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Monday, July 29, 2013

Bangladesh: Resisting Justice


On July 17, 2013, the International Crimes Tribunal-2 (ICT-2) awarded the death sentence to Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) ‘secretary general’ Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed. The prosecution had stacked seven charges against him, including the killing of eminent journalist Serajuddin Hossain in Dhaka; mass killings at village Baidyadangi in Faridpur District; confinement of Ranjit Kumar Nath after taking him out of a Pakistan Army camp in Faridpur District; confining and causing torture to Abu Yusuf Pakhi; killing of Badi, Rumi, Jewel, Azad and Altaf Mahmud at Nakhalpara Army Camp in Dhaka; killing of intellectuals in Dhaka; and killing of Hindu civilians and persecution in Faridpur District. The Court found him guilty on five of these charges, but the prosecution failed to prove the charges of confining Ranjit Kumar Nath and confining and causing torture to Abu Yusuf Pakhi. Mojaheed was arrested on June 29, 2010, and was indicted on June 21, 2012.

Earlier, on July 15, 2013, former JeI Ameer (chief) Ghulam Azam was sentenced to 90 years in prison after the ICT-1 found him guilty on all five charges brought against him by the prosecution. These included instigating his followers to commit crimes against humanity and genocide all over Bangladesh in 1971; complicity in commission of the crimes specified in section 3(2) of the Act, 1973; the murder of Siru Miah and three other civilians; holding of group meetings with the Chief Martial Law Administrator of Pakistan in support of the Pakistan Army’s genocidal campaign; and organizing press briefings on several occasions in connection with these activities. Azam had been arrested on January 11, 2012, and was indicted on May 13, 2012.

Meanwhile, prosecutors A.K.M. Saiful Islam and Nurjahan Begum Mukta, at a press briefing on July 18, 2013, disclosed that charges against JeI Assistant Secretary General A.T.M. Azharul Islam (arrested on Aug 22, 2012) had been submitted to the registrar of ICT-1. The prosecution team added that the charges included genocide of 1,225 people; the murder of four; abduction of 17; one rape; abduction and torture of 12; and setting on fire and looting hundreds of houses.

In addition, ICT-1, formed on March 25, 2010, and ICT-2, created on March 22, 2012, to speed up the War Crimes (WC) Trials, have delivered judgement in cases of four other JeI leaders. The ICT-1 awarded the death sentence to JeI nayeb-e-ameer ('deputy chief') Delwar Hossain Sayedee on February 28, 2013; ICT-2 sentenced JeI leader Maulana Abul Kalam Azad alias Bachchu Razakar and JeI ‘assistant secretary general’ Muhammad Kamaruzzaman to death on January 21, 2013 and May 9, 2013, respectively, and awarded life imprisonment to JeI ‘assistant secretary general’ Abdul Quader Mollah on February 5, 2013.

The two tribunals have, thus far, indicted 11 high-profile political figures, including nine JeI leaders and two Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) leaders. While nine persons had been indicted earlier, JeI leaders Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin and Ashrafuzzaman Khan were indicted in absentia by the ICT-2 on June 24, 2013, for their alleged involvement in killing a total of 18 intellectuals, including nine university teachers, six journalists and three physicians, between December 10 and 16, 1971.

Meanwhile, violent protests resumed across the country soon after the July 15 and July 17 verdicts, resulting in the death of at least nine persons and injuries to another 77. Indeed, according to partial data collected by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), since January 21, 2013, when the first verdict in the War Crime Trials (WCT) was delivered, the country has recorded 162 fatalities, including 68 JeI-Islami Chhatra Shibir (ICS) cadres, 85 other civilians, and nine SF personnel (all data till July 21, 2013) in street violence. As many as 4,316 persons, including JeI-ICS cadres and other civilians, and SF personnel have also been injured and 2,317 JeI-ICS cadres have been arrested for their involvement in 155 incidents of violence. The country has witnessed several hartals (general strikes).

The JeI-ICS combine, backed by the BNP as well as other fundamentalist groups such as Hefazat-e-Islam (HeI, 'Protectorate of Islam'), are opposing the WC Trial, and have brought turmoil to Bangladesh through their violent and disruptive protests. JeI Member of Parliament (MP) A.N.M. Shamsul Islam, condemned the formation of the ICTs as ‘politically motivated’, and on June 16, 2013, told Parliament, “The Government in the name of so-called trial of crimes against humanity is plotting to kill the top leaders of JeI, including Delwar Hossain Saydee and Motiur Rahman Nizami, using the judiciary.” He also alleged that the Government has revived a 42-year-old settled issue like War Crimes to weaken the opposition alliance and divest the country of its Islamic leadership.

Unsurprisingly, it is this combine that has solely been responsible for the bloodshed over the past months, and these various political and extremist formations have worked in tandem. In the aftermath of violence that began on May 5, 2013, HeI enforced a 'Dhaka Siege' programme. On May 8, 2013, State Minister for Law, Advocate Quamrul Islam claimed, “The BNP-JeI men carried out vandalism, arson and looting during Sunday’s violence”. Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu, had noted, on May 2, 2013, “The movement of HeI is not to protect the faith of Muslims. They are working as the shadow of JeI-ICS, to foil the trials of war criminals.”

Indeed, ICT-1, while delivering the July 15, 2013, judgment against Ghulam Azam observed that the JeI, as a political party under the leadership of Ghulam Azam, had deliberately functioned as a ‘criminal organisation’, especially during the Liberation War in 1971. The ICT also noted:
In the interest of establishing a democratic as well as non-communal Bangladesh, no such anti-liberation people should be allowed to sit at the helm of Executives of the Government, social or political parties including Government and Non-Government Organisations. We are of the opinion that the Government may take necessary steps to that end for debarring those anti-liberation persons from holding the said superior posts in order to establish a democratic and non-communal country for which millions of people sacrificed their lives during the War of Liberation.
Significantly, the prosecution in ICT-2 disclosed on July 19, 2013, that it was preparing to file a case against JeI, for trial as an organisation engaged in War Crimes in 1971. Prosecutor Tureen Afroz stated, “We are working on the issue after the verdict in the Abdul Quader Mollah case. We all know about the role of this political party during the Liberation War. So they have no right to work as political party in Bangladesh.” Hannan Khan, Chief Coordinator of the Tribunal’s Investigation Agency also disclosed, “Our officers are working with the prosecution team. We have got many documents as proof of anti-liberation activities of Jamaat. They have no right to conduct political activity in an independent Bangladesh.”

Expectedly, the offices of JeI remain virtually closed across the country. Even the JeI central office at Maghbazar in Dhaka wears a deserted look as JeI men hardly visit it. JeI leader Barrister Abdur Razzak on July 18, 2013, said, "I look after mainly legal aspects of the party. Most of the front ranking as well as second tier leaders of JeI are in hiding." At present, the party has been demonstrating its existence mainly through its website and through statements issued to the email addresses of various media houses. However, JeI-ICS cadres have remained quite active on the streets whenever ahartal or any agitation programme is announced by the party, employing new tactics to escalate violence. On July 17, 2013, for instance, posing as mourners at a funeral, some 30 JeI-ICS cadres vandalised two buses and torched another in Dhaka city’s Kalshi area, and then disappeared.

Strong resistance is, however, now building up against the consecutive hartals called by Islamist combine. On July 18, 2013, for instance, people defied the JeI-ICS-sponsored countrywide hartal and came out on streets to do their routine work. More significantly, the sustained ‘Shahbagh protests’, which begun on February 5, 2013, demanding capital punishment for all war criminals, have continued for well over five months now. Similarly, on July 16, 2013, Sammilita Sangskritik Jote, a cultural organisation, rejected the verdict against Ghulam Azam and sought capital punishment for him at a rally at the Teacher-Student Centre (TSC) on the Dhaka University campus. Another citizens’ platform against militancy and communalism, Samprodayikota-Jangibad Birodhi Mancha (SJBM), on July 17, 2013, urged all political, social and cultural organisations imbued with the spirit of the Liberation War to urgently demand an immediate ban on JeI and all its associate bodies.

As the radical combine comes under increasing pressure, now virtually fighting for survival, it is likely to unleash even more violence. With a General Election due in early 2014, and a slew of WCT judgments hitting powerful extremist political formations in the country, political turbulence in Bangladesh can only escalate over the coming months, creating a grave challenge for the regime at Dhaka.

First published in SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW, Weekly Assessments and Briefings, Volume 12, No. 3, July 22, 2013

S. Binodkumar Singh, Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management

Bangladesh: An Emerging Threat


On June 27, 2013, two displaced persons (DPs) were killed and another six were wounded when Security Forces (SFs) fired to disperse a crowd that had gathered at a military base in Kyein Ni Pyin, a camp for DPs in the Pauktaw area of Myanmar's Rakhine State.

Again, on June 30, 2013, three persons were injured as rioters torched two houses in the coastal town of Thandwe in Rakhine State, during clashes between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims.

Through 2012, Myanmar had witnessed clashes between Rohingya Muslims and Buddhists in Rakhine State, resulting in about 200 deaths and displacement of some 22,000 people.

These clashes and the resultant sectarian divide in Myanmar seems to have provided an opportunity to Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI, Pakistan's external intelligence agency)-backed Islamist formations to consolidate their hold in Bangladesh making the Bangladesh-Myanmar Border their operational base.

Indeed, according to a July 21, 2013, report, India's external intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), has confirmed that the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and its front, Jama'at-ud-Dawa (JuD) are working in tandem to extend their footprints along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border. While the JuD leader Hafiz Muhammad Saeed is personally leading the Myanmar campaign, espousing the cause of Rohingyas from various public platforms in Pakistan, his subordinates have been planning and undertaking visits to the Bangladesh-Myanmar border region. Intelligence sources indicate that the Pakistan-sourced support to the Rohingya's is conditional on radicalized Rohingyas undertaking operations against India as well.

In mid-2012, the JuD established a new forum, Difa-e-Musalman Arakan-Burma (Defence of Muslims in Arakan - Myanmar) in order to mobilise supporters for a campaign against the ruling military junta of Myanmar. The JuD deputed a two-member team comprising JuD 'spokesperson' Nadeem Awari and a member of the Jama'at's 'publication wing', Shahid Mehmood Rehmatullah, on August 10, 2012, for the task of forging links with senior representatives of Islamic institutions in Bangladesh and Myanmar.

In addition, Bangladesh agencies tracking one Shafiul Alam, a dual Pakistani-Nepalese passport holder, who travels frequently from Pakistan to Bangladesh, recently found that he and one Abdul Karim alias Mohammed Nur Alam, a Nepal-based Rohingya operative linked to hawala (illegal money transactions) and fake currency trafficking networks, had been trying to set up training camps along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border for Rohingya extremists, in consultation with the LeT 'commander' Ustad Abdul Hamid.

Assessing the Lashkar initiative, on February 27, 2013, Home Minister of Bangladesh Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir noted, "Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) is active in Bangladesh and law enforcement agencies tracked down their network and kept them under sharp security vigil. It is the moral and legal obligation of the Government to uproot them totally."

Moreover, it has also been reported that other terror outfits such as Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), the latter with known links to Pakistan-based terrorist formations, are also trying to exploit the issue of the Rohingyas' 'plight' in Myanmar. In this effort, they are allying with NGOs led by Rohingyas, including the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation, to establish new bases in Bangladesh. Bangladeshi security agencies are examining whether Jammat-ul-Arakan, a new outfit comprising elements of JMB and extremist-minded Rohingya activists, is running militant camps in the Bandarban District along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border.

Meanwhile, links between Pakistani extremist formations and Rohingyas have also been uncovered by Bangladeshi security agencies. Bangladesh Police traced the funds in the bank account of one Maulana Mohammad Yunus, arrested in August 2012 from a madrasa (Islamic Seminary) in the Rau sub-district of Cox's Bazaar District, to Maulana Shabir Ali Ahmed, a Karachi-based, JeM-linked Bangladeshi national of Rohingya origin. Another madrasa operator, Abdur Rehman alias Imran alias Mustafa of Teknaf in Cox's Bazaar is suspected to have coordinated the arrival of Pakistan-trained Myanmarese mujahideen (holy warriors) at various locations of Cox's Bazaar at the end of 2012.

The expanding ISI footprint in the Rohingya belt of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) was also exposed following the arrest of one Noor-ul-Amin from the Idgah madarasa in Cox's Bazaar, on September 11, 2012. Amin had reportedly served as a militant 'talent spotter' and a recruiter of Rohingya cadres in the past. Confirming his association with the ISI during his interrogation, Amin disclosed that the ISI was involved in gun-running activity in the Rohingya refugee belt in CHT. According to estimates, there are about 26,000 documented refugees living in two camps in Cox's Bazar District in CHT, close to the Myanmar border. Bangladesh Minister for Foreign Affairs Dipu Moni stated that 300,000 to 500,000 Myanmar refugees had entered Bangladesh illegally. ISI agents are also known to have close connections with the drug cartels in South-east Asia.

Evidently, the sectarian clashes in Myanmar have significant potential to impact adversely on the security situation in Bangladesh, India, and Myanmar. An unnamed senior Indian official observed, "Economic and social hardships faced by Rohingya refugees apart, the involvement of the minority group in arms smuggling, narcotics, safe sanctuaries for terror elements, including setting up of training camps, is going to be a major counter-terrorism challenge in the regional context." Available intelligence inputs indicate that extremist activities of Rohingya Muslims were being funded mainly by sources in Saudi Arabia. The militant cadres among the Rohingyas were being trained by Pakistan-based terror groups and the weapons were being procured from Thailand.

At the official level, India and Myanmar have agreed to cooperate to prevent cross border movement of armed groups, share information on seizure of arms and check arms smuggling/drug trafficking. The agreement was reached during the (Joint Working Group) Meeting between Myanmar and India held at Bagan in Myanmar on June 19-20, 2013.

The cycle of violence in the border areas of Bangladesh and Myanmar has increased security vulnerabilities in the region. Accordingly, on May 18-19, 2013, a new sector and two battalions (Number 50 and 51) of Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) were set up to ensure better border management along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, especially in Cox's Bazar and Khagrachhari Districts. Another BGB sector has also been established in Bandarban District.

As the ISI and its terrorist proxies step in to fish in troubled waters, it is now imperative that Bangladesh, India and Myanmar act, at once and in concert, to ensure that a greater sagacity attends Myanmar's policies towards the Rohingyas, and to destroy the emerging criminal and terrorist networks that seek to exploit the opportunities of the present disorders to create greater violence and instability in the region.

First published in SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW, Weekly Assessments and Briefings,
Volume 12, No. 4, July 29, 2013

Sanchita Bhattacharya is Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Obama’s blunder with Bangladesh to suspend trade benefits

Angry clothing factory workers street protests for better pay and safe workplace
KEVIN RAFFERTYspecial to the Japan Times

President Barack Obama recently announced that he was suspending Bangladesh’s trade benefits under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) because the country failed to give its workers proper rights.

Not for the first time, I have to wonder at the clumsiness and the lack of sensible, let alone sensitive, policies by the administration of President Barack Obama.

No doubt he was inspired by horror and outrage after the deaths of almost 1,500 workers in a series of criminal accidents in Bangladesh’s factories making garments for the biggest multinational companies in the world such as Wal-Mart, Primark, H&M, Marks and Spencer, Topshop.

Bangladesh factories suffered from several fires where workers could not get out because the exits were blocked. One fire last year killed 113 people. But the truly murderous culmination came in April when an eight-story factory, whose owners had ignored planning and construction regulations, suddenly collapsed like the proverbial pack of cards.

Police had warned about cracks, but the factory owners told worried workers that if they did not go to work they would lose their jobs: 1,129 of them lost their lives, and others survived only after crushed limbs were amputated. It was the world’s biggest factory disaster.

The punishment that Obama has imposed is like an old-fashioned sledgehammer to crack the proverbial nut — but the sledgehammer has missed its target. That’s a good thing because if Obama had succeeded in hurting Bangladesh, those he would have hurt most would have been the women who work sometimes in unsafe conditions of semi-slavery to produce garments for the world.

As Kimberley Elliott of the Center for Global Development noted, the U.S. action is in most ways a symbolic measure because GSP does not cover clothing, which accounts for 90 percent of Bangladesh’s exports to the United States.

The punishment affects about 1 percent of exports, or a trifling $35 million in goods, so it seems a clumsy way of making a point. It may be that Obama understood that what he was doing would have very little impact on the economy but nevertheless wanted to send a warning shot. But the way he did it smacks of bullying.

It also sends dangerous messages in different directions. It might encourage the European Union to follow suit, which would threaten more than $12 billion worth of Bangladesh goods. Washington’s action could also encourage big retailers to rethink and try to pull out of Bangladesh because Obama has withdrawn a significant seal of approval from the country.

Already one chief executive of an American company that designs and distributes high-end apparel from Bangladesh told the New York Times, “Right now, the name of Bangladesh just gives a bad rep (reputation) to a company.” A number of international companies are keen to explore other opportunities away from disgraced Bangladesh.

I have to declare an interest. I watched the creation of Bangladesh and its bloody Caesarian birth out of Pakistan with India as midwife. Even in the heady days of independence, the economic plight of Bangladesh seemed desperate, with few exports but heavy dependence on imports for all sort of basic goods, from food to energy and clothing.

Worse still, the life expectancy and literacy rates of the infant country were among the lowest in the world. The land was crisscrossed by rivers curling round each other like snakes in an orgy.

The main means of transport were country boats with home made patched up sails that had to be pulled if there was no wind, or slow buses or slower trains, all of which were usually so crowded that there was no room to stand, even on the roof.

What was the hope for this country, except for the heartwarming energy and enthusiasm of the people?

To cut a long story short, Bangladesh, after a painful start, has begun to make important steps forward, thanks largely to the women in the textile factories. They are the backbone of the $20 billion in clothing exports that have helped Bangladesh to climb up the world economic tables. Per capita income, thanks to annual growth of 6 to 7 percent, is $1,700, and Bangladesh now occupies 44th place in the global economic league tables.

It has gained a place in Goldman Sachs’ N-11 group of countries, meaning the Next Eleven, which have the potential after the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) to become the big movers and shakers of the world economy in this century. The list is an odd one, with some doubtful names on it, but it puts Bangladesh in the august company of Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea and Turkey, which have begun to make their global presence felt.

Who could have imagined such Bangladeshi progress even 10 years ago?

But the women textile workers have achieved much more for their country. They have helped to change the social fabric, so that in key indicators such as life expectancy, infant mortality, the schooling of girls and combatting undernourishment of children, Bangladesh is now superior to its big neighbor, India.

Does Obama wish to bring his sledgehammer policies to crush their future and that of Bangladesh?

It would have been — would be — far better for Obama to use carrots before resorting to a stick. The U.K. government has shown a more enlightened attitude by asking leading companies buying goods from Bangladesh how they can work together to improve the standards of the factories. European retailers have also shown the right attitude — to try to make the working conditions safer and better for the women. But their U.S. counterparts walked away from any such deal, not wishing to get involved in legal obligations.

There is surely room for big international retailers to squeeze their profits to ensure safer production. Industry sources calculate that Bangladesh women get the lowest monthly pay of all the Asian women working in garment factories, a mere $37 for a 48-hour working week, against $120 in Cambodia, $145 in Vietnam, $300 in factories near Jakarta and $500 in Guangdong.

At the international level, where is World Bank President Jim Kim?

He has been quick to make grand statements about defeating poverty globally, but in this key area of actually doing something to protect vulnerable workers who are trying to raise themselves out of poverty, I cannot find a single word from Kim or the bank or indeed from the Asian Development Bank or from big international aid givers, apart from the United Kingdom.

Are they waiting for the Bangladesh government to ask for help to defeat its own corrupt part in allowing infringement of building codes that led to the rise and fall of unsafe factories and for protection of the politically connected factory owners who profit from slave labor and exploiting the women? Shame.

First published in Japan Times, July 23, 2013

Kevin Rafferty is a professor at the Institute for Academic Initiatives at Osaka University

Friday, July 12, 2013

Historic judgment for Gautam Das murder in Bangladesh

Almost eight years have passed since the murder of Bangladeshi journalist Gautam Das, but the slow wheels of justice have finally rotated. Late last month, a court sentenced nine individuals to life in prison in connection with the scribe's murder. Many local journalists have hailed the verdict as a landmark, the first time a Bangladeshi court has successfully prosecuted a murder of a journalist.
Eight of the nine convicted on June 27 are junior politicians belonging to the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, including the son of a former parliamentarian, according to news reports.
"This marks the first time in Bangladesh's 42-year history that the police thoroughly investigated the murder of a journalist, arrested the perpetrators, and that a court delivered a favorable verdict," said Manjurul Ahsan Bulbul, a prominent journalist and former head of the Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists.
Shortly before his murder in November 2005, Das published a series of reports for the Dhaka-based daily Samakal, detailing corruption by BNP officials, according to news reports. His body was found strangled in his bureau in the town of Faridpur, 40 miles outside the capital. The following day, Das' colleague filed a complaint with local police, accusing 10 individuals in connection with the murder, many of whom were members of the then-ruling BNP, according to reports.  
But the long road to justice was pitted with potholes. One of the accused died during the course of the trial. Others were released on bail. Witnesses scared of testifying backed out, according to Saleem Samad, a local journalist who knew Das. And in 2006, the case was transferred from the local district court to the Dhaka Speedy Tribunal Court 1 for an expedited judgment after pressure from local journalists. One defendant challenged the legality of this transfer, resulting in further delays.
Seven years later, this "speedy" court delivered its decision. While many journalists and press freedom advocates have welcomed the verdict, Das' widow, Dipali Das, expressed her disappointment and concerns to local media that the convicts would try to use their finances to get out of jail. Her concerns are legitimate; Bangladesh is consistently rated one of the most corrupt nations in the world. Dipali Das said the killers deserved the death penalty.
It is widely accepted by those who knew Das that those sentenced are the individuals behind the murder. It remains unclear if these men are the masterminds based on the police investigation, eyewitness accounts and confessions of the convicts, according to local journalists. Bulbul warned that the judgment will likely be appealed, and in a politicized place like Bangladesh, there is always the possibility that the defendants walk free.
Impunity for journalists' murders runs deep in Bangladesh. At least 14 journalists have been killed in direct relation to their work since CPJ began keeping records in 1992. Six others have been killed for reasons that remain unclear. Bangladesh ranks as the world's 19th deadliest country for the press, according to CPJ data. "For last 40 years hardly any journalists silenced for their profession had received justice, despite media pressure. In some incidents the family members have rejected the court verdict, some have even withdrawn their case out of frustration," said Samad.

Bulbul is hopeful this may change. "This is the beginning of the end of the culture of impunity that exists for journalist murders in Bangladesh," he said.

First appeared in Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) blog, July 10, 2013

Sumit Galhotra is the research associate for CPJ's Asia program. He served as CPJ's inaugural Steiger Fellow and has worked for CNN International, Amnesty International USA, and Human Rights Watch. He has reported from London, India, and Israel and the Occupied Territories, and specializes in human rights and South Asia