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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Amnesty International Report 2009

In the first national parliamentary elections in seven years, the Awami League won a landslide victory in predominantly peaceful polls held on 29 December. Before the election, despite the relaxing of emergency measures and institutional reform, restrictions on freedom of assembly and association remained and tens of thousands of political activists reportedly attempting to gather peacefully in their party offices were detained throughout the country. Police used excessive force to disperse peaceful rallies, injuring participants. At least 54 people were estimated to have died in suspected extrajudicial executions by police and the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) in the first half of the year alone. No one was held accountable for the deaths. At least 185 people were sentenced to death, and five men were executed. Throughout the year the caretaker government strengthened institutional reforms. In September, the ordinance establishing a national Human Rights Commission came into effect. The Right to Information Ordinance was enacted in October, under which citizens can request access to information held by public bodies. However, eight security agencies were exempt from the ordinance unless the information requested related to corruption and human rights violations.

The year began with the caretaker government backed by the military, continuing the enforcement of restrictions under the state of emergency imposed on 11 January 2007. It ended with elections that delivered an overwhelming majority to the Awami League only weeks after the state of emergency was lifted on 17 December.

Uncertainties about the military authorities’ commitment to allow the democratic process to resume were dispelled when parliamentary elections were held on 29 December. Two political alliances – one led by Sheikh Hasina of the Awami League and another by Begum Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party – contested the elections. It remained to be seen if the new government would use this unique opportunity to make good its election pledges and strengthen human rights protection.

Women continued to be discriminated against in law and in practice, and violence against women including beatings, acid attacks and dowry deaths, were reported. In March, the government announced amendments to the National Women Development Policy in order to further promote equality for women. However, the amendments were not implemented after the announcement met with fierce resistance from Islamist groups who rallied in protest saying the amendments defied the Islamic law of inheritance.

Bengali settlers continued to seize land from Jumma Indigenous inhabitants of Chittagong Hill Tracts. Three UN Special Rapporteurs – on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, on adequate housing and on the right to food – expressed concern that there may be a systematic campaign to support the relocation of non-Indigenous peoples to the Chittagong Hill Tracts in order to outnumber the local Indigenous community.

Thousands of slum dwellers were forcibly evicted in Dhaka and other major cities. Their homes were demolished without any provision for compensation or alternative accommodation. Court orders were usually issued to evict people from land allocated to property development projects.
The Anti-Terrorism Ordinance came into effect. Its broadly formulated definition of acts of terror further eroded safeguards against arbitrary arrest and detention.

Fair trial standards continued to be undermined and were further exacerbated by emergency regulations as defendants’ access to due process of law was limited.

The government continued to use the army, alongside the police, the RAB and other security forces to maintain law and order. The army, which had been deployed to maintain law and order since January 2007, was temporarily withdrawn in early November but redeployed on 18 December until after the elections.

Freedom of expression, assembly and association
Restrictions on freedom of expression were not strictly enforced and were eventually lifted in November. Although some restrictions on freedom of assembly and association were lifted in May and November, many restrictions remained under the state of emergency until it was lifted on 17 December.

The ban on indoor political meetings was lifted in May but some 30,000 political activists from various parties were arrested reportedly as they gathered in their party offices soon after the announcement. Police detained them for between several days and two months before releasing them, either without charge or on bail after charging them with apparently unrelated criminal offences.

On 3 November, the government announced the partial withdrawal of the ban on political rallies but this was not implemented until 12 December.

Excessive use of force
Police used excessive force against peaceful demonstrations on several occasions. On 6 July, police attacked several hundred Bangladesh Nationalist Party activists who had gathered peacefully on the premises of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University hospital to see a detained party leader being taken from hospital to a court hearing on corruption charges. At least 15 people were injured including a photojournalist who was covering the event.

On 11 November, police used sticks and rifle butts to disperse thousands of Jamaat-e-Islami activists at Baitul Mukarram Mosque in Dhaka. Despite the government announcement on 3 November that the ban on election-related political rallies was lifted, police told rally organizers that the lifting of the ban had not yet taken effect and forcibly dispersed the peaceful rally, injuring at least 30 demonstrators.

Extrajudicial executions and impunity
Police and RAB carried out at least 54 suspected extrajudicial executions during the first half of the year with scores more believed to have taken place in the second half of the year. No police or RAB personnel were prosecuted. According to the government, mandatory judicial inquiries were carried out into all fatal shootings by police and RAB, and found them to be justified. The number of judicial inquiries conducted and the findings of such inquiries were not made public.
On 27 July, police announced the death of Dr Mizanur Rahman Tulul, leader of the outlawed Purbo Banglar Communist Party (Red Flag Faction) in a so-called “crossfire” incident – a term often used to describe extrajudicial executions. Dr Tulul’s mother had reported his arrest to journalists on 26 July and publicly appealed to the authorities for his safety.

Past human rights abuses
In April, Foreign Adviser Iftehkar Ahmed Chowdhury discussed with the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, the possibility of UN involvement in ending impunity for the 1971 violations. However, as in the past, no official Commission of Enquiry was established to investigate the war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law as a first step towards establishing truth, justice and full and effective reparations for victims. No concrete action was taken by the government to implement the 1973 International Crimes (tribunals) Act.

Death penalty
At least 185 people were sentenced to death, bringing the estimated number of prisoners on death row to at least 1,085. Five men convicted of murder were executed, one in June and four in December.

In December, Bangladesh voted against a UN General Assembly resolution calling for a worldwide moratorium on executions.

Amnesty International visits
In January, Amnesty International’s Secretary General Irene Khan visited Bangladesh and met with victims of human rights violations, civil society groups and political party officials.

First published by Amnesty International Report 2009, State of the World’s Human Rights, May 27, 2009

Other links:
Bangladesh: Memorandum to the Caretaker Government of Bangladesh and political parties (10 January 2008)

Bangladesh: Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review – Fourth session of the UPR Working Group of the Human Rights Council, February 2009 (1 September 2008)

Bangladesh: Elections present risks and opportunities for human rights (23 December 2008)

Tortured while MI5 left the room: Briton's claim after 7/7 attacks

British Interior Minister Jacqui Smith faces legal action over Rahman's allegations of torture [GETTY/GALLO]
Man brought up in south Wales sues home secretary over UK's alleged role in his detention in Bangladesh


WHEN THE Bangladeshi police came to take away Jamil Rahman, he says that among the armed officers surrounding the home of his wife's family were a couple of incongruous figures. Wearing balaclavas that left only their eyes showing were two men who, according to Rahman, towered over the police.

While Rahman, a British citizen who grew up in south Wales, immediately suspected the men were European, he says he could not be sure of the colour of their skin as they were wearing gloves. He said there are witnesses to what happened next: the Bangladeshi police picked out Rahman, asked the masked men if this was the individual who was to be detained, and the two men nodded. Rahman was then beaten, and he and his wife driven away.

The events he describes happened on 1 December 2005 and, according to an account by Rahman that forms the basis of civil proceedings being brought against the home secretary, Jacqui Smith, it was the start of an ordeal that would last more than two years.

The couple were taken to the local headquarters of the directorate general of forces intelligence (DGFI), one of the country's main intelligence agencies, and held in separate cells. After being stripped, beaten and told that his wife would be raped and murdered and her body burned, Rahman says he agreed to make a lengthy tape-recorded confession to a number of terrorist offences, including masterminding the suicide bomb attacks on London's transport network the previous July.

He says he was then questioned by two well-spoken Britons by the names of Liam and Andrew, who said they were MI5 officers. When he told them he had been tortured and had made false confessions, and asked for their help, he says the two said they "needed a break". Andrew is said to have added: "They haven't done a very good job on you." Rahman says he was then beaten, had extreme pressure exerted on his testicles, and was told his wife was to be raped.

When the questioning resumed, according to Rahman, Andrew said: "That's good, you've learned your lesson." Rahman then made a series of admissions that he and his lawyers say were false. He says he was also shown a number of maps that he was instructed to copy on to pieces of paper, which were taken away by the two.

Rahman says that after being interrogated for almost three weeks he and his wife were released, but he was told that he must reside in his wife's family's village and not talk to anyone about his experiences. He says he was told that his calls would be monitored and that he was specifically instructed not to contact any lawyers or members of the media, or the UK high commission in Dhaka.

Rahman, a graduate and former civil servant, had settled in Bangladesh that year after marrying a woman from Sylhet, in the north-east of the country. On his release there his passport was withheld and not returned by the high commission for two and a half years. During that period, Rahman says, he was frequently summoned for interrogations by MI5 and Bangladeshi officials.

He says he was shown hundreds of photographs, including surveillance photographs of friends in the UK, whom he was asked to identify. If he did not co-operate, he says, the two British officers would leave the room, during which time he would be beaten. He says that during these interrogations he was accused of "masterminding" the July 2005 suicide bomb attacks in London.

On one occasion, he says, he was ordered to bring his wife with him, and she too says she was threatened with rape. Rahman says that senior Bangladeshi agents who were supervising his mistreatment would give instructions that his head was not to be marked and that no bones were to be broken.

During many of the interrogations, he says, the MI5 officers would ask him: "We're not torturing you, are we." He would confirm that they were not, and on one occasion he was told to repeat his answer in a louder voice, which he did. Rahman believes that these exchanges were being recorded.

He alleges he was also questioned by three men who identified themselves as Scotland Yard officers, and by an American woman who called herself Mary. He says the police wanted him to give evidence against another man in a UK trial, and alleges that MI5 said it would arrange for others to give evidence against him if he refused.

Rahman returned to the UK in May last year after his passport was returned by British consular officials in Dhaka. He embarked on legal proceedings once his wife and son were able to join him last week. The couple's four-month-old boy remains in Bangladesh, however, as they have not received the British passport for which they applied 12 weeks ago. They say they are deeply concerned for his safety.

Four years of reports
The Guardian has been reporting for almost four years on allegations that British intelligence officers have been colluding in the torture of ¬British citizens during counter-terrorism ¬investigations, and on the evidence that supports a number of the claims.

August 2005 The first report that ¬Binyam Mohamed was questioned by a British intelligence officer between torture sessions, and that his torturers used information supplied by UK. Last year MI5 confirmed this to be true ¬during high court proceedings.

November 2006 Salahuddin Amin tells the Old Bailey he was questioned by MI5 in between torture at the hands of Pakistani agents.

April 2008 The Guardian discloses that MI5 is ¬accused of outsourcing the ¬torture of three more Britons to ¬Pakistani intelligence agents.

July 2008 Three more cases of alleged complicity in torture reported. One victim is a London doctor tortured for two months in a building opposite the UK deputy high commission in Karachi. He was released without charge.

September 2008 Manchester crown court hears how MI5 drew up questions for Pakistani intelligence agents to put to British terrorism suspect Rangzieb Ahmed. Later he had three fingernails removed by Pakistani interrogators.

18 March 2009 Gordon Brown tells the Commons that Britain's official interrogation policy is to be rewritten and then made public. #

First published in The Guardian, London, May 26, 2009-05-28

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Reminiscing March 26, 1971, after all these year


THERE COMES a time in everyone's life that defines a turning point in one's life. You tend to remember that moment, that event until the day you die. You ask an American of my generation to tell you such a defining moment of his or her life, he, or she will most likely answer by saying that November 22, 1963, was that day when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas by Lee Harvey Oswald. However, to a Russian the defining moment could very well be the day when USSR successfully launched the world's first artificial satellite into the outer space on October 4, 1957. For my father's generation that defining moment could have been the day Bengal was separated into two parts solely based on religion on that fateful day of August 14, 1947.

For my generation that defining moment finally arrived on a tenebrous day on March 26, 1971. If you would ask any Bengalis from Bangladesh who is now 38 years and above where he or she was on that day, he or she will be able to answer you in some detail. Well, my kismet brought me to America about 560 days earlier to March 26, 1971. Thus, I was far removed from the epicentre of Bangladesh movement.

Somehow, however, I was able to connect mentally to what was going on in Dhaka and elsewhere in occupied Bangladesh during those tumultuous days. The western news agencies did a superlative job informing the rest of the world the unfolding events especially after the historic speech of Sheikh Mujib at Ramna Race Course on March 7. From Television news and daily newspaper stories, we knew that there was an impasse in transfer of power to the Bengalis who had own the general election of December 10, 1970.

But little did I know how Pakistani army generals as Yahya Khan, Hamid Khan, Gul Hassan, Tikka Khan, A.A. Niazi, Rao Farman Ali, Mitha, Rahim Khan and scores of Brigadiers were secretly meeting in Rawalpindi Cantonment to draw the blueprint of Bangladesh genocide. To unleash an unprecedented reign of terror, Pakistani military was transferring thousands of army men round the clock from the garrisons of West Pakistan to Dhaka and Chittagong by commercial airlines (PIA) and sea vessels. These generals even told their enlisted men that East Pakistanis were becoming Hindus; soon they will join India. Thus, it is up to them to secure the integrity of this nation emancipated by Quiaid-e-Azam. The future of Jinnah's Pakistan rests in their hand.

Sitting far away from East Pakistan little did I know the resolve of the Pakistani military. Nevertheless, when the final blow came in the midnight of March 26, 1971, I was 700 miles away from my campus in Ohio. I was in Daytona Beach, Florida with a group of American students to get away from the harsh Midwestern winter weather. It was an inter-session break. We just arrived to Atlantic coast of Florida two days ago. Cold winter rain shower drenched us in Daytona Beach. We decided to move inland to Sarasota, which is on the Gulf Coast, to get away from Atlantic rain showers. I did not hear any significant news about the political impasse in the radio, although I heard in the radio that Pakistani military President M. Aga Yahya was in Dhaka trying to break the impasse. The press reports emanating from Dhaka were trying to convey that message to the rest of the world. In reality, however, Pakistani military was busily building up a force of 90,000 men to quell the "rebellion" in the breakaway province. They were not ready in the first or second week of March. So, to buyout the time they had to bring the spoiler politician from Sindh (Z.A. Bhutto) and his partner in crime - General Yahya to Dhaka telling rest of the world that they are making progress as a sinister plot to wipe out 3 millions Bengalis was about to unfold.

Brigadier Z.A. Khan in his memoir "The way it was" mentioned ruefully that
East Pakistan was lost because Pakistani army moved too late on March 26, 1971. He opined that if Pakistani army had moved in early March, perhaps East Pakistan would be now under their fold. What a preposterous idea!

In the early morning of March 26, I was asleep inside a tent. I didn't realize that my tent-mate, Dave, and Rodney slipped away earlier to get some freshly brewed coffee and check the weather outside. My slumber was broken by some noise outside the tent. My friend Dave yelled, "Jaffor, Jaffor, wake up man.

You've got a new country now call Bang.. Bangla Desh."

I hurriedly woke up and came outside the tent. I saw both Dave and Rodney holding up the unfolded newspaper (A newspaper published from Tampa, Florida, whose name I cannot recall now) and reading the news intently. Dave said, "The army had butchered quite a few Bengalis last night in Dacca. Tanks are everywhere that's what the report says."

Rodney said, "Pakistani army had taken control of Dacca. Son of a gun, your leader Sheikh had already slipped into neighbouring India." Although my heart froze hearing the news of deaths and destruction, the news of Sheikh Mujib in safe haven in West Bengal brought immense joy and happiness to my ailing heart.

I forcefully took the main section of the newspaper and could not believe my eyes seeing the headline in big bold three inches lettering. It said, "Rebel leader declares Bangla Desh. Army took control of capital." What I gleaned from the report was following: On behalf of Sheikh Mujib, the rebel leader, radio announcements were made from "Independent Bangladesh Radio" asking people to resist Pakistani army aggression. Dhaka City was under the control of Pakistani army and there was loss of lives in the wee hours of March 26.

The news report mentioned the wholesale desertion of Bengali soldiers from Bengal Regiment of Pakistani army and East Pakistan Rifles both stationed in Chittagong. Thus, in one respect Chittagong was our last hope for newly born country. The announcements from Independent Bangladesh Radio did a phenomenal job in boosting the morals of Bengalis all over Bangladesh. My friends from back home told me that the radio announcements mentioned the name of Brigadier Mazumdar and Major Ziaur Rahman. The announcement said something like this - "Brigadier Mazumdar and Major Ziaur Rahman of Swadhin Bangladesh army are asking our people to come to Lal-dighi'r Maidan (in Chittagong City) with any arms they may have to resist Pak army's aggression."

Later we learned that both Brigadier Mazumdar and Sheikh Mujib were arrested immediately before March 26 and shipped to West Pakistan. The course of Bangladesh liberation war would have been a different one if Brigadier Mazumdar could be there in Chittagong in control of Bengal regiment. The other consequence of this would have been on Major Zia's career in future Bangladesh army. With senior officer as Brigadier Mazumdar sidelined by Pakistani army, the career of certain junior officers (Ziaur Rahman and Khaled Mussharrof in particular) took a sharp upward move right after December 16, 1971. I do not know whether Brigadier Mazumdar is aware that his absence from Chittagong during 1971 changed the course of Bangladesh history.

Newly formed Bangladesh army needed veteran officers like Brigadier Mazumdar to keep the aspiring future generals in check. History is the silent observer of what did go wrong in Bangladesh army. The young nation paid a very dear price for the restlessness of a few rogue officers.

While different thoughts were rushing through my mind (like whether my family members in Dhaka were okay or not), my American college friends stepped in to cheer me up. Rodney said, "We should celebrate the declaration of independence of Bangla Desh. What do you say, Jaffor?"

I replied, "I'm afraid Rodney, the human cost would be too great to establish Bangladesh. The civil war just got started and who knows how long this will continue." I asked my friends whether it would be possible for us to head home to Ohio. I remember very well that while my American friends were frolicking on the beach, I was glued to the car radio listening to the hourly CBS news update, every hour for the next twenty-four hours. The news report on Bangladesh was sketchy at most. Most news was coming from Calcutta.

My American friends realized that I was not enjoying this trip anymore. On
March 27, we packed our camping gears and headed back home to Ohio. We drove non-stop from Sarasota to Cincinnati, a distance of about 900 miles. On March 28, I reached Cincinnati. I immediate contacted two other students from East Pakistan, namely, Hasan Ali and Jamal Khan. Both of them were devastated hearing the news of death and destruction in Dhaka. Jamal Khan being an alumnus of Dhaka University was very upset hearing Pak military led destruction of Halls and staff quarter.

At the time I used to share a house with two students from West Pakistan, namely Junaid Siddique from Karachi, and Muhammad Idrees from Lahore. Junaid being a Muhajir was very sympathetic to our cause, but Idrees who was from Punjab was very anti-Mujib. He blamed Mujib and India for all the problem of East Pakistan.' I did not want to become involved in a fracas with Idrees. However, I remember clearly telling Idrees that East Pakistan' was a history by then and it was just a matter of time before Bangladesh becomes an independent sovereign nation. Apparently, he did not like my comments. On the same very day I took my belongings out of that house and moved in with Hasan Ali, my old college roommate.

Within days, all Bengali students from East Pakistan in Midwestern states
telephoned each other to exchange rapidly developing news from occupied
Bangladesh. We contacted Prof. Aminul Islam, a veteran Bengali Professor at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. We decided to meet in his house in the first week of April. When we arrived his home, we saw another Bengali person nervously pacing the living room. He came from Richmond, Indiana, a nearby town. He introduced him as Mohammed Yunus - a professor of Economics at Richmond College (now the head of Grameen Bank). Professor Gyanendra Bhattacharyia also joined us from Oxford, Ohio. Two female students from Oxford, Ohio also joined us; they were Ameerah Huq and Uma Shaha (grand daughter of R.P. Shaha). Hamidul Huq Chowdhury's youngest daughter was also attending the same college with Ameerah and Uma, but she decided not to join Pro-Bangladesh movement in the Midwest. We always suspected that Miss Huq would not join us because her father was in cahoots with Pakistanis in Dhaka. Thus, within first week of April 1971 an organization was established in Dayton, Ohio, to promote the independence of Bangladesh. Similar organization was formed in University of Indiana at Bloomington, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and in Chicago. Dr. F.R. Khan, the acclaimed structural Engineer who designed the tallest sears Tower in Chicago, was instrumental in forming a bigger organization to promote the independence of Bangladesh in the US.

Jamal Khan and I were invited by to participate in a radio interview with the NPR affiliate station at University of Cincinnati (WGUC). After our interview was broadcasted, Pakistani students went to the station asking for an equal time. But their request was declined. With a minor victory at the campus, we worked diligently until the middle of December 1971 when it was all but clear that Bangladesh is a political reality. In the nine-month period, our campaign took us 750 miles away to New York City and 300 miles north to Chicago.

Our resources were very limited those days yet we worked assiduously. Our plaudits and panegyric essays for an independent sovereign nation caught the imagination of quite a few Americans. We have visited so many local churches, high schools, and colleges to spread the word of army atrocities that I lost count. We urged the citizens to write letters to their senators and congressmen to stop supplying arms to Pakistan. And it did work. Senator Frank Church of Idaho and Senator Walter Mondel of Minnesota passed a resolution in senate in April or May to block all arms aid to Pakistan thereby stifling the efforts of President Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. A local radio station in Cincinnati ran some free ads for Bangladesh in the summer of 1971. Money was pouring in to help Bangla refugees in West Bengal. We collected over $20,000 effortlessly in just few short days.

Looking back twenty-eight years from today, I feel that it was rather difficult to remain equanimous in the face of impertinence shown by Pakistani military leaders. We had the courage to speak up. And we did.

Amongst us, however, we had perfidious lover of Pakistan. They didn't join Bangladesh movement. Some of them even aided the Pakistanis by speaking glowingly in favour of Jinnah's Two-Nation theory in seminars in New York City. Some of them are still vocal. They would rather see a Taliban-style Jihad taking place in Bangladesh instead of spread of secular thoughts. The adage - "Once an enemy, always an enemy" fits their temperament quite well.

The spirit of Seventy-one still lingers in my mind. It's like an opiate. Musingly, it recurs in my thought all the time. In the Bengali ethos, the scar of seventy-one would always bring bad memories. About three million people gave their lives for the freedom, but as a nation, we have almost forgotten their sacrifice. While some of the planners and executioners of Bangladesh Genocide trots this globe, we do nothing. The Prime Minister of Bangladesh even sits in the same room with the Prime Minister of this killer nation. What a pity! How many more articles do we have to write before the Prime Minister of Bangladesh will realize that it is about the time she should do something to bring the killers of three million Bengalis to justice. Is it mere a pernicious thought?

I would be the happiest person in the world, if we could only get one person of the stature of General Niazi or General Gul Hassan to court to stand trial for the perdition of three million Bengali souls. With this thought, I close my essay on "Reminiscing March 26, 1971." #

A.H. Jaffor Ullah writes from New Orleans, Louisiana, USA His e-mail address: