Wednesday, August 24, 2011

International Rights Group urges Bangladesh to halt extra judicial executions

SALEEM SAMAD

AN INTERNATIONAL rights group has called for a freeze on arms supplies to Bangladesh in a bid to stop the elite anti-crime unit and other security forces using them for extralegal execution of crime suspects which violates human rights.

In a statement released Wednesday, Amnesty International said Bangladesh's government must act now and take what it called “concrete steps” to protect people from the alleged unlawful killings.
Bangladesh's police and elite anti-crime unit Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) continue to receive a wide range of military and police equipment from overseas, including from Austria, Belgium, China, Czech Republic, Italy, Poland, Russia, Slovakia and Turkey including United States.

"Any country that knowingly sends arms or other supplies to equip a force which systematically violates human rights may itself bear some responsibility for those violations."

The rights group has urged Bangladesh to stop its authorities from committing extrajudicial killings and other abuses that allegedly have continued despite government pledges to stop them.

Soon after coming to office, the Prime Minister spoke of a “zero tolerance” policy toward extrajudicial executions. These hopes were dashed in late 2009 when the authorities, including the Home Minister, began to claim that there were no extrajudicial executions in the country.
The London-based group's report singled out Bangladesh's elite Rapid Action Battalion, which stands accused of involvement in hundreds of killings and using torture against detainees.

Crimes unseen: Extrajudicial executions in Bangladesh also documents how the RAB justify these killings as accidental or as a result of officers acting in self-defense, although in reality many victims are killed following their arrest.

Amnesty International's Bangladesh Researcher Abbas Faiz said that nearly every week, the RAB shoots someone with the authorities saying the individual was killed or injured in “crossfire” or a “gun-fight.” Faiz said that regardless of the characterization, these incidents are suspected unlawful killings.

Amnesty International says the RAB has been implicated in the killing of at least 700 people since its inception in 2004. Two hundred of those cases allegedly occurred since 2009, despite Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's pledge to end extrajudicial killings when her government came to power.
At least 200 alleged RAB killings have occurred since January 2009 when the current Awami League government came to power, despite the Prime Minister’s pledge to end extrajudicial executions and claims by the authorities that no extrajudicial executions were carried out in the country in this period, says Amnesty International.

Former detainees also told Amnesty International how they were routinely tortured in custody, suffering beatings, food and sleep deprivation, and electric shocks.

In May last, New York based Human Rights Watch urged Bangladesh to ban the controversial RAB for alleged extrajudicial executions and requested United States and European Union members from refraining capacity building of the government’s crime-fighter outfit.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Historic India-Bangladesh land pact to swap enclaves next month

JYOTI MALHOTRA

MANMOHAN, MAMATA visit to mark what could be a model for resolution of disputes with other neighbours.

India and Bangladesh are set to make history when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh travels to Dhaka on September 5 and signs a land boundary agreement with Bangladeshi counterpart Hasina that finally fulfills the vision laid down by the Indira-Mujib accord of 1974.
Accompanied by West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, Manmohan Singh, also formally a Rajya Sabha MP from Assam, is expected to find the visit particularly satisfying as it finally resolves issues that have plagued India’s relations with its key neighbour for decades.

Both sides have also reached agreement on the thorny sharing of the Teesta waters, to also be announced during the PM’s visit. Meanwhile, a trade deal is also under consideration by the Indian authorities.

But it is clearly the agreement relating to the 4,096-km border between the two countries (262 km with Assam, 443 km with Meghalaya, 318 km with Mizoram and 856 km with Tripura), that will be the centre-piece of the Manmohan Singh visit to Bangladesh.

The agreement resolves three key issues. First, it demarcates the remaining 2.4 km of the 4,096-km boundary, pending since 1974. Second, it resolves the issue of control of all adverse possessions, of land used by Indians and Bangladeshis which is actually situated in the other country, amounting to about 7,000 acres. Third, it resolves the question of sovereignty of enclaves, which are small pieces of land encircled by the other country on which small populations live; these amount to about 10,000 acres.

The reason the Manmohan-Hasina agreement is so important is because for the first time since 1947 – not counting the ceding of the uninhabited island of Kachhateevu to Sri Lanka in 1974, amounting to only 285 acres, or the so-called “return” of the Haji Pir pass to Pakistan after the 1965 war – India has agreed to give up some of its territory to another country.

Meaning, the map of India, as a result of the Manmohan-Hasina accord will change. A majority of the enclaves, it has been agreed, will be handed over to Bangladesh. Much of the adverse possessions, about 4,000 acres, will come to India.
The matter of the high-profile Angarpota-Dahagram enclave which Bangladesh claims and which lies inside Indian territory — it is connected by a corridor called the Teen Bigha corridor (literally, three bighas of land, about the size of a football field) — has been resolved using a bit of South Asian genius: The road connecting the enclave will now be open 24 hours a day (earlier it was open only from 6 am to 6 pm, or sunrise to sunset), and will be equipped by an automatic signalling system. Bangladeshis will be able to use the road to exit India and enter their country at will. In fact, Hasina has decided to travel there after the accord is signed with Manmohan Singh, to launch a bus service.

BACKGROUND WORK
Government officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said both governments agreed to streamline the boundary when Hasina visited India in January 2010. She also promised the Indian leadership that Dhaka would not allow its territory to be used by anti-Indian insurgents, a path-breaking promise on which she began to promptly deliver.
United Liberation Front of Asom insurgents like Arabinda Rajkhowa were soon captured in the suburbs of Dhaka and other parts of Bangladesh and handed back to India. In fact, with the visit of an Ulfa team to Delhi this week for talks with the home minister, the final chapters of the Assam insurgency look like they are being written, thanks to Hasina.

As Hasina kept her word on the insurgents, Delhi began an exercise that kept its side of the bargain. Over the past eight months, surveyors, district officials and officials from the Election Commission have quietly criss-crossed each adverse possession and each enclave inside the states neighbouring Bangladesh, primarily West Bengal and Meghalaya, doing a headcount and asking each family whether they wanted to stay with India or become citizens of Bangladesh.

They reported their findings to their state chief secretaries, who in turn reported to recently retired home secretary G K Pillai in Delhi. Pillai coordinated the exercise with the ministry of external affairs, the Border Security Force and the surveyor-general.
The survey of adverse possessions threw up some ticklish situations. For example in Meghalaya, there was a football field, locally used, a ditch and some more land beyond, all of which constituted an adverse possession. The survey concluded the football field and ditch would stay with India, while the piece of land beyond would go to Bangladesh.

As for the people who lived on the enclaves, about 50,000 in all, each was given the option of staying on as citizens of the country in which their enclave was located. Initial trends are that the people have chosen to stay where they’ve always lived. But the option of moving back to India, being duly compensated with land and money, also exists for those people whose enclaves are located inside Bangladesh.

Officials point out that the resolution of the land boundary will pave the way for a resolution of the maritime dispute that arose some years earlier, when Dhaka took India to international arbitration.

DIVIDENDS
Most important, it will strengthen Hasina’s hands and allow her to take further action against her political opponents who accuse her of “selling out” to India all the time. Further, a sharing of the Teesta waters, on the lines of the Ganga water accord – signed when she was last in power in 1996 – will also consolidate her hold on power. It will allow Dhaka, which has already allowed the informal transit of Indian goods through Bangladesh, to make the matter more public.

Clearly, the most significant outcome of the Manmohan-Hasina accord is that it will serve as a role model for the resolution of other boundary disputes that India continues to have with its neighbours. China and India have been in boundary talks since 2003 and if the agreed principles are followed, the map of India will change much more significantly. Boundary disputes with Nepal and Myanmar also continue to simmer.

The presence of Mamata Banerjee on Manmohan Singh’s delegation to Dhaka, government sources concede, is significant. They say the earlier Left Front government substantively held up resolution of a boundary agreement since they came to power in 1977, because they thought cheap labour from Bangladesh would impact on Bengal industry.

But with new winds blowing in Bengal, changes are imminent in the Delhi-Dhaka relationship.

First published in the Business Standard, New Delhi, August 10, 2011

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Greenpeace Rainbow Warrior retires, but will continue to serve humanity

Photo: Greenpeace/Mike Fincken: Rainbow Warrior rechristened as The Rongdhonu
SALEEM SAMAD

AFTER 52 years, the current Rainbow Warrior, which once patrolled the high seas restraining environmental crimes worldwide is heading for a new life.
The Greenpeace flagship formally retired on Tuesday at a Singapore harbor has been rechristened as The Rongdhonu (meaning Rainbow) and handed was handed over to the organization Friendship, a Bangladesh based NGO which specializes in medical care and emergency relief.

Environmental campaign group Greenpeace said it hoped that the charity, Friendship, would continue to use the ship as a beacon of hope.

The iconic protest vessel the Rainbow Warrior II for 22 years will be converted into a floating hospital and will serve the Bangladesh coasts of the Bay of Bengal, delivering primary and secondary medical assistance to some of the most vulnerable communities of the world, Greenpeace press release says.
Speaking at the handover ceremony, Mike Fincken, Captain of the Rainbow Warrior II, quoted the Cree Indian prophecy from which the ship got its name: “There will come a time when the Earth grows sick and when it does a tribe will gather from all the cultures of the world who believe in deeds and not words. They will work to heal it...they will be known as the "Warriors of the Rainbow.”


The Rongdhonu will also serve as an emergency medical ship around the Bangladesh coasts, bringing medical aid to areas which are already experiencing the effects of climate change, Greenpeace Captain said.

The ship confronted environmental crimes and nuclear testing, provided disaster relief to victims of the 2004 Tsunami in southeast Asia, and blocked shipments of illegal timber from the world's rainforests, Greenpeace said.

French intelligence agents in 1985 sunk Rainbow Warrior in New Zealand in a bid to stop activists from protesting against France's nuclear tests in the Pacific Ocean.

The guests and volunteers at Singapore cheered when Fincken announced that the ship will join the Greenpeace fleet in October when the organization marks its 40th anniversary.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

For details logon to Greenpeace website: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/features/Farewell-to-the-Rainbow-Warrior-II--/

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Extraditions of fugitive assassins of Bangladesh founder Mujibur Rahman bleak

SALEEM SAMAD

BANGLADESH AUTHORITIES are using diplomatic influence to bring back six people convicted of killing the country's founding father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, nearly 40 years ago.

During a day of national mourning, home affairs minister Shahara Khatoon told journalists Monday that a task force comprised of three government ministries had been able to track the fugitives' whereabouts.

Khatoon said the United States, Canada, India and Libya have been urged to deport the “self-confessed” assassins who are convicted in the murder of Rahman, who was popularly known as "Bangabandhu" – friend of people.

In a military putsch 36 years ago, a dozen of young officers stormed the private residence of Rahman, Bangladesh’s first president, and gunned him down along with his wife, three sons, one of whom was 10 years old, and two daughters-in-law.

The fugitive officers later boasted in a documentary broadcast by a British TV network and interviews in British newspapers why they killed Rahman.

Indian government officials last month assured that they will return the fugitives hiding in the country under false identities.

Extradition has also been sought for Rashed Chowdhury, who now resides in the United States but who has sought political asylum in Canada, while another convicted assassin, former Lt. Col. Nur Chowdhury, moved to Canada after fleeing years ago to Germany.

The Canadian government has opted not to deport Nur Chowdhury, as he faces the death penalty in Bangladesh. Ottawa is reluctant to extradite persons who face execution.

Canadian immigration has thrice rejected refugee claims of Chowdhury, who has lived in Toronto for six years.

Coup leader Col. Khandaker Abdur Rashid is presumed to be living in Libya.

Rahman’s eldest daughter, Sheikh Hasina, in 2009 became the prime minister of Bangladesh. Immediately after assuming power, her government began criminal proceeding against the assassins. Authorities recently hanged five of the convicted officers.

Hasina ignored a plea by rights watchdog Amnesty International that the death sentences be commuted to life imprisonment.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Julian Francis recalls Bangabandhu memory

THE BRITISH-born international aid official Julian Francis, known for being a 1971 signatory of Testimony of Sixties, today said he was still moved by the memories of Bangabandhu as he revisits memory lines.

"I remembered being numbed by shock and burying my head in my hands and weeping, in the same way that tears are rolling down my cheeks today," as he called these memories down, said Francis as approached for his comments on Bangabandhu.

Francis, who is now in his mid sixties, was one of the 60 distinguished people including the then US senator Edward Kennedy, Mother Teresa and a number of reputed international journalists like Alan Hart of BBC and aid workers signed the joint statement on this day in 1971.

The distinguished aid official, who was the coordinator of Oxfam's relief operation in 1971 which assisted
500,000 Bangladeshis as they took refuge at makeshift camps in India, recalled his meeting with Bangabandhu 40 years ago was "unforgettable" event of his life.

"My meeting with him (Bangabandhu) is one I will never forget . . . as I spoke (to him), emotion got the better of me and tears welled up in my eyes," Francis told BSS recalling his meeting with him after his return from Pakistani jail in 1972.

He added: "Sheikh Mujib put his arm around me to comfort me and said, 'Go young man, be strong, and thank you for coming to me and to Bangladesh."

Francis said in January 1972, he decided to come to Dhaka in one of OXFAM's Landrover jeeps, laden with urgently needed medical supplies, from Calcutta and on January 20, "I set off from Calcutta." "We traveled very slowly as there were so many people walking back from West Bengal to their homes in Bangladesh," said the British aid official and recalled that he reached Dhaka at around midnight next day.

Francis said as advised by fellow aid officials he made a courtesy call on Bangabandhu and "I told him that I wanted his advice about what OXFAM might be able to do to assist in the rehabilitation and development of Bangladesh."

"Sheikh Mujib took his pipe out of his mouth and pointed the stem of the pipe at me 'How did you come here, young man?', he asked in a booming voice. I told him that I had driven over land from Calcutta," said Francis recalling the meeting.

Francis, who currently also is in Bangladesh for the past 21 years to work for the vulnerable char people, recalled Bangabandhu telling, "In that case, you have seen more of my country than I have, as I was a prisoner for over 9 months, so please tell me what my country needs. What have you seen?"

"I told Sheikh Mujib that I had seen many villages that had been burnt down, many bridges and culverts blown up and many ferries, large and small, sunk in the rivers," he said. Francis also told him about the OXFAM initiatives for providing succors for the people in need in the newborn country.

"Before I left him, Sheikh Mujib asked me about my experiences working with the people of Bangladesh in the refugee camps. As I spoke, emotion got the better of me and tears welled up in my eyes. Sheikh Mujib put his arm around me to comfort me and said, 'Go young man, be strong, and thank you for coming to me and to Bangladesh'," he quoted Bangabandhu as saying.

As a result of the meeting with Sheikh Mujib, he said, OXFAM was able to procure three truck-carrying ferries and to assist the repair of many others and those continued to ply across the Padma river at Goalondo to this day, some 40 years later.

In 1975, Francis said, he was based in New Delhi and on August 15, together with his family, he was watching India's Independence Day celebrations on the television when "the programme was interrupted with the news of the assassination of Sheikh Mujib and his family".

"I remembered being numbed by shock and burying my head in my hands and weeping, in the same way that tears are rolling down my cheeks today," as he called these memories down.

Syndicated by state-run Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS), Dhaka, Bangladesh August 12, 2011

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Bangladesh: In the name of the father

An obsession with Bangladesh’s past may explain its prime minister’s growing intolerance


ASK well-connected Bangladeshis which country they dream of emulating and they usually name one of two big Asian democracies: populous and largely Muslim Indonesia, for its moderation, growing wealth and stability; or India, for its job-creating, increasingly urban economy. Wretched Pakistan is dismissed with the scorn of a divorcee rejecting her abusive ex.

Compared with Pakistan, from which Bangladesh split bloodily 40 years ago this December, life does indeed look better. The country is stable: few of Bangladesh’s 160m-odd citizens are Muslim fundamentalists. The economy, with annual output of around $100 billion, grows by nearly 7% a year and is fuelled by the world’s third-largest clothes-export industry. Aid money gushes in, and good things are done against poverty. And, since two years of army-backed rule ended in 2008, the generals have been tucked up securely in barracks.

All this should leave the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina—whom civil servants are said to address as “sir”—feeling confident. Her Awami League romped to an electoral win in December 2008. Her popularity has since dipped, but not disastrously. Nearly half the respondents to an AC-Nielsen survey in January, the most recent one, thought her government did a good job. Few backed the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which spurns parliament, calls public strikes and is remembered for the brutality and corruption of its rule in 2001-06.

Facing a general election in a couple of years, Sheikh Hasina might hope to embed democracy and persuade voters to re-elect her—a first for the country. Sadly, judging by her recent behaviour, she seems to seek instead to crush the opposition and provoke an election boycott, silencing pesky critics as she goes.

The mutual animosity between the prime minister and the opposition leader is legendary. Legal attacks on Khaleda Zia, admittedly an unsympathetic figure, are in full flow: an anti-corruption body charged her on August 8th; the same day a court issued a warrant for her exiled elder son over bribe-taking; in June a younger son was sentenced, in absentia, to six years in another graft case; in November she was evicted from her home. Each of these steps may be legitimate; together they look like vengeance.

More surprising was Sheikh Hasina’s attack on Muhammad Yunus, thrown out of the Grameen Bank he founded. His most obvious mistake came in 2007, during the two-year interregnum, when he flirted for a while with launching a political party—a “third force” to break the old duopoly. Rumours swirl in Dhaka, however, that Mr Yunus’s other sins included his accepting a Nobel peace prize that Sheikh Hasina felt should have been hers, failing to commiserate after an assassination attempt on her in 2004, and being ungrateful for the help she gave Grameen.

In brief Mr Yunus was resented for his high international profile, which threatened to eclipse the sacred memory of Sheikh Hasina’s father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who led Bangladesh to independence. Sheikh Hasina wants her father to be revered. A new constitutional requirement declares him father of the nation and orders all offices in the country to display his portrait.

One consequence of the cult surrounding their dynasty is that few institutions are trusted as independent. The courts, for example, have seen corruption cases against Awami League figures quashed. Those against BNP types proceed apace. Opposition leaders report violent ill-treatment. Mahmudur Rahman, a newspaper editor who served in the BNP government, describes being “tortured, handcuffed, blindfolded, stripped naked, starved”.

Harping on such matters is seen by Sheikh Hasina’s defenders as a “smear campaign”. Human-rights groups
who point to dreadful practices, such as routine killings of criminals by police, are told how much worse things were before. Outspoken critics, such as Odhikar, a human-rights and election-monitoring group, say new government controls on the way they spend money may be a step towards being “strangled”. Trade unions fret that their leaders are threatened and harassed. The government pooh-poohs them all.

The kindest view of the government is that it is clumsy to the point of self-harm. Even sympathetic outsiders say it has bungled forthcoming war-crimes trials of seven men over their alleged roles in the war and massacres of 1971. The goal of holding wrongdoers accountable now risks being subsumed by a partisan witch-hunt. Some of the accused have been held for months without relevant charges. Only opposition figures will be tried.

The Sheikh of things to come
Most troubling is the hasty rewriting of the constitution on June 30th, especially the scrapping of a provision for caretaker administrations to run elections. The Supreme Court suggested keeping the set-up for two more elections, to avoid provoking social strife. Sheikh Hasina herself had insisted on the arrangement when in opposition. In office she heedlessly went ahead and junked it. That bodes ill for fair and peaceful polls in 2013.
Nor do Orwellian touches inspire confidence. The constitution, or at least most of it, shall not be amended in future. Anyone who dares criticise it may be prosecuted for sedition. Mrs Zia has already been warned for having complained about it. Merely to back such a complaint is now illegal. Thought-crime may be next.

All this suggests Sheikh Hasina’s dream for Bangladesh differs profoundly from that cherished by her countrymen. She hopes to emulate not Indonesia or India today, but the country imagined by her father before his murder in 1975. Though it fails to fulfil a promise to restore his founding constitution’s commitment to “secularism”, the new version is mostly loyal to his vision, complete with dated pledges to socialism. By attacking opponents, his daughter settles scores with those who opposed Sheikh Mujib. And, as Orwell knew: who controls the present controls the past. And who controls the past controls the future.

First published in the Economist, London, Britain, August 13, 2011

Friday, August 12, 2011

The poisonous politics of Bangladesh: Reversion to type

Bangladesh’s economy is becoming ever healthier; its politics are heading in the opposite direction

THE election of December 2008 seemed to mark a watershed for Bangladesh. In the fairest poll in the country’s four-decade history, the Awami League, led by Sheikh Hasina (pictured), swept to power in a landslide, on a wave of national optimism. The hope was that she would use her party’s popularity to strengthen democratic institutions and pursue national reconciliation, putting an end to a vicious cycle of winner-takes-all politics between the League and its rival, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). The fear was that she would use its huge mandate for partisan advantage.

The hope has been largely dashed, the fear almost fully borne out (see Banyan). This week yet more corruption charges were filed against Sheikh Hasina’s nemesis, the BNP’s leader, Khaleda Zia, and an arrest warrant issued for her exiled son, Tarique Rahman. As prime minister, most recently from 2001-06, Mrs Zia presided over a brutal kleptocracy. But Sheikh Hasina, too, faced 13 charges, including extortion and conspiracy to murder, from one of her previous stints in power. Ditching the cases against League leaders while proceeding with those against the Zias looks like Bangladeshi politics as usual: the family vendetta disguised as a two-party system.

Sheikh Hasina is the daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Bangladesh’s independence hero, murdered in 1975. Mrs Zia is the widow of another former president, assassinated in 1981. The two main parties have adopted their leaders’ limitless mutual animosity. The BNP has reacted to its rout in 2008 petulantly, boycotting parliament and taking to the streets. And the League’s promise of magnanimity has been overshadowed by brazen attempts to entrench its rule.

The most scandalous is its railroading through in June of a constitutional amendment. Like Sri Lanka’s president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, did last year, Sheikh Hasina has used the forms of parliamentary democracy to undermine the substance. Among other changes, the amendment does away with the caretaker administrations that oversaw elections in the hope of ensuring a modicum of fairness. It is hard to imagine the BNP taking part in elections under the new arrangements—the lack of trust between the parties that inspired the caretaker system persists. Bizarrely, but in keeping with a growing intolerance in Bangladesh, it is seditious even to criticise the new charter.

Public debate is also constrained by the growing personality cult that Sheikh Hasina is building around Sheikh Mujib, “the greatest Bengali of the millennium”. His portrait is ubiquitous, including on new banknotes issued this week. It is not healthy when one party identifies itself so closely with the nation. In the same vein, war-crimes trials due to start shortly over some of the atrocities perpetrated during Bangladesh’s war of independence from Pakistan risk becoming seen as exercises in partisan spite. It did not help that this month a leading British defence lawyer was refused entry to Bangladesh.
Singh, when you're winning
That politics should remain so personal and so poisonous is absurd at a time of great promise for Bangladesh, a country of 160m people, most of them poor. The government remains fairly popular. The economy is doing well, with its booming garment-export business. Bangladesh is on good terms with both China and, especially, India (though the government is touchy about this—see our Letters pages). Manmohan Singh, India’s prime minister, is due to visit early next month to sign a series of agreements formalising closer co-operation. It would be good if he and Bangladesh’s many other friends abroad could show that their friendship is with the country, not just one party, and make clear that allowing democratic freedoms to flourish is a source not of weakness, but of strength.

First published in the Economist, London, Britain, August 13, 2011

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Bangladesh indigenous people demands constitutional recognition

SALEEM SAMAD

AMIDST ANGRY debate, the indigenous communities in Bangladesh demands constitutional recognition of the 45 different ethnic communities living in the land for centuries.

The ethnic leaders burst into protest, after government recently said Bangladesh does not have any indigenous people. Instead the officials argued that the Bangla-speaking majoritarian, mostly Sunni Muslims are indigenous people.

The observance of the international day of Indigenous People on Tuesday turned into anger and frustration. The ethnic leaders were joined by scores of civil society and rights groups at a rally at the language martyrs square in the capital Dhaka.

Despite the rain, hundreds in distinctive traditional attires, sporting colorful headgears with musical instruments joined the rally.

The 300,000 indigenous people were compelled to adopt “Bangalee” national identity and dubbed as small national minorities, when amendments to the constitution was made last month, explained ethnic leader Barrister Devashis Roy.

At the rally heard Jotindra Bodipriyo Larma, who once led a 20 year bush-war against the authority for political and cultural autonomy. Guerillas under his command surrendered after signing a treaty in 1997.

Larma warned the government to rethink of their decision to delete their identity or else they will have to adopt a path of confrontation.

The 70 year old leader fears that the denial of the existence as ethnic minorities will eventually erupt into racial tension, as it happened in many countries.

After 14 years, Larma lamented that the peace accord has not been implemented, which would jeopardize the peace resolution.

Dr. Mizanur Rahman, chief of National Human Rights Commission at a seminar day before said it is a self contradiction of the ruling party. He argued that if the ethnic minorities are believed to have taken refuge for persecution and economic migrants, then the peace treaty signed with the indigenous armed militants who have pledged allegiance to the state constitution would be disillusioned.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com
Photo: Khaleda Zia detained on corruption charges by military-backed caretaker government in 2007
SALEEM SAMAD

Former Bangladesh prime minister and opposition leader Khaleda Zia has been accused of corruption by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) on Monday.

Meanwhile, Zia's elder son Tarique Rahman was indicted for money laundering. This is the first corruption case against the former prime minister since the Awami League took power in January 2009.

The ACC charged the Bangladesh Nationalists Party's (BNP) leader over a case involving land bought for a charity named after her late husband. The charges alleged she abused of her office when she was prime minister, using undisclosed income. An ACC official said that the Zia Charitable Trust in Dhaka, of which Khaleda is chairperson, did not have any known source of income for $167,112 USD.
BNP officials rejected the charges, saying they are designed to malign the family of assassinated president Ziaur Rahman.

A court in Dhaka on Monday indicted BNP's senior vice chairman Tarique Rahman and his businessman friend Giasuddin Al Mamun in a money laundering case. Rachman is currently in London, but the indictment means the trial will begin even if he does not return. He is facing 14 cases on charges of corruption and extortion against him.

According to the case filed by the ACC, Tarique and his friend allegedly channeled funds worth more than $2.73 million USD to Singapore between 2003 and 2007. The funds were allegedly accumulated from bribes by a construction company, which paid to secure a contract for an 80MW power plant.

Khaleda's youngest son, Arafat Rahman Coco, was also jailed for six years and fined $2.5 million in June for siphoning an estimated $932,000 to Singapore in a separate case.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

ISI trained ULFA, key leader lived in Bangladesh

RAKHI CHAKRABARTY

FROM THE jungles of Myanmar, a life in disguise in Bangladesh to the power corridors of Delhi's North Block, it's been an arduous trek for United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) leaders.

For 12 years till his arrest in November 2009, Ulfa foreign secretary Shashadhar Choudhury lived in Bangladesh with his wife and 10-year-old daughter. "I lived in Bangladesh as Rafiqul Islam. My wife Runima, a member of Ulfa's cultural wing, assumed the name Sabina Yasmin," said Choudhury, who lived in a rented house in Dhaka's upscale locality Uttara Sector 3.

Choudhury and Runima got married in Bangladesh in 1997 and set up home there. Their daughter studied in Dhaka's International Turkish Hope School.

"I had Bangladeshi national ID card issued by their army and passports of several countries, including Bangladesh, Myanmar, Fiji and South Africa," he said. Individuals in various Bangladeshi agencies helped Ulfa with logistics and support.

Choudhury was not the only one. While Indian security agencies hunted for them, the top Ulfa leadership, including chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, found a safe haven in Bangladesh.

Ulfa leaders, their wives and children assumed Islamic names and lived a life of disguise in Bangladesh till Sheikh Hasina swept to power in 2009. Soon after, top Ulfa leaders were picked up by Bangladesh and handed over to India.

In its more than two decades of terrorist activities, Ulfa has received international help and set up bases in neighbouring countries. "Pakistan's ISI trained Ulfa. In 1991, I was part of the first batch of Ulfa members to go to Pakistan for training in small arms, including main battle rifles," said Choudhury, who joined Ulfa in 1985.

"We were guerrilla fighters and faced Operation Bajrang and Operation Rhino in 1990 and 1991," he said.

In 1992, he was chosen Ulfa foreign secretary by the outfit's general council. "Soon after joining, we had trained with the Nagas of the undivided NSCN. In 1988, we were the second batch of Ulfa who went over to Kachin in Myanmar. We fought along with Kachin Independence Army (KIA) for two years and shared their guns," he said.

Later, as Ulfa's financial resources improved, they began buying weapons. "The Chinese sold Ulfa weapons but indirectly. They are not fools to train insurgents or get directly involved," Choudhury said.

The worst ordeal, Choudhury said, was during Operation Goldenbird in 1995, a joint anti-insurgent military offensive launched by India and Myanmar. "I was the golden bird they were looking for. For nine days, I fought without food or water in the jungles of Myanmar's Chin which was an unknown terrain for us," he claimed.

But, the Indian Army managed to catch him in Mizoram. "But they did not knpw they had caught Shashadhar Choudhury. For two-and-a-half months in Army custody, they only asked me where is Shasha? But I managed to protect myself saying I was Sailen Choudhury," he said. Sailen Choudhury was an Ulfa member who had been killed in that operation.

Later, he was taken away from Army custody, produced in court and sent to jail. He struck a deal with then AGP government in Assam. He offered to build bridges between Ulfa and the government in return for his release. But, soon after he was released, he jumped bail and fled to Bhutan. "It was for survival," he said.

Ulfa received the worst blow during Royal Bhutan Army's Operation All Clear in 2003. A large number of their members were killed or went missing.
"After this, we shifted our headquarters to Bangladesh and then to Myanmar," he said. Ulfa commander-in-chief Paresh Barua, opposing peace talks, still operates from their base in Myanmar.

"Ulfa did not take up guns out of choice. State terror and India's colonial occupation gave birth to Ulfa," said Choudhury.

First published in Times of India, India, August 9, 2011

Saturday, August 06, 2011

India calls 'ceasefire' on border crossings

Photo: Felani shot, killed and left hanging on barbed fence for hours, which caused national uproar


SYED TASHFIN CHOWDHURY

EFFORTS TO transform the India-Bangladesh border from a 4,000 kilometer long zone of terrorism, smuggling and human trafficking into a peaceful barrier punctured by numerous trade corridors took a big step forward last week with a pledge that India's Border Security Force (BSF) would no longer shoot people crossing from one country to the other.

Indian Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram made the promise in Dhaka after signing a comprehensive border management deal on July 30.

"Let me make it very clear ... we have issued strict instructions to our Border Security Force that under no circumstances should they fire upon anyone trying to cross from either Bangladesh to India or India to Bangladesh. The message has gone down to the last jawan [private soldier]," he told a press conference.

The BSF has killed 20 Bangladeshis and wounded 50 so far this year, according to Bangladesh-based human-rights organization Odhikar. Chidambaram said seven people had been killed at the border this year, and 33 last year. As many as 930 Bangladeshis were killed from 2000 to last September, according to Human Rights Watch, citing Odhikar data.

"The only situation in which we have said firing may be justified is when a gang actually attacks a BSF jawan or an office," said Chidambaram. "Then he has to protect himself and fire in self-defense."

The director general of Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB), Major General Anwar Hussain, and the director general of the Indian BSF, Raman Srivastava, earlier signed a "Bangladesh and India Coordinated Border Management Plan" to stop cross-border crimes such as terrorism, drug smuggling and human trafficking. The sides agreed to cooperate on security and expressed their resolve to jointly combat insurgency, militancy and terrorism.

Chidambaran's visit precedes a trip to Dhaka early next month by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when a series of border-related agreements are expected to be finalized, an indication of the increasingly warm ties between the two countries.

At the end of last month, a border weekly market, or haat, was allowed to operate in Meghalaya district for the first time since 1971, and also in July the Indian Supreme Court gave the go-ahead to a ground-breaking cross-border cement project agreed to more than 10 years earlier.

Bangladesh has meanwhile taken a "political decision" to give transit to India as the "current government wants to establish all modes of connectivity in the region", Foreign Minister Dipu Moni said last month. One goal is to ease transit across Bangladesh's northern and eastern borders to improve sea access for India's far northeastern states.

India also wants improved road and railway routes that would allow it better access from Kolkata, the commercial capital of eastern India, across the Ganges Delta to the important port of Chittagong.

Chidambaram said outstanding issues concerning 6.5 kilometers of border demarcation, the transfer of enclaves and disputed land possession may be resolved during Manmohan's visit. As many as 51,000 people, 17,000 of them Bangladeshis, live in the 162 enclaves and exclaves that dot both sides of the border areas.

Asked whether the residents would be provided the opportunity to choose citizenship, he said the fate of the inhabitants would be decided by the countries' prime ministers when they met in Dhaka.

At a meeting of officials, Bangladesh's State Minister for Home Affairs, Shamsul Hoque Tuku, expressed "deep concern over the killing of innocent Bangladeshis by BSF, trafficking of women and children and smuggling of phensedyl from India to Bangladesh".
Phensedyl is an intoxicating cough syrup banned in Bangladesh and manufactured at factories along the

Indian side of the border. Bangladeshi Home Minister Sahara Khatun told the meeting the factories had now been closed.
According to a recent United Nations Children's Fund report, about 400 women and children in Bangladesh are trafficked each month from Bangladesh. More than 300,000 Bangladeshi women and children had been trafficked to India in the past decade and another 200,000 were sold in Pakistan, the report said.

One issue that may continue to test relations is Dhaka's determination to secure the capture of Captain Abdul Majed and Risaldar Mosleuddin Khan, two fugitives found guilty of being involved in the 1975 killing of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the country's first president. The Bangladesh government believes the two, who have been sentenced to death, are in India.

Bangladeshi Home Minister Sahara Khatun told the press conference that Bangladesh had sought India's cooperation in the search for the two men. Chidambaram said they may be in India and his government would "leave no stone unturned to apprehend the convicts" although they will need more information and intelligence from Bangladesh on the issue.

On the general border issue, Bangladesh would "hand over a list of vulnerable border points being used for criminal activities", the Daily Star reported, citing a Home Ministry official. At least 700 kilometers of the border, on rivers and other points, are unfenced.

As relations have improved, and amid Bangladesh's repeated requests to India to stop killings and torture at the border, the BSF has resorted to more unusual methods, as widely reported in the Bangladesh media this month.

Bangladeshi cattle trader Rafiqul Islam was killed on July 2 while crossing the Saniyazan River with cattle, after being hit by stones thrown by BSF jawans. BGB officials later confirmed the killing.

Two days earlier, a 25-year-old Bangladeshi farmer, Selim Hossain, while working at a paddy field on the Bangladesh side of the border, was allegedly dragged into Indian territory by BSF jawans who had crossed the border in Chuadanga district, locals said. An hour later, people found Selim's body hanging from an electrified barbwire fence on the Indian side of the border.

Residents in dangerous areas will be hoping that the BSF will abide by Chidambaram's order from now on.

First published in Asia Times Online, August 4, 2011


Syed Tashfin Chowdhury is a senior staff writer at New Age in Dhaka.


Copyright 2011 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

India-Bangladesh relation – New Berlin Wall is opening

Sonia Gandhi with Shiekh Hasina on her recent visit here
SWADESH ROY

SONIA GANDHI president of Indian National Congress and the chief of National Democratic Aliens of India came to Dhaka to join an autism conference of South Asia on 25 July. It was a non-political visit but at the end, it proves that visit was a highly diplomatic and political. It has reached its purpose successfully. The visit of Sonia Gandhi was essential for the confidence building of the people of Bangladesh. It is true that, for a long time the relation of India Bangladesh is not good. The 1790-mile iron fence of the India Bangladesh land border is enough to clear, what the relation was going between India and Bangladesh. One of the Bangladeshi political leaders has called this fence ‘a New Berlin Wall’. Now it is not the time to discuss what circumstances was bound to make it but it is the time to open the New Berlin Wall. It is clear, Sonia Gandhi has come to open the New Berlin Wall and she has done it. She is successful to convey the message to the Bangladeshi people that, India is a real friend of Bangladesh, which they were in 1971; and not only these two countries, India wants a good relation with their neighbors. India is a regional supper power and going to be an economic power of the world. So it is needed to prove to their small neighbors that India is a real friend of their neighbors, not a threat. Besides, in the present world, politics is not the only main component of the friendship of the two countries. Economy and trade is the main component of the friendship. However, it is also true that, to make an economic and trade relation you have to first make a good political relation and you have to settle all political disputes. Bangladesh and India is doing that.

The people of Bangladesh are thinking that, India- Bangladesh relation will be cemented at the time of the visit of Indian Prime Minister and that will be a new start. On the other hand, many Indian Newspapers already said that, it has already started. It starts from the time of the Sheikh Hasina’s visit on January 2010. During the time of the Sheikh Hasina’s visit, two countries declare a joint communiqué. That joint communiqué is the start of the new relationship. Bangladesh has done a lot to establish this good relationship. Bangladesh has deported more or less all the extremist of India who took shelter in Bangladesh. For a long time they were operating their operation to use Bangladeshi shelter or land. There is an allegation they were taking help of a military intelligence of a particular country. Besides that, extremist group were involved in arms smuggling. One of their leaders Paresh Barua is now one of the main accused of a big arms smuggling case in Bangladesh. He is now absconding but is not in Bangladesh. Intelligence of Bangladesh confirms that, he is now in a hill of the border of Myanmar and China. There is only leader of the extremist group of India in the jail of Bangladesh. He is the general secretary of United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA). He is popularly known as Anup Chetia though his real name is Golap Barua. Bangladesh will hand him over to India before the visit of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Indian Prime Minister will visit Bangladesh on 6 to 7 September of this year. Therefore, before the visit of Indian Prime Minister at Bangladesh is going to settle all the political issues which are obstruction for making a good relation. So a ray of hope is shown that, India will settle all the political disputes at the time of the visit of Indian Prime. Government source of Bangladesh is assuring that, at the time of Indian Prime visit, two rivers water sharing treaty will be signed. These two rivers are common river of India and Bangladesh, one is Teesta, and another is Feni Rivers. Besides that a limited transit facility treaty between India and Bangladesh will be singed.

To build up this new relation Bangladesh has done his work first but last couple of month India is showing a good shine. There are three important minister have visited to Bangladesh. Indian commerce minister came first and an agreement has been signed. From that time Nepal is getting transit facility through India. Besides that, India gave some tariff facility on Bangladeshi goods. However, it is a start. If India and Bangladesh wanted to strengthen their new relation these two countries have to go a long way in commerce sector. These two countries have to realize that, in the present world, commerce sector can make a profound relation with any countries. So, these two countries have to think about many new avenues for trade. In that case, India can think that, they will make a tariff free zone for Bangladeshi goods in their eastern part of the country. That will be a new getaway for boost up economy of eastern part of India and Bangladesh.

Indian foreign minister came to visit Bangladesh on 6 July. At the time of the Indian foreign minister visit two agreements has been singed. According to one of the agreements, Bhutanese vehicles will get free movement facilities between India and Bangladesh land customs. It is surely remarkable in terms of regional connectivity. While it opens up doors for Bhutan, it can also be regarded as a preview of other positive things that could happen within South Asia. Indian home minister came to visit Bangladesh on 29 July. An agreement namely Border Management Plan has been signed on 30 July. Besides that, Indian home minister said, Indian authorities have already issued strict instructions for ‘not to fire’ under any circumstances while people from Bangladesh or from India try to illegally cross the border. They have pledged to put an end of killings of Bangladeshi nationals. The killing of Bangladeshi nationals by Indian Border Security Force is a big problem for Bangladesh. They kill Bangladeshi national frequently. According to American foreign policy magazine since 2000, Indian troops have shot and killed nearly 1000 people. So to build up a deep relation between Bangladesh and India, it has to be stopped and before Indian Prime Minister’s visit and in the mean time India has to prove that, they have stopped it. Indian home minister told that, it would not happen further; now they have to prove it. However, there declaration, their attitude is showing that, they are going to do it. All of their works express that, they are trying to make a good atmosphere before the visit of their Prime Minister and to start a new. So, now one can hope that New Berlin Wall is going to open.

First published in Times of Assam, India, August 03, 2011


Swadesh Roy is the Executive Editor of the Dainik Janakantha published from Dhaka, Bangladesh. He can be reached at swadeshroy@gmail.com

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Bangladeshi workers claim they are slaves to make dresses for brand favoured by Kate and Pippa Middleton

NADA FARHOUD

"This article is the subject of a legal complaint. Inditex lawyers claim that the article is inaccurate and defamatory. We are currently investigating their complaint."

THE harrowing human cost of clothes that workers claim are made for one of Kate Middleton’s favourite high street shops is today ¬exposed by The People.

In an investigation with the War on Want charity, we found a Bangladesh factory where ¬hundreds of women – some only teenagers – claim they slave into the night stitching clothes for stores ¬including Zara.

The girls say they toil up to 16 hours a day six days a week for as little as 7cent an hour – a breach of international labour laws and codes of conduct.

On those wages, a worker would have to graft every night for six months to afford the €62 Zara dress Kate wore the day after she wed Prince William in April.

Kate’s sister Pippa also chose a Zara outfit on the same day – a €79 royal blue blazer.

The brand is the flagship of the world’s largest retailer Inditex, a Spanish company which logged a €1.6billion profit in the first three months of this year alone and which also own the Massimo Dutti and Stradivarius brands.

Inditex signed up Bangladeshi firm Nexus Sweater Ind as an ¬official supplier for its Zara label although the firm says it has not used them since 2009.

Our investigators spoke to workers who say some orders were subcontracted to ¬unregulated ¬local clothes maker Tropical Sweater Ltd.

Women workers at TSL say they are treated like slaves and can’t live on the pittance they’re paid.Last year Bangladeshi workers rioted over wages, forcing government chiefs to double the national ¬minimum wage to €27 a month.

But as Inditex prepare for a shareholders’ meeting on Tuesday, the TSL girls say they have to work staggering hours to get even that paltry sum.

Many are from farming families forced into the city by a string of natural disasters that have ravaged Bangladesh in recent years. Typical of them is 17-year-old Salma, whose village home was destroyed by massive floods two years ago.

She said: “My dream was to be a doctor but at 15 I had to start working in a garment factory.

“I moved to Tropical Sweater a year ago as a sewing operator where I regularly stitch and label Zara clothing.

“I work 12 to 16 hours a day and am paid very badly.

“I don’t get overtime and I have no holiday.

“But I have no choice – I don’t want to lose my job.”

Salma says she gets €38 a month, a third more than the national minimum.

But to earn it she claims she often has to work an extra 96 hours in overtime.

And in addition she says bosses also insist she ¬regularly does the five-hour night shift from 10pm to 3am – for which they give her just 33cent.

That works out at less than 7cent an hour.

Salma showed us one of her time-cards which reveal in one month she did 288 hours, ¬including 12 days of working from 8am to midnight. She said her marathon stint was rewarded with a wage of 13cent an hour and didn’t even add up to the statutory €27.

Salma, who lives with her parents and two brothers in a single room in a Dhaka slum, added: “My salary is not enough to survive on.”

She went on to accuse TSL bosses of forcing workers to endure hellish and insanitary conditions.
Salma said: “The factory is very hot and dark. There is a single, filthy toilet ¬between all of us and the drinking water is not purified.

“Verbal abuse and scolding by the management is very normal behaviour in this factory.”

Her story was backed by another teenage worker, Sahana, who also says she earns about €35 a month.

She told an investigator: “Bosses ¬behave very badly and use bad ¬language to us. I have to work long hours and don’t have time to eat properly. I am as thin as I’ve ever been.

“The water supply is not pure – I should drink boiled water but I have no time to boil it.”

Shamima, 28, started working in clothing factories after losing everything in a cyclone that killed 10,000 people in Bangladesh in 2007. She said she regularly worked 16-hour days as well as night shifts, leaving her so tired she often goes to bed without food.

She added: “I’ve lost all my dreams. I have only one hope – to make a ¬better life for my future children.
“I do not want them to grow up like me and work in a garment factory.”

Meanwhile, War on Want said half the 1,000 Bangladeshi factory workers it spoke to, including some at TSL, claimed they had been beaten up by managers. One in three claimed they had been ¬sexually abused and half said they had been ordered to do overtime while pregnant.

Laws
The first Zara store opened in La Coruna, Spain, in 1975 and 10 years later founder Amancio Ortega launched Inditex.

Today Ortega, 75, is the world’s seventh richest man with a fortune of €20billion.

Inditex now has more than 5,000 stores in 78 countries and is planning to open 120 stores in China.
In 2005 Inditex signed up to the Ethical Trading Initiative, a worldwide alliance between trade unions, companies and campaign groups to end worker exploitation.

The ETI code includes limiting overtime to 12 hours a week and insists wages comply with local laws. It also requires a basic living wage with overtime paid at a premium rate, demands hygienic conditions for staff and bars verbal and physical abuse.

Inditex’s own code of conduct goes even further by including a ban on unauthorised subcontracting.

And it promises to act against any breaches in a way that would not backfire on vulnerable workers.

But Greg Muttitt, of War on Want, said: “This investigation exposes the ugly side of Zara in stark contrast to the positive ¬headlines gained for Kate Middleton wearing its dresses.

“Our research shows British high street fashion has still failed to clean up its act and it’s high time the Government stopped this abuse. Time and again retailers have broken ¬pledges to ensure the workers behind their profits earn a living wage.”

The charity will tomorrow publish Stitched Up, a report highlighting the plight of the Bangladeshi workers.

It will say most clothes made in Bangladesh are produced by badly-paid women aged 18 to 32.

After The People contacted Inditex, the company launched an urgent ¬inquiry into the claims. A spokesman said they had no ¬current orders with Nexus but ¬admitted they had in the past. They had not authorised Tropical Sweater to make any clothing for them. The spokesman admitted ¬unauthorised sub-contracting had ¬happened before but did not say at which factory.

Hours later, the spokesman called back to say Inditex had not used Nexus for Zara since 2009.

And he insisted officials visited the plant on Friday but found no trace of any work being done for them – even though the War on Want report said TSL workers had told them they were stitching for the Zara brand in June.

Last year Inditex’s annual report acknowledged subcontracting had been a problem and said in the past two years it has axed 127 suppliers in Asia for breaching its code of ¬conduct or for commercial reasons.

First published in The People, United Kingdom, July 17 2011