Friday, September 25, 2009

Bangladesh's chain of corruption

RATER ZONAKI

BANGLADESH'S LAW-ENFORCEMENT agencies claim that they have a strong chain of command to maintain law and order in the country. Likewise policymakers and politicians, who are close to the center of power, claim that they are dedicated to the great cause of upholding the rule of law in the country.

However, the opposition – regardless who they are – always criticize the rulers for destroying the concept of the rule of law. And "chain of command" in the law-enforcement agencies exists only in the imaginations of its officers, along with the illusion of rule of law.

A girl we will call Chobi – not her real name – was raped by a man named Sohel in Chhetra village in Kishorganj district on June 13. The rape victim reportedly went to the Nikli police station to register a complaint against the rapist.

The police refused to record the case, as the alleged accused was the son of an influential person in the locality, and had already bribed the police before the victim approached them.

Chobi had to go to the Special Tribunal on Women and Children Repression Prevention of Kishorganj district in order to register her case. The tribunal judge ordered the same police station to record the complaint as a first information report. Then the complaint was recorded with the police.

Police Sub-Inspector Shashank Kumar Sarkar was assigned to investigate the case. A medical report from public hospital doctors who had examined her asserted that Chobi had been raped – a strong starting point for the prosecution.

Chobi’s family was hopeful that the legal process would lead to justice – but they were about to experience a different reality.

The investigating officer demanded 30,000 takas (US$436) as a bribe in order to submit a rape charge against the accused – despite the fact that all evidence, including witness statements and the medical examination report, supported the complaint of rape.

Chobi's poor family, which had already spent a sum beyond their capacity to bring the case this far, was unable to pay the demanded bribe. The family managed to pay 6,000 takas (US$87) and give fish worth 1,000 takas to Shashank. This means that the investigating officer received bribes in cash and in kind for investigating a rape case.

The police officer insisted that the family pay the remainder of the bribe. When they could not do so, Shashank took his revenge by accepting a bribe from the accused instead. He then submitted a report to the court stating that the claim of rape was false.

Chobi, a victim of rape, now has no hope of justice unless the court orders another agency or a judicial officer to reinvestigate the complaint. Yet no one can predict the outcome of another investigation.

Chobi told her story on Sept. 15 at a press conference, where she handed out a written statement to reporters. She also applied to the district superintendent of police, seeking his intervention. The assistant superintendent of police at another police station was asked to inquire into the matter.

However, it is hardly believable that the authorities will take action against the Nikli police or Sub-Inspector Shashank. This is because Bangladesh's whole law-enforcement system follows a chain of corruption rather than a chain of command.

For example, Police Inspector Hashem Ali Khan, who detained human rights defenders in a fabricated kidnapping case at the Paikgachha police station in Khulna, a southwestern district, told the detainees that he had to pay his superior officers when he brought in detainees for a five-day stay. He said he needed money for fuel and other things. He also warned them that they would be tortured if they didn’t pay the bribe he demanded.

A number of police departments and the Ministry of Home Affairs inquired into this matter, which took place in November, 2008. Yet it yielded nothing – inspector Hashem Ali Khan has been enjoying his policing elsewhere.

Due to intervention by the Asian Human Rights Commission, a Hong Kong-based rights watchdog, the Khulna district police authority inquired into a complaint against Sub-Inspector Ayub Ali of the Paikgachha police station.

On June 13 Ayub Ali visited the house of Shahidul Islam, who had been held on fabricated charges and tortured while in detention for four days without any official record or lawful grounds.

The police officer told Shahidul's mother, "Do you know what will happen to me and you now? I will have to pay to settle the matter and I might be transferred. But the police will be here forever, and I will arrange for your son and his advisers to languish in jail for years."

These threatening words carry the truth that any police officer who is accused of violating the law of the land can walk free by bribing his superior authorities. In reality, Ayub was transferred to Kustia district without facing criminal prosecution or departmental action after an inquiry was conducted.

It is an open secret in Bangladesh that police officers consider a particular jurisdiction a good place to work if more crimes take place there. More crimes bring more bribes. Officers must pay bribes in order to be posted to those "good places," the amount determined by the rank of the job-seeker and the possibilities of income from the targeted posting.

The recipients of bribes also include bureaucrats in the ministries, parliamentarians of the concerned constituencies and influential local politicians. Thus a chain of corruption is established from the top to the bottom of society.

The ordinary poor are compelled to pay bribes far beyond their capacity, up to all their assets, while those in power enjoy the taste of corruption and make the country a heaven of bribery.

The Bangladeshi policymakers should accept this article as an open challenge to prove these stories untrue. There are thousands of similar stories across the country. The authorities can win this challenge only if they acknowledge this deep national problem and reform this system and chain of corruption. (END)

First published by UPI, September 22, 2009

Rater Zonaki is the pseudonym of a human rights defender based in Hong Kong, working at the Asian Human Rights Commission. He is a Bangladeshi national who has worked as a journalist and human rights activist in his country for more than a decade, and as editor of publications on human rights and socio-cultural issues

Glimmers of Hope Amid an Elusive Peace

CATHERINE MAKINO interviews leading Bangladeshi human rights activist SULTANA KAMAL

SULTANA KAMAL dreams of a country "where every single citizen will live in democracy, in equality" and where everyone has "equal share to resources and opportunities." Fulfilling this dream has been her lifelong advocacy as a human rights advocate.

The former adviser to the caretaker government of Bangladesh has served as a United Nations legal consultant for Vietnamese boat people in Hong Kong. As a legal practitioner, she is committed to providing legal services to the poor and underprivileged.

Kamal joined the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971, which pitted the West Pakistan (now Pakistan) against East Pakistan, resulting in the latter’s secession as an independent state, now called Bangladesh. Among others, she helped collect information for the guerilla forces, Mukti Bahini (Liberation Army), and gave shelter to people displaced by the conflict.

Kamal completed her law degree at Dhaka University in 1978, and later a master’s degree in Women and Development Studies in the Netherlands.

She has played a key role in bringing to international attention the long drawn-out conflict involving the indigenous people living in the Chittagong Hill Tracts in the south-eastern region of Bangladesh. Even after a peace accord was signed in 1997, violations of human rights in the region persisted and peace remains elusive.

Some critics warned that Bangladesh could become the next Sri Lanka, which only recently emerged from a decades-long civil war.

Kamal, who was in Japan in mid-September, shared with IPS her aspirations for her country and what she hoped a developed country like Japan could do.

IPS: What did you hope to achieve for your people by coming to Japan?

SULTANA KAMAL: (My) main objective was to share information regarding the implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Accord, which was signed in 1997 between the government of Bangladesh and Shanti Bahini (the United People's Party of the CHT).

The Accord was to end the armed conflict, which has been going on since 1976 in the region, and to settle questions regarding the rights of the indigenous people of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. These included land rights, natural and environmental practices, rights to their culture and, most importantly, the constitutional recognition of their rights and identity.

I wanted to see greater awareness of the problems of indigenous people in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, their struggles and demands, which should lead to more support for them by the Japanese.

IPS: Why Japan in particular?

SK: Some Japanese groups are concerned with the rights of the disempowered and disadvantaged, especially indigenous people, who have been engaged in working towards the realization of (those) rights.

IPS: Is your government sincere in its support for the CHT?

SK: The present government of Bangladesh is committed to implementing the Accord, but it is facing challenges from the anti-Accord forces. There is a need to strengthen the people and government's support of the CHT.

This trip to Japan will help us reach the international community and get stronger opinions favourable to the Accord.

IPS: What do you expect from the new government of Japan?

SK: This government is liberal, so we can expect the benefits of a liberal and progressive outlook on (its) international policies. More importantly, we hear that the government will put more emphasis on strengthening relationships with its Asian neighbours, which means more support to the people of Asia who need it most.

IPS: What do you envision Japan will do now that it is under new leadership?

SK: New leadership means new hopes…. not (only) for its own people, but for the (rest of the) world, because Japan is among the league of world leaders.

This time the hope is even greater for Asia as the (Japanese) government is likely to be more forward-looking and has already committed itself to closer ties with (its) Asian neighbours.

IPS: Please tell us about your organization, the Law and Mediation Center or Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK)?

SK: (ASK) started in 1986 as a legal aid centre to provide free legal aid to the disempowered. Since most of the disempowered happen to be women, it had a special focus on them, especially poor women.

It provides legal aid to victims of state or social violence, arbitrary arrest, preventive detention, and community and class violence.

It started in a garage of a well-wisher of the organisation and has since grown into a 17-unit composite programme known as a human rights and legal aid center, or Ain o Salish Kendra.

ASK cooperates with many national, international and regional networks on human rights issues. With the UNECOSOC (United Nations Economic and Social Council) (consultative) status, ASK works closely with the U.N. special rapporteurs and on some government committees as civil society members to give advice. In short, ASK is considered to be one of the most active human rights groups (in the world).

IPS: What is the situation of women in your country?

SK: I am very proud to say that the women have made a lot of progress. But because of the existing patriarchal systems… in both private and public life, women have to face a lot of challenges in realising their rights.

The Constitution of Bangladesh commits to equality in public life for women. It goes further to say that special measures will be taken to bring the disadvantaged groups, including women, at par with everyone, and everyone will be equal before the law.

IPS: Is that happening in reality?

SK: Since in private life, laws based on religions govern people, women are discriminated against in marriage, divorce, guardianship and custody of children and in inheritance.

The discrimination is not only between women and men of the same religion; it is between women of different religions, too. For example, the Muslim women have limited rights to divorce and inheritance, which the women of other religions don't have.

The situation of minority women is even worse, particularly in a conflict situation where their interests and rights are considered secondary to the larger interests of the community which, as we all know, are defined by (traditional) patriarchy.

IPS: What is being done about it?

SK: The women's movement is very vibrant in Bangladesh. The present government also has promised to declare policies for women's development. We can hope for the best, but we know very well that there is no respite from hard work for us to gain what we aspire for.

IPS: What urgently needs to be done in your country?

SK: The most important duty we have now is supporting the democratic processes and be firm on not allowing any anti-democratic, anti-human rights, fundamentalist or corrupt measures, to foil it. Seeing that democracy gets a ground in this country is a job of the people as well as the government. Establishment of justice, rule of law, human rights and security and peace are the priorities now.

IPS: You have given so much energy and time for causes. How has this affected you personally, and have you had to sacrifice a lot?

SK: If I have been able to give my energy and time to causes in my life, I will consider that to be my good fortune. What better use could I put my energy and time to?

The main impact it has had on me personally is that it has taught me to understand and love my country better and to feel a part of the whole of humanity. I don't feel that I have sacrificed a lot. I think I have done nothing more than my duty. (END)

First published in Inter Press Services (IPS), September 22, 2009

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Problems galore in Bangladesh

Photo: The exasperated nation has gone back to the beginning and given more than two-thirds of parliament’s seats to the daughter of the founder of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina. —AFP/File Photo

KULDIP NAYAR

IT WAS a feeling of humiliation that gave impetus to the people of erstwhile East Pakistan to build a country of their own. That was some 38 years ago when Bangladesh was born.

Scant resources and a large population did not affect its determination to convert the country into ‘Sonar Bangla’. But gradually a mood of uncertainty set in.

The first blow came when Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the father of the nation, was assassinated. He had the support of the people who were willing to offer any sacrifice. The second blow was the military-inspired coup that destroyed an open and democratic society. Elements were unleashed which drove the liberals – and their ideals – to the wall.

Bangladesh needed unity to develop. But it witnessed periods of military rule and authoritarian regimes. Then there were the ever-battling begums, Sheikh Hasina of the Awami League confronting Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). The exasperated nation has gone back to the beginning and given more than two-thirds of parliament’s seats to the daughter of the founder of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina. Still, political unity has eluded the country because the BNP has boycotted parliament.

Some developments are ominous. Islamist extremism is rearing its head again. Jihadis are sprouting here and there. That the hanging of Bangla Bhai and his fundamentalist colleagues in 2007 did not evoke any protest is a healthy sign. But he was more of a killer than a religious figure.

The manner in which the fundamentalists have joined hands with the BNP indicates that there is an attempt to mix religion and politics. The Jamaat-i-Islami is their supporter, although it has reluctantly conceded that the liberation struggle contributed to independence. The Awami League may find these forces capturing the imagination of the common man despite the liberal temperament of Bangladeshis.

The other unfavourable development is that Bangladesh, preoccupied with the problem of finding hundreds of thousands of jobs, has neglected its borders. It has become a haven for all the banned organisations in India, Sri Lanka and even Myanmar.




They operate from Bangladeshi soil and find it safe to do so. These organisations include the United Liberation Front of Asom, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and other lawless groups.


A concerted fight against them is what Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dipu Moni promised Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna when they met in Delhi a few days ago. She has signed an agreement to combat international terrorism and crime.

India has, in turn, allowed border markets and given Bangladesh 1,000MW of power, apart from developing the power grid connectivity. After straightening things with the West, India was the first country to which Sheikh Hasina sent her foreign minister to assess how far New Delhi was willing to accommodate Dhaka. It is apparent that Sheikh Hasina cannot be satisfied with an agreement on power. She expects wider and closer economic cooperation.

In fact, after the creation of Bangladesh there was a joint planning board of New Delhi and Dhaka. An outline was prepared on how the economies of the two countries would be dovetailed to benefit each other. Everything has remained on paper since the assassination of Mujibur Rahman. True, New Delhi has its own limitations. But it has a larger economy. It can do much more than it has promised. Perhaps New Delhi can encourage private investors to pump money into Bangladesh or set up joint ventures to produce what India requires.

India has exacted a price in the shape of Dhaka’s undertaking to go after the extremists operating from its soil. But as Sheikh Hasina found during her earlier stint in power, it is not easy to fight them when they have supporters in both countries. Drug trafficking by the militants gives them an income of millions. It is difficult to demolish their network or that of criminals, smugglers and religious bigots because those who use them wield political power as well.

The steps that Dhaka takes against them may stoke anti-India fire, which is already burning fiercely. The anti-Pakistan feeling has been replaced by an anti-India feeling. Still, Dhaka has to face the situation. It cannot be seen running with the hare and hunting with the hounds.

Bangladesh knows that the failure to tackle the terrorists operating from its soil may cost the country dearly.

New Delhi expects much more than Dhaka can deliver. India also wants it to give its transit rights to reach its north-eastern states and facilities at the Chittagong port for exports. Talks on such matters soured relations in the past. New Delhi will have to sell them to the people of Bangladesh with reason and convince them that these measures are to their advantage.

There is apprehension in Bangladesh over the Tipaimukh Dam project located near the confluence of the Barak and Tuivai rivers in Manipur. Why not suggest a joint board of engineers from India and Bangladesh to supervise the project to remove any doubts?

India needs to reflect on why all the neighbouring countries have distanced themselves from it. No doubt its size deters them. But more than that, their feeling is that New Delhi is becoming increasingly conscious of itself as an emerging world power. It tends to throw its weight about in such a manner that the neighbours are having doubts about its bona fides.

New Delhi must do some introspection because it is not that all next-door neighbours have turned hostile. They are suspicious, something which India must remedy by its deeds. #

First published in The DAWN, Pakistan, Friday, 18 Sep, 2009

Kuldip Nayar is a leading journalist based in Delhi, India and popular columnist in South Asia, specially Bangladesh and Pakistan

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Bangladesh urged to ratify the Rome Statute

THE COALITION for the International Criminal Court and its members are calling on Bangladesh to take all necessary steps to accede to the Rome Statute of the ICC as soon as possible. Bangladesh actively took part in the 1998 United Nations Diplomatic Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court held in Rome. In 1999, the Government of Bangladesh signed the Statute of the ICC, the first country in South Asia to have signed the treaty.

Asia remains as an underrepresented region at the ICC, with only Afghanistan, Mongolia, Cambodia, Timor Leste, Tajikistan, Republic of Korea, and Japan as States Parties to the Treaty. Having Bangladesh join this new system of international justice will grant the region a stronger voice and a more meaningful role in making this historic institution- the first permanent, independent court capable of investigating and bringing to justice individuals who commit war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide- a truly effective mechanism for the protection of human rights and the rule of law.

The month of August target country for Coalition for the International Criminal Court ongoing Universal Ratification Campaign is Bangladesh. The Universal Ratification Campaign is a worldwide effort to promote universal acceptance of the International Criminal Court. Actions are needed to promote awareness of the International Criminal Court; increase media coverage; urge governments to ratify or accede to the Rome Statute; and adopt effective implementing legislation and ratify the ICC Agreement on Privileges and Immunities.

Greater support for the International Criminal Court in the Asian region is needed in order to increase the region’s commitment to the fight against impunity. We ask you to visit our ratification campaign page where you can send a letter to the President of Bangladesh, H.E. Mr. Md. Zillur Rahman.

Other Related Actions to Support the Campaign
There are a number of other ways to support the ratification campaign in Bangladesh:
1. Modify a copy of the letter available on the CICC ratification campaign pages noted above and send it to the Embassy of Bangladesh in your country.
2. Join the ICC-Asia listserv, which sends periodic updates about the International Criminal Court as it relates to the Asia/Pacific region, by e-mailing the Coalition Secretariat’s Asia/Pacific and Latin America/Caribbean Outreach Liaison Michelle Reyes at reyes@iccnow.org, or send a message to icc-info-asia@yahoogroups.com
3. Contact Anaga Dalal at dalal@iccnow.org at the CICC for a model press release that you can use to raise awareness about the Universal Ratification Campaign in your country.
4. Contact Michelle Reyes at the Coalition’s Secretariat office in New York (reyes@iccnow.org) as well as Evelyn Serrano, Asia Coordinator (serrano@iccnow.org) to inform us of any actions you take, or to discuss initiatives. You can also raise awareness of this campaign by sending this email to other organizations in your country.

This CICC ratification campaign page on Bangladesh is accessible at:
http://www.iccnow.org/?mod=

Please do not hesitate to contact the CICC if you have further questions or need more information.

Sincerely,

Brigitte Suhr/Director of Regional Programs

suhr@iccnow.org
http://www.iccnow.org/

Take Action Now!
Write a letter to the President to encourage him to ratify the Rome Statute as soon as possible!

You might like to use the following letter as a guide. Please be sure to “cc” all contacts below when sending your letters.

Send your letter to:

Mr. Md. Zillur Rahman
Honorable President
The People’s Republic of Bangladesh
Banga Bhaban
Dhaka, Bangladesh

Ms. Sheikh Hasina
Honorable Prime Minister
Prime Minister’s Office
Old Sangsad Bhaban
Tejgaon, Dhaka-1215, Bangladesh
Tel:+880 2 8151157 +880 2 8151157 (PS-I to PM), 8155700, 8111599 (Parliament)
Email: info@pmo.gov.bd

Mr. Justice M. M. Ruhul Amin
Honorable Chief Justice of Bangladesh
Supreme Court Premises
Dhaka-1000, Bangladesh
Fax: +880 2 9565058

Barrister Shafiq Ahmed
Honorable Minister

Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs
Bangladesh Secretariat
Building: 4 (7th Floor)
Dhaka-1000, Bangladesh
Tel: +880 2 7160577 +880 2 7160577, 9550016, 7164693
Fax: +880 2 7168557
Email: info@minlaw.gov.bd

Dr. Dipu Moni
Honorable Minister
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Segun Bagicha
Dhaka-1000, Bangladesh
Tel: +880 2 9562852 +880 2 9562852, 9562954
Fax: +880 2 9562188
Email: dirfe@mofa.gov.bd

Mr. Mahbubey Alam
Honorable Attorney General for Bangladesh
Office of the Attorney General

Supreme Court Premises
Dhaka-1000, Bangladesh
Tel: +880 2 9562868 +880 2 9562868
Fax: +880 2 95616568
Email: adv_mahbubeby@yahoo.com

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

"Oil, Gas and Mineral Resources of Our Country Is the Blood Flown in Our Vein"

Interview with Professor Anu Muhammad

AUDITY FALGUNI


AFTER THE stern clashes between police and the demonstrators of the `National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports (NCPOGMPP) ' on September 2nd, around 50 student and youth activists of different left leaning groups and others were injured. Police launched lethal attack on the protestors who were marching forward to surround (gherao) the Petro-Bangla office protesting the recent cabinet committee approval on 24th August to lease three offshore gas fields to foreign companies. The protestors negated the government decision to award Ireland-based company Tallow Bangladesh shallow water block SS-O8-05 and US oil company Conoco Philipp’s South Asia New Ventures Ltd deep sea blocks DS-08-10 and 11 in the Bay of Bengal. They also raised the demand for the cancellation of around 12 'Production Sharing Contracts (PSCs)' of the Bangladesh government with different International Oil Companies (IOCs) and other relevant claims. Anu Muhammad, Professor of the Economics Department of Jahangir Nagar University and Member Secretary of NCPOGMPP got intensely hurt during the demonstration and was admitted to hospital. Here the excerpt of a brief interview with him is highlighted bellow:

Question: You are the member secretary of NCPOGMPP right at this moment. So, would you please tell us the particular cause behind the recent most demonstration staged by you on 2nd September?

Anu Muhammad: Demarcation of sea territory is one of the most glaring crises of Bangladesh. We have near about one Lakh sq km land boundaries with our neighbouring states. In terms of sea boundaries, the amount is just eight times higher. And, those sea regions are extremely potential in terms of mineral and other aquatic resources. Unfortunately, there are records of usurpation of these sea boundaries by neighbouring countries like India and Myanmar. There are three gas blocks in the Bay of Bengal namely block numbers 5, 10 & 11. Two PSCs were signed at first phase of 2008 during the Caretaker government regime. Under the auspices of these two PSCs, one Ireland based IOCs namely CONOCO-PHILLIPS and another U.S. based IOC named TALLOW were given lease for oil and gas exploration in the Bay of Bengal. When the caretaker government signed the agreement, we protested vehemently and the government could not implement it. This year the newly elected government has approved the PSCs. The cabinet committee of 'Economic Affairs' has okayed those on 24th August and so we called on for the demonstration on 2nd September. Meantime, our successive governments have signed 12 PSCs with different IOCs in recent years. These PSCs have conferred upon them ownership of around 80 percent of total gas explored and the rest 20 percent lies with our nationalized institutions like BAPEX and Petro-Bangla. These multi-national oil giants deal with or regulate our 12 major gas fields in the Sylhet region. If you look at the atlas of Bangladesh and dissect it into east and west, you would notice that most of the oil fields are located at the eastern side or particularly in Sylhet. Now, the multi-national oil giants earn around 3,000 crore taka from these 12 gas fields. If we could spend just one-tenth of this 3,000 crore take to reshape and strengthen our nationalized oil and gas exploration institutions like BAPEX or Petro-Bangla, we did not need to depend any longer on foreigner consultants and imported machineries! Just imagine that because of irresponsibility and malfunctioning by two multi-national oil & gas companies namely Occidental in Magurchara, Sylhet during 1997 and NAIKO in Tengratila, Sylhet during 2006...around 500 billion cubic feet gas were simply burnt out or wasted! Around 87.50 acres of land in Magurchara were damaged with 176.97 crore taka losses in total. NAIKO drilled in the gas wells earlier declared by Petro-Bangla as unworthy for exploration purpose and caused the disaster. We owe to these two oil giants around 20,000 crore taka. Recently James F Moriarty, the U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh, mentioned in a speech that U.S. oil giant company Chevron wants to develop Bangladesh through investing in oil and gas exploration, but the government can do nothing for certain quarters. Probably he mentioned us, the leftists! We say in return that honourable Ambassador, first pay us 20,000 crore taka compensation for the Magurchara and Tengratila blow-outs! This year the total budget allotted in the power and energy sector has been 4,400 crore taka. Compensation properly paid for the two blow-outs can fulfill our budget in energy sector for next five fiscal years.

Question: When the movement by NCPOGMPP first commenced and what are your major achievements since the formation of the committee?

Anu Muhammad: NCPOGMPP was established in 1998 and thus it has already completed 11 years' of its journey. I would mention our major achievements one by one. In 1998, when the Awami League (AL) government was in power, the government was initiating to sign and conclude two agreements with the IOCs. The first agreement related to leasing of the Chittagong port to a U.S. Company for 199 years. We then organized a long march from Dhaka to Chittagong port and it largely owes to our movement that government could not avoid to probe in details into the company and then some major loopholes came out. The so-called U.S. Company first told our government that they have the paid-up capital of some thousand crores of taka but later it was found that they have the paid-up capital of only one crore taka. Again, it was not even a U.S.A.-based company and it was actually based in Barbados. What is most important that even if it was a U.S.A.-based company, no patriot should agree to lease out of any of his country's sea port for 199 years! The then Sheikh Hasina government yielded to our movement and the lease agreement, which was on the verge of being finalized, got cancelled. Second, two IOCs...the U.K.-based oil & gas exploration company Shell and the U.S.-based company UNOCOL drafted the design of installation of pipe-line from one of our pertinent gas field Bibyana, Sylhet to Delhi and the designing and lay-out were disbursed on web-site. But, the government was yet to finalize the proposal for gas export. A section of 'hired' consultants, bureaucrats, businessmen, media, U.S. Embassy, Indian High Commission, World Bank and ADB began stipulating Bangladesh is "floating on gas" and it was "best time to export gas." And, if Bangladesh misses the chance, later she might not get handsome price in ever-changing international market. They, in addition, opined that Bangladesh can construct her basic infrastructure including necessary components like education or health sector with the money obtained from gas export. NCPOGMPP then had to wage war at two levels. First, we had to theoretically challenge this propaganda by making people aware about the exact situation of real gas reserve scenario of Bangladesh, dynamics of internal use and demand etc. The IOCs exaggerated that Bangladesh had 100 trillion cubic feet of gas while we had only 12-13 trillion cubic feet of gas reserve in reality...in last several years the amount has reduced to seven to eight trillion cubic feet of gas reserve for internal use. Also, domestic need for gas has been multiplied four or five times in recent years. So, gas export could really doom us! Today the facility of CNG transport could not be availed off if we agreed to export gas. We proved, in addition, with facts and figure that even if we could earn around 1,000 crore taka in total by exporting our gas, we had to buy equivalent amount of oil or petroleum from foreign countries to fill-up the gap. In that case, we had to spend around 15-20,000 crore taka per year. So, NCPOGMPP mobilized people for another long march towards Dhaka-Bibyana, Sylhet. Thus, AL government could not sign the agreements with Shell and UNOCOL. BNP succeeded the AL government in 2001 and they also began playing on the same tune reciting there is no worth of keeping gas under earth. What we should do is to export it and earn money. But, we were firm on our movement and people stood on behalf of us. So, BNP government also failed like its predecessor.

Question: NCPOGMPP has also waged a war on the issue of Fulbari coal mine. Would you elaborate on it?

Anu Muhammad: Sure, that is another landmark of success. The then BNP government came to an agreement with the Asia Energy (AE) company validating the open pit mining in around 135 sq km area of Fulbari, close to the Bara Pukuria coal plant of Dinajpur district. If this agreement was implemented, around 10,000 hectares land of the adjacent areas including Nawabganj, Birampur and Parbatipur Upazila were to be damaged at initial stage. Near about 656.33 sq km area was to be directly damaged. Installation of the physical infra-structure of the proposed coal mine by AE was supposed to commit eviction, damage and destruction of approximately 10,000 human habitats, factories, schools, colleges, religious institutions, railways, highways, vegetation, water reservoirs like ponds, canals and rivers. AE itself revealed that if the agreement was to be implemented, Bangladesh government was supposed to get from AE around 45,000 crore taka in 30 years while they were supposed to obtain 1,50,000 crore taka from us in the same time-frame. Fulbari is a densely populated area with several Bengali and Shantal indigenous villages, their arable lands, trees and water reservoirs. If we go for counting the environmental damage in terms of eco-system and symbioses within nature, you cannot simply evaluate the extent of damage in money. So, on 26th August of 2006 the activists of NCPOGMPP and local people went to surround the AE office in Fulbari and police fired on unarmed people. Three were died, one became permanently disabled and around 300 people were injured. The government signed a three-point demand treaty with us in Parbatipur, Dinajpur on 30th August. The government, however, only implemented some portion of the treaty but our number one demand to evict AE from Fulbaria on an emergency is yet to be fulfilled.

Question: NCPOGMPP has called upon to surround the PM's office on 10th September? What would be your major agendas for this immediate programme?

Anu Muhammad: Our four most urgent demands are cancellation of the PSC model 2008 for the gas fields in the Bay of Bengal which leased out two gas blocks to two multi-national oil giants, cancellation of existing 12 PSCs and re-modeling of them with hundred percent ownership of our national institutions like BAPEX and Petro-Bangla over the explored gas, proper demarcation of sea boundaries and to evict Asia Energy (AE) from Fulbari, Dinajpur and cancel open-pit mining.

Question: Would you involve the major opposition BNP along with you? Leader of the Opposition Begum Khaleda Zia has visited you in the hospital and mentioned she would be with this movement. So, what is your consideration now?

Anu Muhammad: No. The AL, BNP and the 'neutral' care-taker government manifested their willingness to export gas on a regular basis. In Latin American countries like Venezuela, Bolivia or Chile the IOCs did not pay any profit to the respective governments on the pretext of failing to 'recover the production or exploration costs.' The IOCs have drilled for more than 20 years in Chile and drilled a lot of their mineral resources but yet to pay any dividend saying that they could not yet recover their exploration costs. Thus the whole lot might turn into a deception for the poorer states. Hugo Chavez and other Latin American leaders are now fighting this issue. Amar desh er tel gas amar deher rakta! Oil, Gas and Mineral Resources of our country is the blood flown in our vein and we would simply die out if we cannot protect those. #

Monday, September 14, 2009

Shiekh Mujib feared military would kill him, says Zulfikar Ali Bhutto

FORMER PUNJAB Governor Mustafa Khar has revealed that former Bangladesh President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman feared being killed by the Army.

In an interview with a private television channel, Khar said Mujibur Rahman was apprehensive of being eliminated by the military, and he had once asked him to convey his fears to the former Pakistan President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

"Sheikh Mujibur Rahman once asked me to tell Zulfikar Ali Bhutto that the army will kill him first and then murder Bhutto," Khar said.

Khar said Rahman was not in favour of country's bifurcation, but his party, the Awami League, had several `commitments' with India due to which it was forced to support Pakistan's division.

"It was not possible for Mujib alone to backtrack. He only wanted `true autonomy' for East Pakistan, but he was mistreated, especially during Field Marshal Ayub Khan's regime," The Daily Times quoted Khar, as saying.

He said the former Bangladesh President wanted negotiations on his `six-point' agenda, but party hardliners did not allow him to do so.

Mujibur Rahman, who is considered the father of the nation in Bangladesh, was killed on August 15, 1975 along with his family members and personal staff by a group of junior army officers who invaded the presidential residence with tanks.

Rahman's daughters Sheikh Hasina Wajed and Sheikh Rehana, who were on a visit to West Germany at that time, were left alive. Wajed is the present leader of the Awami League and the current Prime Minister of Bangladesh. #

First syndicated by ANI, September 5, 2009

Thursday, September 03, 2009

A banyan tree in Dhaka called Kennedy

Photo Tariful Islam Khan: The banyan tree senator Ted Kennedy planted in Dhaka University in February 1972 to replace the original “Bawt Tawla” blown up by the Pakistan Army in March 1971

TAREK FATAH

IN THE late hours of March 25, 1971, as the citizens of Dhaka slept, the Pakistan Army launched a war on its own people. By the time the sun rose, thousands of students in two university residential halls were dead and countless more lay wounded.

Dhaka University had been a hotbed of political activism for decades. To the generals of the Pakistan Army led by president Yahya Khan and his feared commander in then “East Pakistan,” General Tikka Khan, it had to be vanquished. The army also had a score to settle with an old tree on the campus grounds that was rumoured to have cast magical spells of rebellion on the young men and women who mingled underneath it.

After the first massacres, soldiers were sent to kill the giant banyan tree, lovingly known as “Bawt Tawla.” Under its branches, many generations of Bengali students had gathered, conspired and then gone out to change the world.

It was under this tree that the language movement of 1953 was launched. Here in 1968, students had risen up against the military rule of General Ayub Khan, leading to his humiliation.

By the time the sun set on March 25, the Pakistan Army had blown up Bawt Tawla, ripping the very heart out of Dhaka University.

“It was a sad day as if someone had destroyed the very essence of our lives,” says Fuad Chowdhury, a Canadian filmmaker who witnessed the carnage.

“I saw the random killing and shooting of civilians. Canon fire destroyed part of my house, but the next morning when we saw the tree gone, we were devastated,” he adds. “Bawt Tawla was gone forever, we thought. But we were wrong.”

A million lives and two years later, after the Bangladeshis had defeated the Pakistan Army and achieved independence, a white American politician would come to the spot where the old tree stood and plant a new sapling.

Today, almost forty years later, that sapling has grown into a new Bawt Tawla, and under it students mourn the passing of the man who planted that sapling: senator Edward Kennedy.

Ted Kennedy had a huge following all over the world. Some admired him for his charisma, others because he was the brother of JFK and RFK. But in Bangladesh, he was revered because he spoke up when no one else in the U.S. dared to say a word.

In 1971, when the Pakistan Army began its genocide, Islamabad was a close ally of the U.S. President Yahya Khan had facilitated the Nixon-Mao meeting and the White House was not interested in damaging relations with a military junta that provided an effective counter balance to the growing India-U.S.S.R. relationship.

As Pakistani atrocities mounted, the U.S. consul general in Dhaka, Archer Blood, sent an urgent message to the State Department. It read:

“Our government has failed to denounce the suppression of democracy. Our government has failed to denounce atrocities… But we have chosen not to intervene, even morally, on the grounds that the ...conflict, in which unfortunately the overworked term ‘genocide’ is applicable, is purely an internal matter of a sovereign state.”

Blood said that Dhaka University students were “either shot down in rooms or mowed down when they came out of building…estimated 1,000 persons, mostly students, but including faculty members resident in dorms, killed… At least two mass graves on campus, one near Iqbal Hall, other near Rokeya Hall. Rain [on the night of] March 29 exposed some bodies. Stench terrible.”

Instead of paying attention to the news about the bloodletting, the “Blood Telegram,” as it came to be known, was reclassified as secret, and Archer Blood got transferred out of Dhaka.

As the world seemed to have abandoned Bengalis, one man had the courage to defy his own government, thumb his nose at the Nixon administration and go to the teeming refugee camps where ten million people were living in appalling conditions. This man was then 39-year-old senator Ted Kennedy.

Kennedy toured the camps and heard eyewitness stories of the massacres all over East Pakistan. Back home, senator Kennedy wrote to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Refugees about “one of the most appalling tides of human misery in modern times.” He wrote,

“Nothing is more clear, or more easily documented, than the systematic campaign of terror — and its genocidal consequences — launched by the Pakistani army on the night of March 25th …All of this has been officially sanctioned, ordered and implemented under martial law from Islamabad. America’s heavy support of Islamabad is nothing short of complicity in the human and political tragedy of East Bengal.”

Despite obstruction from the Nixon White House, Kennedy worked both sides of the house, pleading for the end of U.S. support for Pakistan. This finally led to the U.S. Congress passing a bill that banned all arms sales to Pakistan.

On December 16, 1971, the war ended and Bangladesh seceded from Pakistan to become an independent country.

Fuad Chowdhury recalls when two months later, senator Kennedy came back to Bangladesh and planted a tree at the site of the original Bawt Tawla.

“There were thousands of students chanting “Joi Kennedy” (long live Kennedy) as he spoke to us, comparing the Bangladesh revolution to the American Revolution.

“For us, he was a hero then and will always be remembered as the man who stood by us in our darkest days. The banyan tree should now be re-named as the banyan tree called Kennedy.”

Today, the tree Kennedy planted in 1972 has grown as large as the original Bawt Tawla. #

First published in the National Post, Toronto, Canada, September 1, 2009