and voice of the people. This may be idealistic but a future of true representation would see a more even-handed approach to services and utilities throughout the country.

Images, as literal or metaphorical idols, have consistently been accused of having enormous power over human minds, as in Plato’s parable of the cave. Contemporary politics are often characterized as ‘image politics,’ in which style matters more than substance and personalities more than policies.

A politician with good image has the ability to compromise. Because a politician deals with people with different opinions, the ability to develop cordial and compromising proposals is a huge advantage. In other words, a politician serves the people using the best ideas and plans from all sources, regardless of political views. He/She approaches for common ground in every situation. Because the common good politics is the politics of empowerment; it is the politics that espouses cooperation not competition, the hand up and not just the hand out. Idea of the common good offers a clear, optimistic and above all progressive vision for the future. A good politician is one who actually supports the people they represent. He/She lies when it will benefit the people. A good politician will work to accomplish everything they promised they would, and has a very good explanation when they fail, and not a lie.

Politics is an expression of general people. According to the Bangladesh Economic Review 2008, Ministry of Finance, the present literacy rate of Bangladesh is 63%. Very few of them know how to select the right person for the state. From the beginning of political journey in Bangladesh, some politicians are polluting the politics in Bangladesh in different ways. Religion exerts a powerful influence on politics. Religion and freedom of expression, religion and human rights, religion and women's rights, religion and democracy, or religion and freedom are always used very badly in Bangladesh. These politicians used religion for their own political gains, for their own interests.

The use of muscle power is also not new in elections. Muscle power is crucial in determining the outcome of voting. Muscle power can drive away the campaign workers from the field. There are stories where active workers were threatened out of their constituencies and could return home only after the election. In politics, the power of money has assumed an unprecedented level of importance. First and foremost, money is required to build and maintain the muscle power. Vigilantism against women accused of moral transgressions occurred in rural areas, often under a fatwa, and included punishments such as whipping. Politicians hardly care about this fact in Bangladesh.

As far as reform is concerned, proper means--what we called the good beginnings--are as necessary as worthy ends. We may not bear to be told to wait for good results, but we pine for good beginnings. And the political leaders have to bring a change in their mindsets and actions too. #

First published on October 16, 2008, New York

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

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

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Bangladesh: Stop Denying Killings and Torture

Address Rights Abuses and Hold Security Forces to Account

THE BANGLADESH interim government should use its last months in office to seriously address persistent rights abuses rather than deny that they are happening, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to the government (http://hrw.org/english/docs/2008/10/06/bangla19917.htm). Human Rights Watch remains deeply concerned about continuing reports of torture and extrajudicial killings by state security forces and the government’s failure to hold those responsible to account.

On August 8, 2008, the Bangladesh government sent Human Rights Watch a three-page response (http://hrw.org/pub/2008/asia/Response_from_Bangladesh_gov0808.pdf) by the Ministry of Home Affairs to Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2008 (http://hrw.org/englishwr2k8/docs/2008/01/31/bangla17602.htm). The ministry denied all allegations that torture has been carried out by the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), the country’s most important military intelligence agency, and claimed that the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), its elite law enforcement agency, has not committed extrajudicial executions but only killed armed criminals in self-defense and to protect government property.

“The Bangladesh government is well aware that the security forces have killed and tortured people in custody,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “It is a tragedy for Bangladesh that the government is burying its head in the sand rather than taking action to protect its citizens.”

Human Rights Watch said it is also critically important for the political parties to begin to think about how to address these issues, with Parliamentary elections scheduled for December 18, 2008.

Since the February 2008 release of a Human Rights Watch report describing the arbitrary detention and torture of a journalist and human rights worker, Tasneem Khalil, by the DGFI in May 2007 (http://hrw.org/reports/2008/bangladesh0208/), Human Rights Watch has collected detailed and consistent independent accounts from witnesses of the torture of businesspeople, politicians, and others at the DGFI offices in the military cantonment in Dhaka, the capital.

RAB’s involvement in extrajudicial executions, since the agency was established in 2004, has been well documented by Human Rights Watch (http://www.hrw.org/reports/2006/bangladesh1206/), other human rights groups, and journalists. The Ministry of Home Affairs’ claim that all of the 93 killings by RAB during 2007 that the ministry acknowledges were carried out in self-defense or to protect government property is contradicted by the accounts of witnesses, evidence of torture on the victims’ bodies, and the fact that many victims were killed after being taken into RAB custody.

In January 2008, the Home Affairs Adviser, Major General (ret.) MA Matin, acknowledged the problem of deaths in custody and instructed the security forces to ensure that such incidents would stop. While reported cases of RAB killings initially decreased, the numbers have recently increased, and the government has not acted to hold any members of RAB or any other security force criminally responsible.

“The government’s offhand rejection of documented reports of abuse is not only a slap in the face to those whose lives have been shattered by the actions of the security forces, but also shows that its talk about restoring the rule of law is little more than empty rhetoric,” Adams said.

In its response to Human Rights Watch, the Ministry of Home Affairs also stated that, “the government and its law enforcing agencies and security forces are always respectful to the Court’s verdicts and orders.…” Human Rights Watch’s research has found, to the contrary, that in many instances when the courts ordered that an inmate be released on bail, the release was delayed because prison authorities had not been granted the “required” DGFI permission.

Human Rights Watch said that there are also numerous due-process violations reported from the special anti-corruption courts, and several lawyers representing high-profile prisoners have been harassed by DGFI. Human Rights Watch has also interviewed businesspeople who say that members of the armed forces extorted substantial sums of money from them, threatening them with arrest or imprisonment.

“The government and DGFI have engaged in rampant interference in judicial processes,” Adams said. “Even in anti-corruption cases, extortion has been common and violations of due process appear to have been the norm.”

Regarding the media, the Ministry of Home Affairs said that they are “free and working without hindrance,” but Human Rights Watch said that assessment is not shared by many in the media. On several occasions, newspaper editors and senior journalists have publicly expressed concern about the interference of the security forces in their work. Journalists have also spoken about a climate of fear and self-censorship, particularly if they consider taking on the powerful military and its agencies.

“Bangladesh needs a government that acknowledges that serious human rights problems exist, and is ready to act to address them,” Adams said. “As elections loom, it is important for the major political parties, which had poor human rights records when in office, to show that they are prepared to take on this challenge by developing and presenting their own human rights action plans.” #

To read the letter from Human Rights Watch the to Bangladesh government, please visit:
http://hrw.org/english/docs/2008/10/06/bangla19917.htm

For more of Human Rights Watch’s work on Bangladesh, please visit:
http://www.hrw.org/doc?t=asia&c=bangla