Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ethnic minority leaders blame Bangladesh authority for betrayal

File Photo: Jotindra Bodipriyo Larma aka Shantu Larma, chairman Parbattya Chattagram Janasanghati Samity
SALEEM SAMAD

FORMER GUERRILLA commander, now leader of the indigenous people has dubbed the Bangladesh authority as “betrayal” of their political autonomy of the ethnic minorities living in the hill forest in south-east region.

The insurgent leaders of the Mongoloid ethnic communities signed a peace accord after two decades of bush war, since then the implementation of the accord was flouted by the government.

Jotindra Bodipriyo Larma aka Shantu Larma, chairman of Parbattya Chattagram Janasanghati Samity told journalists on Wednesday that the government is engaged in dilly-dallying tactics since the accord was signed 14 years ago.

He threatened the government non-violent movement from the new year to press home their 19 points charter of demands, which includes regional autonomy, withdrawal of military troops and special status of the indigenous people.

In a statement, the rebel leader urged the government to abrogate the “state religion Islam” from the recently amended constitution.

Larma protested the government’s denial to recognize the non-Muslim ethnic communities as indigenous people, acknowledged by the International Labor Organizations Convention 169, a legally binding international instrument. Thus, he said the authority also denies the political, economical, social, cultural and human rights of the ethnics, which constitutes less than one percent of the population.

He criticized the reasoning for continued presence of huge contingent of military in the Chittagong Hill Tracts after surrender of the insurgents and weapons 14 years ago. The military were blamed for political instability and often racial skirmishes by Bangla-speaking Muslims settled from the land-hungry plain lands.

Responding to a reporter, Larma said the government is not pro-people and pro-secular, therefore they lost hopes for peace in the volatile hill forest.

Meanwhile, the leaders of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission, based in Copenhagen told a press conference in capital Dhaka that they had to abandon the last leg of the international mission due to intimidation of the security agencies.

Co-chair Sultana Kamal and Elsa Stamtopoulou jointly briefing the media after a week of their mission to CHT said that a culture of impunity prevails in the region, for the authorities nonchalant to hold independent inquiry into several racial riots since 2008.

The mission leader Stamtopoulou said in the face of unprecedented obstruction and interference from administration officials and intelligence agencies during the parleys with victims of human rights and civil society groups in picturesque Rangamati and Bandarban administrative towns, the Commission was compelled to discontinue its planned mission last Friday.

The Commission squarely blamed the military and law enforcing agencies for continued human rights violation in hill forest, which is one-tenth of Bangladesh where the ethnic Mongoloids were living in seclusion for centuries.

This has encouraged racial hatreds among the hill people and Muslim settlers, which has fueled distrust among the ethnic communities for non-implementation of the peace accord signed by insurgents and the government for more than a decade.

However, Elsa said she is hopeful of confidence building measures among the settlers from plain lands and indigenous people, which needs to be initiated by the government and civil society actors.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes on Islamic terrorism, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile from Canada after return of democracy. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

U.S. seek to ensure fair, transparent trial of Bangladesh war criminals

SALEEM SAMAD

THE MOST talked about trial of the war criminals, which occurred during the bloody war of independence of Bangladesh from Islamic Pakistan in 1971 needs to be accessible to all.

The visiting US Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Stephen J Rapp on Monday said after he reviewed to assess the standard and progress of the war crimes tribunal.

A former prosecutor for courts for Sierra Leone, and the International Crimes Tribunal of Rwanda, Rapp said the war crimes tribunal should define "crimes against humanity" at the soonest to clear any confusion.

US Ambassador regretted that many of his suggestions he made in March were not incorporated into the International Crimes Tribunal Rules of Procedure to ensure a fair and transparent trial.

The International Crimes Tribunal detained five key suspects who belong to pro-Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami and main opposition Bangladesh Nationalists Party. Several other suspects are under investigation and would be arrested to face the music.

Bangladesh would be first Sunni Muslim majoritarian nation to have the war crimes suspects on the docks, which is likely to mitigate the longstanding demands of the survivors and family members seeking justice for the three million deaths and another 400,000 sexually abused women by the Islamic militia, henchmen of the Pakistan army.

Rapp said it is important that the judges at the first opportunity define what “crimes against humanity” means. The term “crimes against humanity” has been defined in the statues and cases of international courts but it has not been defined in Bangladesh, to avoid credibility of the war crimes trial, he said.

He said it is not clear whether the prosecution must prove whether the alleged murders and rapes were committed as part of a widespread and systematic attack against a civilian population, whether they were committed on a racial, religious or political basis, or whether the alleged perpetrators would need to have knowledge of the larger attack.

Ideally the trial sessions should be broadcast on television or radio, or weekly reports be aired that would show key testimony, arguments, rulings, he argued.

If this is not possible in Bangladesh, he said neutral observers should be permitted to follow the trials and produce daily and weekly reports that would be available through the internet and other media.

Rapp said these trials are of great importance to the victims of these horrible crimes. What happens here will send a message to others who would commit these crimes anywhere in the world that it is possible for a national system to bring those responsible to justice.

Rapp, who came here for a third time in connection with the war crimes Trial, said the focus of his current visit is on how the International Crimes Tribunal will conduct these trials.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes on Islamic terrorism, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile from Canada after return of democracy. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Bangladesh attains ODI status in women’s cricket

SALEEM SAMAD

Bangladesh’s women cricket team on Thursday confirmed their one-day-international (ODI) status by thrashing United States in an International Cricket Council Women’s World Cup Qualifier game.

The win secures their ODI status, ICC media and communications officer Lucy Benjamin told reporters.

Bangladesh’s dream of playing the Women’s World Cup was, however, dented through conceding a six-wicket defeat against Sri Lanka in a playoff match Tuesday.

Jubilant spectators at the cricket ground at the fringe of capital Dhaka were treated to an impressive all-round display by the hosts who recorded an emphatic nine-wicket win over U.S. in a fifth place semi-final play-off match.

Skipper Doris Francis top scored for the U.S. with an 85-ball 23 with 22 extras being the next best scorer as eight American batswomen failed to reach double figures.

Before registering the victory in an easy chase, Bangladesh bowlers restricted the USA to a paltry 78 runs.

Player of the match Khadiza Tul Kubra continued her sensational form with the ball as she picked up four vital wickets for 20 runs.

A solid second-wicket partnership between Suktara Rahman and Farjana Hoque guided Bangladesh to a comfortable win in less than 18.5 overs. The two scored 29 and 27 respectively.

For a conservative Sunni Muslim majoritarian Bangladesh, the media coverage of the winning women’s cricket team has been seriously observed by the Muslim clerics and Islamist parties. They propagate that Muslim women should strictly abide by Sharia rules, wearing modestly, meaning wearing Hijab and should always have a male companion.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes on Islamic terrorism, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile from Canada after return of democracy. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Bangladesh begins trial of Islamist for war crimes

SALEEM SAMAD
After 40 years Bangladesh has began trial of war crimes suspects on Monday, mostly Islamist leaders who acted as henchmen of Pakistan army during the bloody war of independence of Bangladesh in 1971.

The prosecutor Syed Rezaur Rahman in the first-ever prosecution, placed 88 pages of the statement in International Crimes tribunal against Islamic cleric Delawar Hossain Sayedee.

Sayedee, a Jamaat-e-Islami’s executive council member has been charged on 20 counts for war crimes that he allegedly committed during the war of independence.

On October 3, Jamaat-e-Islami leader Sayedee, is one of the seven Islamist Jamaat and main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party leaders were detained for war crimes suspects, was charged with 20 counts of crimes.

The suspect recruited a dreaded militia group in the name of saving Islam from the traitors of Pakistan. His armed group were primarily engaged in genocide, murder, rape, arson, abduction and torture of civilians, mostly the minority Hindu community.

He has also been accused for proselytization of Hindu minorities of 100-150 to Muslim.

Sayedee went into hiding after the Pakistan army formally surrendered in December 1971, creating the independence of Bangladesh. He quietly returned to his home in Pirojpur in 1986. In the guise of an Islamic cleric, he began to address religious sermons in public gatherings enjoying impunity.

Bangladesh would be first Sunni Muslim majoritarian nation to have the war crimes suspects on the docks, which is likely to mitigate the longstanding demands of the survivors and family members seeking justice for the three million deaths and another 400,000 sexually abused women by the marauding army and the Islamic militia.

Dhaka University professor Dr. Nazmul Ahsan Kalimullah said that the trial would not only mollify the controversial political Islam propagated by Islamist party, but also usher justice sought by the survivors and victims.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes on Islamic terrorism, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile from Canada after return of democracy. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Saturday, November 19, 2011

In Bangladesh: Reconciliation or Revenge?

JOHN CAMMEGH

Over the last 20 years, international criminal justice has developed rapidly, and most people see this as a change for the better. Thanks to the labors, however imperfect, of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, and of ad-hoc tribunals from Sierra Leone to Cambodia, it has been established that politicians and warlords who commit terrible crimes against the vulnerable can no longer count on impunity.

But a trial now starting in Bangladesh risks making a mockery of that principle. Indeed, it serves as a terrible warning of the way in which the ideals of universal justice and accountability can be abused. Facing ill-defined charges of crimes against humanity, which carry the death penalty, are five elderly men who lead the country’s Islamist party, Jamaat-e-Islami. (A sixth defendant is a central figure in the Bangladesh National Party, an erstwhile political ally of Jamaat.)

The charges arise from the civil war of 1971 in which the former East Pakistan gained independence as Bangladesh: a savage nine-month conflict in which hundreds of thousands of people died. It is widely accepted that military forces under the command of West Pakistan committed brutal acts of ethnic cleansing, directed at Hindus in particular. But that does not, of course, prove the guilt of a political party, like Jamaat, which opposed independence. To make a considered moral judgement on a conflict that took place 40 years ago, a scrupulously impartial investigation would be needed.

Sadly, the current trial promises to be nothing of the kind. It pretends to be applying universal principles — that is implicit in the name of the court, the Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal — but in contrast with other recent ad-hoc tribunals, there is no external input, because none has been allowed.

I was one of three British lawyers whose help was sought by the local defense team. I was retained on behalf of Delwar Hossain Sayedee, Jamaat’s leading cleric, who goes on trial for his life on Sunday. Although I managed to pay one visit to Dhaka last March, where I was tailed by security operatives, neither I nor any other British lawyer has been allowed to participate in the trial or enter Bangladesh while it is happening.

But from any vantage point, certain dire features of the proceedings are clear. The trial is being held under a revived version of the country’s International Crimes (Tribunals) Act of 1973, which was initially presented as South Asia’s answer to the Nuremberg trials — only to be set aside in favor of a general amnesty for all participants in the conflict. In its original form, the 1973 act falls far short of international standards. Government investigators have wide-ranging rights to detain and question, suspects lack the usual rights to information and legal advice. The 1973 act has recently been amended in ways that make matters worse.

Sayedee’s treatment speaks for itself. When he was first questioned, his attending lawyer was forced to “observe” from a room where he could neither see nor hear anything. The questioners regularly broke off their work to inform journalists of the suspect’s supposed “confessions” which were duly sensationalized in the press. When Sayedee was eventually charged, he was again denied access to a lawyer and forced to enter immediate pleas to a series of grave accusations with little precision over place or time. The 1973 act then allows just three weeks, an absurdly short time, for the defense to prepare its case.

In recent days there have been disturbing reports of defense lawyers and witnesses being harassed. As Human Rights Watch has disclosed, one of Sayedee’s main lawyers received a warning to stay away from work, and was told that he might be arrested. Another prominent lawyer and Jamaat supporter faces an arrest warrant in connection with riots in Dhaka in September, even though he was in Europe at the time. Further ominous developments, cited by Human Rights Watch, include the arrest of one key defense witness and the preparation of criminal charges against nine more.

The rules on what sort of evidence is permissible, as laid down by the 1973 act, are at variance with international norms, and with Bangladeshi jurisprudence. Media reports, however biased, are explicitly admitted, with no forensic scrutiny. In the latest alarming development, the court has rejected a petition of recusal against its own chairman, who in 1993 was involved in a contentious enquiry into Jamaat’s alleged liability for atrocities.

The Bangladesh government has made some extravagant claims on behalf of the trial. Kamrul Islam, the state minister for law, said in October that the tribunal would be “exemplary for the world community ... working with full independence and complete neutrality.” A fair trial would indeed have been a landmark: the court could have set an example to the developing world, showing how to end impunity while also cementing reconciliation.

But the court prosecutor, Rana Dasgupta, seems not to anticipate any real deliberation by the court. “One can say that 2012 is the year of the verdict of the war crimes trial and 2013 the year of verdict execution,” he has ominously predicted. If he is proved right, the result will smack not of reconciliation but revenge.

First published in The New York Times, November 17, 2011


John Cammegh is a barrister in chambers at 9 Bedford Row, London. He acted as lead defense counsel for Augustine Gbao, overall security commander of the RUF rebel army, at his war crimes trial at the Special Court of Sierra Leone from 2004 to 2006

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Bangladeshi women revoke marriage vows, protesting dowry

Defiant Farzana Yasmin, 27
SALEEM SAMAD

A BANGLADESHI Muslim woman spontaneously revoked her marriage vows protesting dowry proposal, moments after she was married on an auspicious 11-11-11 day, which went unlucky for the couple.

Farzana Yasmin, 27 stole the hearts and minds of millions who read and watched the story in Bangladesh media.

Last Friday, Yasmin married Shawkat Ali Khan Hiron, 32 in a ceremony held in the morning. The groom lends his support when his relatives demanded dowry from Yasmin's father after the reception.

Braving social stigma in a Muslim conservative society, she protested and decided not to accompany her newly wedded husband to her in-laws house, as a customary. She got off the wedding car, adorned with flowers.

To make the occasion special, she distributed expensive cards, inviting friends and relatives to celebrate her wedding on the 11-11-11 lucky day.

"I cannot imagine spending my life under the same roof with a man who has voiced his support for taking dowry," the 10-minutes bride Yasmin wearing traditional golden embroidery red saree told the news portal bdnews24.com.

Offering and accepting dowries to bridegrooms is a criminal offence in Bangladesh, but is still widely practiced. Yasmin remarked with a sigh that dowries "were the cancer of society".

In the backdrop of social moral values her ‘rogue’ husband, a headmaster of a state primary school in Barguna town, in the south coastal region was an indecent proposal, she said confidently.

"The anti-dowry laws should be implemented strictly and those who demand should be given exemplary punishments," she added, stamping her foot down on the customary malpractice of the bride's family having to satisfy the material demands of the groom's side to ensure a proper marriage.

Yasmin as some say, shook the moral foundation of the society through her action, comes from an average middle-class family. The third child of a government employee and a housewife, she is a first-class graduate of social welfare from a college in the capital Dhaka.

She joined an insurance company as a junior officer while completing her master's degree and is posted at the company’s headquarters in the capital.

Several days after the incident, Yasmin who fled her village in fear of harassment of the Islamic bigots is determined to divorce her husband, with supporters and opponents of her action fiercely arguing their cases on Facebook and other social media.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes on Islamic terrorism, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile from Canada after return of democracy. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Bangladesh no to Europe’s ‘trade and aid’ proposal at WTO

Saleem Samad

Bangladesh on Tuesday opposed the European Union proposal on the ‘aid for trade’ which would have benefitted flood devastated Pakistan’s apparel and textile products export.

It is a departure of Bangladesh when it said Pakistan officials that it is considering to withdraw the objection regarding a EU move to grant beneficial import conditions to Pakistan textile producers as an aid measures following floods last year.

"Exports worth over $100 million will be affected if the privilege is extended to Islamabad," Muhammad Faruk Khan, Ministry for Commerce said, "if the EU extends the facility to Pakistan we suggested it should be for two years and not for unlimited period".

The commerce minister argued that Pakistan, as a cotton-producing country, would enjoy a competitive advantage over Bangladesh, should that happen.

However, Bangladesh supported the EU move to allow duty-free access of 75 products from Pakistan incorporating tariff rate quota on six garment items for two years, but said ‘aid for trade’ should not be mixed up.

Bangladesh does not have objection to a revised proposal if formally submitted to the WTO, Commerce Secretary Ghulam Hussain told a press briefing on Tuesday. He was flanked by Foreign Secretary Mohamed Mijarul Quayes, Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association and officials from WTO.

Bangladesh along with Sri Lanka, India, Brazil, Argentina and Peru also opposed the EU proposal last week at WTO meeting in Geneva.

Under the multilateral trade regime, privilege of duty-free access to a certain developing country must be endorsed by all WTO member countries.

Bangladesh, the second biggest textile goods exporters to the EU, enjoys duty- and quota-free market access to the market. The country earned about $18 billion by exporting readymade garment products in the last fiscal.


Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes on Islamic terrorism, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile from Canada after return of democracy. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Monday, November 14, 2011

Climate vulnerable countries seek reparation from rich nations

SALEEM SAMAD

The newly created platform of climate vulnerable countries have developed a roadmap and action plan aiming to reach a consensus to stand united at the negotiations at Durban climate conference scheduled to take place in two weeks from now.

The two-day international conference of Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) ended in Bangladesh capital on Monday. Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries will bear the brunt of climatic calamity for no or little fault of their own.

The Forum is one of the most striking new voices on climate change plans to take advantage of the positive momentum sparked by the Copenhagen and Cancun meetings of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The group includes small island states vulnerable to extreme weather events and sea level rise, those with immense spans of low-lying coastline such as Vietnam and Bangladesh, and dry nations of East Africa.

Officials from 19 countries and observers from eight countries expressed their concern that climate change is causing political, economic and social instability exacerbating insecurity for the people of the poorest countries.

Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina on Monday said the climate change constitutes a serious injustice and must be acknowledged by the global community. "We are bearing the brunt of the damage though we made negligible or no contribution to the menace," she remarked.

Expressing her worries as the economic cost of climate change is $130 billion and it would increase if adequate and timely steps are not taken.

Criticizing the global community, she said that she has not seen any clarity on how the global community would raise funds in the period between 2012 and 2020 towards operationalization of the Green Climate Fund.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who arrived in Dhaka on Sunday, was the keynote speaker. He made an international call for the world leaders, either of developed or underdeveloped countries, to unite to face the climate-change challenges and save the planet for the common good.

Ki-moon said: “We are in the middle of a serious economic crisis. But even in these difficult times, we cannot afford delay. We cannot ask the poorest and the most vulnerable to bear the costs.”

Quoting Hasina’s speech at the United Nations General Assembly this year, Ki-moon said a one-meter rise in sea level could push 30 million Bangladeshis homeless.

He commended the lead taken by Bangladesh to follow a pro-development, low carbon path and establishment of a Climate Change Trust Fund and a Resilience Fund.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes on Islamic terrorism, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile from Canada after return of democracy. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Sunday, November 13, 2011

India-Bangladesh: Historical Crossroads

SANCHITA BHATTACHARYA

DESPITE INDIA’S extraordinary support to the cause of Bangladeshi independence in 1971, relations between the two countries quickly soured after Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s assassination in August 1975. Indeed, Indian assessments of successive regimes in Bangladesh grew steadily more pessimistic, with some commentators (inaccurately) characterizing the country as the “next Afghanistan”, as trends in radicalization and terrorism escalated, and Bangladeshi state institutions became more and more embroiled in the wider enterprise of Islamist extremism, even as relationships with Pakistan’s disruptive external intelligence and military establishment deepened.

All this has, however, changed dramatically, and vastly beyond most expectations, since Sheikh Hasina sweeping electoral victory and the establishment of a majority Awami League (AL) regime at Dhaka in January 2009. With remarkable transformations in the domestic scenario, Dhaka has also sought to repair relations with Delhi, and the two countries have launched a number of initiatives that may herald a new era of mutual cooperation to address a wide range of outstanding issues, including terrorism, illegal immigration, border disputes, water sharing, transit and energy resources. There have been numerous exchanges, negotiations and meetings of high officials between the two countries since early 2010, now culminating in the official visit of Indian Prime Minister (PM) Manmohan Singh to Bangladesh, scheduled for September 6-7, 2011. Significantly, Manmohan Singh will be the first Indian PM to visit Bangladesh in 12 years, after then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee visited Dhaka in 1999.

Terrorism has been a point of major friction in Indo-Bangladesh relations over the past years. Since 2010, however, Bangladesh has recognized that Pakistan-based Islamist terrorist outfits had formed a strong nexus with extremists operating in Bangladesh, and were acting across the border in India, even as they came to constitute a major threat to internal security in Bangladesh as well. Moreover, a large number of indigenous militant organizations operating in India’s troubled Northeast had long secured safe haven on Bangladeshi (and, even earlier, East Pakistani) soil, keeping a number of insurgencies artificially alive in this troubled region. In combination, these linkages had contributed to a large measure of extremist violence in India, traces of which still persist. For instance, the emergence of Abdullah Khan and Jalaluddin Mullah alias Babu Bhai of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami Bangladesh (HuJI-B), as key suspects in the Mumbai serial blasts of July 13, 2011 (13/7), underlines the threat of extremism that abides within the two countries.

Nevertheless, things have changed tremendously for the better since the AL-led Government took charge on January 6, 2009. Prime Minister commitment to wipe out all patterns of terrorism and militancy in Bangladesh has resulted in the decimation of the Islamist extremist terrorist leadership within the country , even as a majority of top militant leaders of the outfits operating in India’s Northeast have been arrested and handed over to Indian authorities. On January 11, 2010, Prime Minister Hasina, during a visit to India, had discussed ways in which the two countries could cooperate to check the menace of terrorism, and an Agreement on Combating International Terrorism was signed by Prime Ministers Hasina and Manmohan Singh. It was noted that security remained a priority for both countries, as terrorists, insurgents and criminals respected no boundaries, and both leaders reiterated the assurance that the territory of either country would not be allowed for activities inimical to the other, and that their respective territory would not be used for training, sanctuary and other operations by domestic or foreign terrorist, militant and insurgent organizations and their operatives.

More recently, in the run-up to Manmohan Singh’s proposed Dhaka visit, Hasina declared, on August 10, 2011: “My Government is always against terrorism. We won't allow any space to the terrorists, we won't allow an inch of land of the country to be used for terrorism. Terrorists have no borders they are the problems of the whole world. We all have to fight against terrorism in a united form as it is not possible to eradicate this problem by solo effort.” On July 30, 2011, Indian Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram, acknowledging Bangladeshi cooperation in combating terrorism, declared, during his visit to Dhaka, "I have on record on numerous occasions appreciated the splendid cooperation of Bangladesh to combat terrorism.”

While the effort to combat terrorism has secured much attention, Indo-Bangladesh cooperation on a wide range of other outstanding issues has also quietly expanded. With regard to border management, P. Chidambaram laid the foundation of an INR 1.72 Billion integrated check post along the border (in West Bengal) on August 27, 2011, which would boost trade between India and Bangladesh. Chidambaram and his Bangladeshi counterpart Sahara Khatun had earlier signed a Comprehensive Border Management deal on July 30. The deal constitutes a major initiative in the transformation of the India-Bangladesh border from a 4,156 kilometre long zone of conflict, terrorism, crime, smuggling and human trafficking, into a peaceful barrier punctuated by numerous trade corridors.
Dhaka and New Delhi have also initialized the process of demarcation of enclaves. According to official records, there are 111 Indian enclaves, covering some 17,000 acres, inside Bangladesh; while Bangladesh has 51 enclaves, covering about 7,000 acres in India. With regard to the ‘adverse possession’ of these enclaves, the big call that will have to be taken by politicians on both sides of the border is the future of the 30,000-40,000 inhabitants of these territories. Significantly, it is expected that a series of border-related agreements will be finalized during PM Manmohan Singh’s Dhaka visit in September.

The fractious security interface between India and Bangladesh was also historically worsened by a wide range of other contentious issues. Among the most urgent of these, particularly from the Bangladesh perspective, has been water sharing. The unevenness of economic, political, and military power, and the lack of economic incentives, has allowed India to neglect the issue of water sharing, even while the problem of water resources has remained sensitive and politically charged in Bangladesh. The crisis in Bangladesh has been compounded by a frequent recurrence of drought years, causing environmental and socio-economic problems, as well as a growing sense of helplessness and anger, all of which have hardened public opinion in Bangladesh. The plan to sign a treaty on the sharing of Teesta River waters during PM Manmohan Singh’s scheduled visit to Dhaka will be a concrete step forward, even as the sharing of waters of a number of other rivers comes under active and accelerated discussion.

On the other hand, India’s desire for the economic development of its insurgency-afflicted Northeast region is inextricably linked with the issue of transit through Bangladesh. Previous regimes in Bangladesh have blocked India’s requests for transit facilities on the grounds that India may abuse these for military purposes, in case of a war with China, dragging Bangladesh into such future hostilities; that transit was the only ‘leverage’ Dhaka had against its gigantic neighbour, and this should be exploited as a bargaining chip; and, further, that Bangladesh should seek to hold India’s Northeast as a captive market for its own goods, rather than providing the Indian mainland’s producers access to this region. While these arguments have had significant resonance in Dhaka in the past, they have little grounds in rational policy or Bangladeshi interests of state. Thus, Indian External Affairs Minister S .M. Krishna, on July 8, 2011, clarified, “There is nothing to be feared by giving this transit. Transit is only for peaceful purposes”. Moreover, far from damaging the Bangladesh economy, transit arrangements would enormously augment the country’s infrastructure, even as they opened out possibilities of trade on both sides of the Bangladesh border, both with the Indian Northeast and the mainland. Accepting the enormous mutual potential benefits of a transit agreement, Dhaka, on July 7, 2011, agreed in principle to the idea of a wider Asian Highway, after signing the Business and Investment Promotion Agreement with India.

Another area of potential cooperation that will go a long way towards smoothening and deepening relations between the two countries is the energy sector. Bangladesh’s demand for natural gas and electricity has already outstripped available supplies. Agreements with India can open up energy trade and facilitate new investments in the energy sector for Bangladesh. On July 26, 2010, for instance, the two countries signed a 35-year landmark Electricity Transmission Deal under which India will eventually export up to 250 MW of power to Bangladesh from the end of 2012. In addition, a proposed 1320 MW power plant will transfer back the excess power generated to India through transmission links to be set up by the Power Grid Corporation of India Limited. Ongoing bilateral talks indicate the willingness of the two countries to secure enduring relations in the energy sector. However, effective implementation and sustained cooperation at the regional level is also required to ensure long term energy security.

A much wider range of cooperative agreements is currently under discussion, and these have the potential of cementing relations between Dhaka and New Delhi, with inevitable and positive impact on the internal security in both countries. For Prime Minister Hasina and her Government, however, the related decisions have not been easy, and will remain fraught with political risk, with strident criticism from the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-led Opposition. There have been repeated accusations of a ‘sell out’ to the ‘regional hegemony’. The BNP Chairman and opposition leader Khaleda Zia, on October 26, 2010, hinted at the growing and allegedly deleterious Indian role in the country, stating, “Frequency of movement by vultures has increased in Bangladesh and this movement must be stopped and vultures must be resisted unitedly.” Zia also claimed that Bangladesh had received no benefits from various agreements with India, and that the present Government was compromising national interests: “Our lands are taken away, innocent people are killed along the borders, but the present Government is afraid to protest.” On August 14, 2011, she demanded that the Government must make public all deals to be signed with India during Manmohan Singh's visit to Bangladesh, asserting, further, that her alliance would back the deals only “if they go in favour of Bangladesh. Otherwise, we will wage a tough movement to protest…. taking people with us."

Developments since 2009 have brought Bangladesh-India relations to a historical crossroads, and much of the bitterness of the past could easily be removed through a measure of generosity, flexibility and pragmatism on both sides. It remains to be seen if Prime Minister Singh’s visit to Dhaka will fulfil the broadening promise and expectations of the past two years.

First published in SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW, Weekly Assessments and Briefings
Volume 10, No. 8, August 29, 2011

Sanchita Bhattacharya is Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management

Friday, November 11, 2011

Pakistan textile producers to relocate in Bangladesh

PHOTO: ARIF SOOMRO/ EXPRESS

SALEEM SAMAD

THE ENTREPRENEURS of Pakistan plans to relocate their textile manufacturing units to Bangladesh in a bid to reap advantages given to least developed country (LDC) of duty-free markets in European Union.

The textile and clothing entrepreneurs blame Pakistan for rising cost of production, power shortage, higher taxes and poor market access to developed countries, former textile minister Mushtaq Ali Cheema said.

It is understood that Bangladesh offered lucrative incentives, including uninterrupted power supply and tax-free status for the first ten years and tariff-free access to markets in the European Union.

In September a Pakistan business delegation held parleys with Bangladesh trade bodies and expressed their eagerness to relocate their textile industries to Bangladesh.

The exporters and manufacturers are disappointed with the Pakistan government for its poor business vision, which left the Pakistan textile in tatters, said Cheema.

Comparing business prospects in Bangladesh and Pakistan, Cheema said the cost of textile production is very high. Whereas, labor cost in Bangladesh is cheaper and the workers are more efficient, said the former textile minister.

Already several Pakistani entrepreneurs have invested in composite textile units in Bangladesh. The entrepreneurs argue that several facilities gives way to profit margin of an average 30 percent higher for textile exporters than in Pakistan, he added.

The international buyers and retail giants are reluctant to place orders with exporters for unpredictable breakdown of supply chain causing immense embarrassment, said the outspoken politician.

Another huge attraction in Bangladesh is the lack of tariffs in major markets such as the United States and the European Union. Classified as a ‘Least Developed Country,’ Bangladesh has been given special tariff-free access to markets in developed countries as an indirect form of aid.

Bangladesh’s textile industry has made such an impact on the global map that international buying houses have opened their offices there, which made Pakistani textile and clothing manufacturers to travel to Dhaka to negotiate orders for goods destined for markets around the world.

However, the entrepreneur’s business bodies are yet to explain the negative impact on millions of workers currently employed, after the textile manufacturer’s exodus from Pakistan.

Dr Mirza Ikhtiar Baig, Adviser to Federal Government on Textile said on Thursday that after withdrawal of complaints by Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and India at World Trade Organization would pave the way for duty free exports of 75 items out of which 65 textile items to EU.

He said Bangladesh was already enjoying duty free market access to the EU on account of Least Developed Country and already exporting about $10 billion of textile products to the EU as on year ended June 2011, whereas Pakistan’s total exports to EU during the same period was $3.3 billion out of which $900 million comes from the 75 items for which duty free market access was allowed by the EU.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes on Islamic terrorism, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile from Canada after return of democracy. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Bangladesh to withdraw complaints against Pakistan in European Union

SALEEM SAMAD

BANGLADESH IS considering withdrawing a complaint on Thursday about a European Union move to grant beneficial import conditions to Pakistan textile producers as an aid measures following floods last year.

Bangladesh competes with Pakistan has raised concerns last week about the impact of the European measures, which would make it easier for Pakistan to export textiles to Europe.

Europe and Pakistan had expected a long-announced plan for trade preferences for textile makers to be approved during a meeting of trade diplomats in Geneva this week, but a Bangladeshi complaint halted the move.

Pakistan was being granted the beneficial import conditions as an aid measure following devastating floods last year.

Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Mohamed Mijarul Quayes confirmed that it would withdraw the complaints in Geneva.

Expressing concern Pakistan’s foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar said Islamabad called Dhaka’s objections to the beneficial import conditions “an accident”.

Meanwhile the chairman of All Pakistan Textile Mills Association Mohsin Aziz said on Wednesday that the objections raised by Bangladesh about Pakistan on the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP)-plus status in the European Union market are unfounded and said that Pakistan could never be a threat to the Bangladesh textile industry in the EU market.

He justified Pakistan’s qualification for market access to the EU on grounds of humanity, comparing it to Bangladesh after being hit severely hit by natural calamities and terrorism.

The two-year cut in tariffs offered by the EU would be a small boost for Pakistan’s exporters. As a least developed country, Bangladesh enjoys quota and duty-free access to EU countries, unlike Pakistan.

Bangladesh exports to the EU have reached $16 billion in the textile sector presently from merely $2 billion a few years back. Pakistan has peaked to a mere $1.5 billion in a market of $80 billion.

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

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Hasina Regime to Begin War Crimes Trial

Photo: Salauddin Quader Chowdhury (Courtesy Daily Star)
RAJEEV SHARMA

FORMAL CHARGES of war crimes and crimes against humanity will now be filed against senior Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) leader Salauddin Quader Chowdhury in the International Crimes Tribunal on November 14, 2011. The agency investigating war crimes charges against him has finalized its probe report. Investigators found evidence of Chowdhury’s involvement in at least 32 specific war crimes and crimes against humanity including killing and torturing the freedom fighters. Nearly 8000 pages of statements of witnesses, victims and their families and documents have been attachedS to the 119 page probe report. The agency recorded statements of 146 witnesses to crimes committed by Chowdhury, who is now in jail facing charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Chowdhury’s father Fazlul Quader Chowdhury was a former Cabinet Minister of the Pakistan Government and later Speaker of the Pakistan National Assembly in the 1960’s. The Chowdhury family had always been affiliated to the Muslim League and Fazlul Quader Chowdhury was a known Pakistani collaborator during the Liberation War of 1971. Chowdhury, who was in London pursuing post graduation in Marine Engineering at that time, returned to Chittagong after outbreak of the war to assist his father in helping the occupying Pakistan forces by organizing the cadres of Al Badar and Razakar, also known as Pakistan collaborators, who terrorized and brutally killed the members of Hindu community and looted their properties.

Chowdhury’s Goods Hill residence in Chittagong was used in 1971 as torture cell where innumerable freedom fighters were maimed and subjected to brutal torture during the liberation war. Any list of war criminals of Bangladesh would be incomplete without Chowdhury heading it. After collaborating with the occupation forces of Pakistan to kill thousands of freedom fighters, perpetrate all types of brutalities on them, rape Bengali women and take part in loot and arson during the liberation war in 1971, Chowdhury fled to London on the eve of surrender of the Pakistani forces. Other members of his family, including his father, were caught by the Indian Navy while trying to flee to Myanmar by boat on December 18, 1971, just two days after the emergence of Bangladesh. They were subsequently handed over to the Bangladesh authorities. His father Fazlul Quader Chowdhury, who was tried and imprisoned for being a Pakistan collaborator, died in Dhaka Central Jail in 1973.

Chowdhury returned to Bangladesh after murder of the founding father of Bangladesh Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in August 1975 and entered active politics in 1977 by reviving the Muslim League after the military ruler Gen Ziaur Rahman had lifted the ban imposed on all militant Islamic parties that had opposed the Liberation War and collaborated with the occupying Pakistan forces. As a true Muslim Leaguer, Chowdhury was at the forefront of killing freedom fighters, particularly Hindus, in Chittagong and adjoining areas. Prominent among distinguished freedom fighters killed by Chowdhury and his men are Natun Chandra Singha, founder of Kundeshwari Oushadhalaya, a brand of Ayurvedic medicine in Chittagong, Bikash Barua, Pankaj Barua, Ranjit Kumar Rudra, Swapan Kumar and Srikrishna Chowdhury. After killing them their houses were set on fire.

Despite being a staunch Pakistani agent who had opposed the liberation war, tooth and nail, Chowdhury remained a Minister and Adviser to Prime Minister after the emergence of Bangladesh as an independent country. In both theses capacities, he moved throughout the country in vehicles flying national flag. It is an irony that the Bangladesh national flag, for which thousands of freedom fighters had laid down their lives, adorned the vehicle that carried Chowdhury, a well known Pakistan collaborator.

Chowdhury served as Cabinet Minister from 1985 to 1989 during Gen Ershad’s regime and joined BNP prior to 1996 parliamentary elections. In the BNP led Four Party Alliance Government formed in 2001 he was made Adviser to Prime Minister Khaleda Zia. Through his family’s close links with the Muslim League and Pakistani political leaders he established a close nexus with the Pakistan Army and the ISI. The BNP/JEI Government even wanted to make him Secretary General of Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC).

The ongoing investigations in the Chittagong arms haul case have revealed Chowdhury’s involvement in arms smuggling and his association with Indian insurgent group ULFA, for whom the arms were smuggled in. Chowdhury’s role in arms smuggling, in collusion with officials of the Pakistani High Commission in Dhaka and Dubai-based ARY group, has confirmed that he was the lynchpin of ISI network in Bangladesh. If the Chittagong arms haul case is brought to its logical conclusion, Chowdhury will automatically stand convicted as the entire consignment of arms was smuggled into Bangladesh by vessels ‘MV Orient Freedom’ and ‘QC Honour’ owned by him.

Chowdhury launched ‘ARY Bangladesh TV’, a channel affiliated to ARY Television Network, in Bangladesh in 2007. ARY Television Network, a subsidiary company of Dubai based ARY group, had come to adverse notice for its links with the al Qaeda and ISI. The ARY group’s involvement in terrorist activities as an associate of al Qaeda was confirmed following the 1998 bombing of the US Mission in Nairobi, Kenya. The ARY Bangladesh TV channel was however shut down on September 6, 2007 following a decision by the Army-backed Caretaker Government.

Chowdhury and his compatriots in JEI, BNP and Pakistan military intelligence network played a significant role to engineer mutiny in BDR to destabilize the Sheikh Hasina- led Government soon after it took over in January 2009. Political and business circles of Bangladesh are fully aware of Chowdhury’s multiple criminal nexus. They feel so intimidated by his strength that they prefer to keep quiet about him. He patronizes a well organized armed cadre who indulge in criminal activities in Rauzan and Chittagong area and enjoy his protection. 72 criminal cases were pending against him in various police stations in Chittagong, Rauzan, Rangunia, Hathazari and Fatikchari. But he was never arrested or asked to appear before any court in connection with these criminal cases. He was arrested for the first time by the army-backed Caretaker Government that had launched a virtual crusade against crimes and corruption. Then Pakistan brought pressure on Dhaka to secure his release from jail. Chowdhury’s wife even made several rounds of Pakistan and pleaded with the high and mighty in Pakistan establishment and the ISI to secure her husband’s release. It will not be out of place here to mention that when the Bangladesh Army chief Gen Moeen U Ahmed, who was the main force behind the caretaker Government, visited Pakistan in 2008, his interlocutors explicitly enquired about Chowdhury and not about Sheikh Hasina or BNP chief Khaleda Zia who were also in jail during this time.

First published in South Asia Analysis Group (SAAG), November 8, 2011

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Trial of Bangladesh war criminals also trial of world terrorism

SWADESH ROY

October 30, 2011 has taken place in the history of Bangladesh. The International Crimes Tribunal of Bangladesh has started trial of an accused war criminal named Delwar Hossain Sayedee. He has been indicated with 20 counts, including 3,000 killings, rape and arson during the nine month long liberation war of Bangladesh in 1971.

1971 to October 30, 2011; it is a long way. The people of Bangladesh have to walk in ages with terrible ups and downs. Now it is reality, the people of Bangladesh could successfully start the trial of the war criminals of 1971. Two days after of Saydee’s trail, the tribunal has ordered the prosecution to submit formal charge against another four accused war criminals on December 5.These four accused war criminals are, Motiur Rahman Nizami, Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed, Mohammad Kamruzzaman and Abdul Kader Mollah. The investigator wing of the tribunal has also completed their investigation against these four and submitted it. Prosecutors of the International Crimes Tribunal have informed the tribunal that, another accused war criminal Golam Azam’s crime investigation has been completed.

To set up an International Crimes Tribunal and make sure trial of the war criminals of 1971 are election commitment of this present government of Bangladesh. The young generation of Bangladesh, who did not see the war crime and the freedom fight of Bangladesh-they are now the young force of Bangladesh. They earnestly feel that, war criminals are the rotten part of the society and failure to assure their trial is a black mark of the nation. Nation has to come out of this black mark. In favour of this demand, they give their verdict to this government in last election. That is why, in the first parliament session on26 January 2009, parliament of Bangladesh took a decision that, government will set up a war criminal tribunal under the constitution of Bangladesh and will start the trail of the war criminal.

On25 March 2009the cabinet took decision to set up International Crimes Tribunal under 1973 act of Bangladesh constitution and appoint prosecutor and set up an investigation wings of this tribunal. On March 2010 law ministry of Bangladesh set up International Crimes Tribunal and appointed prosecutors and set up an investigation wings. This court starts its work from28 March 2010.

After starting this tribunal, home ministry starts arresting accused war criminals. On29 June 2010Motiur Rahman Nizami, Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed and Delwar Hossain Sayedee were arrested. On July 13, 2010Mohammad Kamaruzzaman and Abdu Kader Mollah were arrested. They all are the leader of the Jamaat Islami Bangladesh.

Jamaat Islami is a party of Bangladesh which takes part in the election of the parliament of Bangladesh. It is a recognized party by the election commission of Bangladesh. But it is their one side, they have another side which is of terrorism. Most of the Islamic fundamentalist terrorist organizations in Bangladesh are backed by the Jamaat and these are basically their co-organization or another wing of Jamaat. Their students’ organization, Islami Chhatra Shibir is declared as a terrorist organization by the US state department. Besides these five, court has arrested another two accused war criminals; one is Salauddin Kader Chowdhury another is Abdul Alim. Salauddin Kader Chowdhury was arrested on16 December 2010and Alim was arrested on27 March 2011. Alim is the first accused war criminal who is on bail now on the health ground.

Investigations wing source says, investigation of Salauddin Kader Chowdhury has been over. It will be submitted by the prosecutors to the court soon. So, it is clear now that the trial of one accused has started already. Another four accused war criminals’ charge will frame on 5 December that means their trial will be started within mid December. However, now it can be said that two years ago it got the ball rolling. Now ball is rolling constantly.

The International Crimes Tribunal of Bangladesh’s status is equivalent to the High Court of Bangladesh. So if the ball continues to roll in this way the other five or six accused war criminals’ trial will be completed within next three or four months. Then it will be applied by the convicted in the Supreme Court of Bangladesh. According to the process of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh it will not take a long time to get the verdict of the Supreme Court. That is why, people of Bangladesh will see the verdict of the Supreme Court of the war criminals soon. So the people of Bangladesh can say that, they have achieved their goal. They have made sure the trial of the war criminal of 1971.

If proven guilty, the war criminal could face the death sentence. If Bangladesh could give the highest punishment of these war criminals, the politics of Bangladesh will be changed. Bangladesh will enter a true democratic age and Islamic fundamentalist terrorist problem will be solved. In Bangladesh, these war criminals are the root of all sort of Islamic fundamentalist terrorist. They bring money from some monarchy led and Army intelligence led country and cultivate Islamic fundamentalist terrorism in Bangladesh with that money. If Bangladesh can ensure highest punishment for them it will be able to stop the cultivation of the fundamentalist terrorist for ever.

The geopolitical status of Bangladesh is very much important for the regional peace. It is also important in the war against terrorism for the world. So, trial of the war criminals of Bangladesh will help to free Bangladeshi democratic politics from terrorism; but it is also important for regional and world peace. It is to be mentioned here that, two of the main accused war criminals are accused of the arms smuggling case in Bangladesh. Those arms were being smuggled in favour of United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), a dissident group of Indian province Assam. On the other hand many of the workers of these war criminals are trained by Taliban.

First published in Times of Assam, Guwahati, India| Date- November 6, 2011


Swadesh Roy is the Executive editor of Daily Janakantha, Dhaka, Bangladesh. He can be reached at swadeshroy@gmail.com

Ethnic minorities face higher school drop-out risk

Ethnic minority children in Bangladesh from the southeast Chittagong Hill Tracts are among the country's least literate and at heightened risk of dropping out of school, say experts and community leaders.

Children in this region bordering India and Myanmar face discrimination in government-run schools where they are often badly treated by teachers and students from the country's largest ethnic group, Bengalis, said Saikat Biswas, a programme officer with Oxfam GB.

The mostly Buddhist population of 1.3 million ethnic minorities - about 1 percent of the country's predominantly Muslim population - are concentrated in the districts of Bandarban, Rangamati and Khagrachari, also known as Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT).

Dozens of minority groups here lag behind the rest of the country in land ownership, income, employment, health and, significantly, literacy.

"The rate of literacy is far lower among the ethnic minorities than it is nationally," said Rezai Karim Khondker, an economics professor at Bangladesh's Shahjalal University of Science and Technology.

More than half of all household members surveyed in CHT (55.2 percent) have no formal schooling, according to a recent study by Khondker and others.

And for those who start schooling, fewer than 8 percent complete primary education while 2 percent complete secondary education, according to a 2009 study by the Dhaka-based research group, Human Development Research Centre.

Nationwide, estimates of the percentage of children who finished their primary education from 2005-2009 varied from 55 to 94 percent, based on various UN surveys.

Communication concerns

Children from four to six years old soon lose interest in the classroom and drop out when they cannot communicate with teachers or understand lessons, said Biswas.

"Ethnic minority children communicate in their mother tongue in their house. But, in school, they are compelled to face Bengali text while the teachers are also from the Bengali community. The whole teaching method is in Bangla."

Mongching Marma, 7, enrolled in Shishu primary school in Khagrachari District, but left within two years. "In school, we have to read in Bangla language. I struggled a lot to understand the Bangla text," he said.

Many of his friends also left before finishing primary school for the same reason, he added.

"Children get a totally different environment in school when teachers are of another community and the text is in a different language," said Sanjeeb Drong, general-secretary of the CHT-based ethnic minority rights coalition, Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum. Most of the country's 45 ethnic minority groups live in CHT.

"It is totally impossible to increase literacy rates among the ethnic minority groups if the government cannot introduce primary education in their mother tongue," he added.

Teachers should also come from ethnic minority communities so pupils have a similar environment in school as they do at home, said Drong.

Bangladesh's 2010 National Education Policy recommended introducing primary education for ethnic minority groups in their own languages, but Drong said he had seen little progress and no "effective steps" toward implementing the initiative.

Bridging cultures

The government has formed committees to carry out the education policy, said the chairman of the parliamentary standing committee at the Education Ministry, Rashed Khan Menon, but expanding the languages of instruction is a big undertaking and requires "huge funding".

Meanwhile, the government continues to take different steps to improve ethnic minorities' access to education and literacy, including opening new schools in CHT and setting quotas for ethnic minority student university placements and employment, he added.

But even with little funding, governments can train non-ethnic minority teachers to support ethnic minority students who do not speak the dominant language, said Fred Genesee, a psychology professor at McGill University in Canada, who has researched language among minority children in the Americas.

"The tendency is to think there is nothing special that needs to be done with second language learners. This is a huge mistake... A century of research shows that education in the dominant language does not work for many children. These children underperform and drop out at higher rates."

Poverty factors

A shortage of schools in rural areas is another hurdle to boosting literacy, said Biswas and Drong.

Poverty is also a factor, said the economics professor, Khondker. "When they have nothing to eat, parents prefer to employ their children in any work rather than sending them to school."

Six out of 10 households in CHT - irrespective of ethnicity - live below the national absolute poverty line where each member consumes less than 2,100 calories per day; the other four households live in extreme poverty (less than 1,800 calories per day), according to a 2009 UN-funded study.

First published in IRIN, humanitarian news and analysis, 4 November 2011

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Should the Commonwealth get stuck into Bangladesh?

Photo: Rex Features - A force for good? The Queen talks with the female heads of Australia, Bangladesh and Trinidad and Tobago at recently concluded Commonwealth meeting

As concern mounts over corruption in Bangladesh, expat Nick Stace wonders if it's time the Commonwealth made more effort to encourage its members to modernise.

Every time I see the spectacle of leaders representing a third of the world's population at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), I think not only of Britain's colonial past, but also the opportunities and tensions that lie ahead in forging a common future. I also wonder about the Commonwealth's continued relevance, and whether for the sake of the people it represents, it has the appetite to modernise and be a force for greater good.

CHOGM recently concluded its meetings in Perth, Australia. Although there were one or two notable absences, like India’s Manmohan Singh, the 54 leaders that could spare the time discussed two broad themes: women and change, alongside democracy and development. The agenda was relevant, if not a little uncomfortable for leaders from countries where human rights and functioning democracies are regarded with disdain. And you don't need to look too far. 12 members still allow the abhorrent practice of forced marriage and homosexuality is criminalised in 41 member states.

The role of the Commonwealth is brought into even sharper focus when one looks through the lens of one member. Bangladesh is a country I know well and the CHOGM themes were certainly pertinent to their challenges too.

For a start, Bangladeshi prime minister Sheikh Hasina is only one of three female heads of government in the Commonwealth (along with Australia and Trinidad and Tobago); but ironically women's rights in Bangladesh are pretty non-existent. According to the UN, 47 per cent of Bangladeshi women are victims of domestic violence and one human rights group cited 181 acid attacks against women last year.

In common with many other Commonwealth members, the Bangladeshi prime minister also faces some of the greatest challenges of leadership, with corruption endemic and a system of historically unstable government to contend with. In 2009 her party was swept into office on the promise of stamping out corruption, but nearly three years on it looks like Bangladesh will be crowned top of both Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index (CPI) and Bribe Payers Index (BPI).

During the past three years Sheikh Hasina has reduced the powers of the Anti-Corruption Commission; supported a growing number of mobile police tribunals, giving "justice" instantly at the side of the road; and attempted a smash-and-grab of the Grameen social businesses, with indications that this would bring commercial benefits to the prime minister's own family. The Economist recently concluded that there was increasing corruption at the heart of the Bangladeshi government. Hardly surprising then that the World Bank has suspended funding of a $2.9bn bridge across the Padma river on grounds of corruption.

It seems to me that Bangladesh along with many other members of the Commonwealth could do with the active support, guidance and firm hand of a revitalised Commonwealth. The challenges of protecting human rights and decency, promoting high standards in public office and the foundations for democracy, women’s rights and sustainable growth, are not only particular to Bangladesh but to a sizeable majority of Commonwealth members.

Decades of inaction over Zimbabwe, and the more recent expulsion of Fiji, illustrate a weakness in the Commonwealth's ability to influence change. Of course expulsion should always be an option, but proactively guiding and supporting change where it is most needed, could be more effective in bringing it about. The problem with relying on the nuclear option of expulsion is that if the values of the Commonwealth were genuinely applied to all members, it might actually see the expulsion of the vast majority, including Bangladesh.

Influence would almost certainly be enhanced if the Commonwealth could help to guide and advise financial aid and investment decisions between members. For example, UK aid in Bangladesh doubled last year, at a time when democracy in Bangladesh took a significant step backwards. Sheikh Hasina might change her ways if she thought her actions would likely result in the loss of more investment, like the suspension of the Padma Bridge project.

Last week saw the publication of a report from the 11-member Eminent Persons Group (including former UK Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind and retired Australian High Court Justice Michael Kirby). The report called for radical reform of the Commonwealth if it isn't to be seen as "hypocritical". In its 106 detailed recommendations, the report talked of the Commonwealth's failure to speak out when its values are violated. Among the recommendations is a tough new draft charter for the Commonwealth and the appointment of an independent Human Rights Commissioner, empowered to monitor violations and propose action.

Not surprisingly the report was kicked into the long grass by India, South Africa and one or two other members. Resistance to change alongside the report's conclusion that "the most serious threat to the continued relevance and vitality of the Commonwealth itself" is the "complacency and inertia" of the London Secretariat, does not bode well. But change will always be difficult, and there are many influential members like Britain and Australia that support reform. The Queen also noted in her opening comments in Perth, that the challenge is to ''keep the Commonwealth fresh and fit for tomorrow'' and ''not forget that this is an association not only of governments but also of peoples''.

Never has it been a better time for the Commonwealth to redefine its purpose and be a force for good across the world. To do so it needs to be clearer about its purpose, its underlying principles and values and strengthen its ability to influence change. Alternatively the Commonwealth could resign itself to being just a talking shop, with declining influence, relevance and attendance at meetings for those whom have nothing better to do. It may also stand accused of providing a veil of legitimacy that is bestowed simply by membership, to those regimes that commit the most appalling acts of inhumanity.

As Martin Luther King once proclaimed, "If we are to go forward, we must go back and rediscover those precious values - that all reality hinges on moral foundations and that all reality has spiritual control". I urge the Commonwealth members and in particular the Secretariat in London, to take seriously the report from the Eminent Persons Group and reform the Commonwealth for the sake of Bangladesh, the majority of its members and, most importantly, a third of the world's people.

First published in The Telegraph, Britain, Saturday 05 November 2011

Friday, November 04, 2011

Bangladesh blamed for harassment of war crimes suspects defense lawyers, witnesses

SALEEM SAMAD

BANGLADESH AUTHORITIES have been blamed for harassment, intimidated and threats to defense lawyers and witnesses of the suspects detained for war crimes.

New York based Human Rights Watch in a statement issued on Wednesday urged the Bangladesh government to investigate threats to defense lawyers and witnesses in cases at the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) and take adequate steps to protect them.

Lawyers representing the accused before the ICT have reported being harassed by state officials and threatened with arrests. Several witnesses and an investigator working for the defense have also reported harassment by police and threats for cooperating with the defense.

Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch insists that the authorities must ensure the rights of the suspects are respected. He stressed the need to ensure that the lawyers and witnesses does not face threats or coercion.

HRW has learned from credible source that threats made against a leading lawyer on the defense team of Maulana Delwar Hossain Sayedee.

A barrister received threats and was told that false charges were being prepared against him in order to arrest him and thus prevent him from participating in Sayedee’s defense.

Another defense lawyer and senior member of the Jamaat-e-Islami, Abdur Razzaq, faces an arrest warrant on charges relating to riots in capital Dhaka which took place in September when he was in Europe. He was, however granted bail.

The rights organization learnt that a key defense witness has been arrested and further nine defense witnesses are facing criminal charges based on complaints against them filed with the police by a prosecution witness.

In another development, a journalist who was conducting research for the defense has been threatened with arrest and has since gone into hiding in fear of persecution.

HRW has long called for the ICT to establish an effective victim and witness program which would ensure protection for both prosecution and defense witnesses.

The international rights group earlier said the rules being used to prosecute the war crime suspects fall short of international standards.

Adams of Human Rights Watch submitted detailed proposals for reforms that would ensure these trials are fair and fair.

Immediately after the pro-secular government came to power in early 2009, the parliament passed a bill for the trial of war crimes suspects to provide justice for victims of atrocities in the 1971 bloody war of independence from Islamic Pakistan.

The ICT detained five suspects who belong to pro-Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami and main opposition Bangladesh Nationalists Party. Several other suspects are under investigation and would be arrested to face the trial.

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

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Bangladesh poverty lowers, score rises, ranking down

SALEEM SAMAD

DESPITE SLOW economic growth, Bangladesh's poverty index has declined, a direct impact of human development initiatives, says the latest development report by the United Nations.

The poverty rate has declined from 49 percent in 2010 to 31 percent this year, according to the Human Development Report 2011 released Thursday.

Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries in the world, has been praised for progress in various categories of human development.

This year the nation of 150 million scored higher than it did in last year's Human Development Index (HDI), but slipped down 17 places on the index due to better progress made by regional competitors and inclusion of more countries in the ranking.

This year Bangladesh ranked 146 out of 187 countries with a score of 0.500 in the HDI, said Stefan Priesner, country director for the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

In the South Asian region, Bangladesh only fared better than Nepal, which was ranked 157th. India ranked 134, Sri Lanka 97, the Maldives 109 and Bhutan 141.

The overall inequality HDI has dropped by seven percentage points from 29 per cent to 22 per cent, showing a good performance of the country, which is ranked just below Pakistan.

The UN country director said Bangladesh needs to address the pressure of environmental degradation, adverse impact of climate change and risks of disaster to improve further.

"Equity and sustainable development are two sides of one coin," he said.

The four key messages of the report are sustainable urbanization, tackling climatic threat, providing clean energy to the poor and addressing environmental degradation issue, he said.

Since 1990, the Human Development Report has been publishing the HDI, which is considered an alternative to conventional measures to assess national development, such as level of income and the rate of economic growth.

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