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Violation of Human rights and the threats to the due process of law, peace and justice in Bangladesh

Edit Date:12/30/2010 12:00:00 AM

 

 
From Savebd desk: March 22, 2010

At the news conference, American Muslim leaders called for — among other things — an end to extra-judicial arrests and killings, ensuring multiparty democracy, stopping abuse of the police, judiciary and administration to subdue the opposition, restoration of the rule of law, and immediate release of all those who have been unlawfully detained. AMT is an umbrella organization that includes American Muslim Alliance (AMA), American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), Muslim Alliance in North America (MANA), MAS-Freedom, Muslim Student Association-National (MSA-N), Muslim Ummah of North America (MUNA), and United Muslims of America (UMA). Its observer organizations include American Muslims for Civic Engagement (AMCE), Islamic Educational Council of Orange County (IECOC), the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), and Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC).

Nihad Awad of  CAIR , Imam Mahdy Bray of  MAS-FF, Professor of Howard University Dr. Sulayman Nyang of MACC-PAC and Selim Akhtar of AMT discussed wide spread human right violations, suppressing opposition and wrongful accusation and persecution of Islamic leaders in the name of so-called “war crime issues “ was addressed. Deputy Ambassodor of BD in Washington DC was in the audiance, along with some local Awami League leaders.

From the news conference AMT forwarded a petition to U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Following is the text of the petition:

 

Her Excellency Hillary Rodham Clinton
U.S. Secretary of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20520
Re: Violation of Human rights and the threats to the due process of law, peace and justice in Bangladesh
Honorable Secretary Ms. Clinton:
We are writing this letter to draw your attention to the gross violation of human rights and the repression of the opposition parties by the ruling government in Bangladesh and seeking your helping hand to change the situation. We are afraid that if this remains unabated, it may pose a great threat to the nascent democracy and turn the country into a civil war.
As you are aware, after two years of military backed interim government’s rule, Bangladesh had a general election in December 2008, which brought the Awami League (AL) to power with a two third majority in the parliament. Following the election, the people of Bangladesh and the international community expected that this newly elected government would follow the path of democracy by establishing the rule of law, cooperating with the opposition parties and strengthening the democratic institutions. However, it is unfortunate and dismaying that the ruling party in Bangladesh has resorted to repression of the opposition parties from the very beginning. They have already created a reign of terror throughout the country wherein political vendetta, establishing torture cells in educational institutions, rapes, mounting violence and murders have become a regular phenomenon. The rising expectations of the people have turned into rising frustrations. A brief account of the current situation in Bangladesh is thus presented below for your kind attention and prompt actions.

1.     Extra-judicial killings

Since AL came to power in 2009, the extra-judicial killing in police custody (termed “Crossfire” by the authority) is ever-increasing. Although on February 11, 2009, the Prime Minister said in the parliament that “there should be no extra-judicial killings in any circumstance” and “legal action would be taken against those guilty of such killing”, such killings are in fact on raise. According to human rights watchdogs and media outlets, in 2009 there were at least 154 extra-judicial killings by the law enforcing authority (Odhikar Human Rights Report 2009; available at http://www.odhikar.org/documents/2009/English_report/HRR_2009.pdf ). Such extra-judiciary killings go against the constitution of the country and the international human rights laws, and therefore must have to stop. Unfortunately, some of the ministers have publicly defended this act, e.g. on October 3, 2009, the Shipping Minister Shahjahan Khan stated, “extra-judicial killings or crossfire are taking place as an alternative way to stop crimes” (The Daily Jaijaidin, October 4, 2009). The same Minister on October 8, 2009 defended extra-judicial killings by saying that “for the sake of establishing peace in the nation, it does not amount to a human rights violation” (The Daily Prothom Alo, October 9, 2009).

2. Army Massacre and displacing blames

The February 24-25, 2009 BDR (Bangladesh Rifles) massacre of 67 top ranking army officers including the Director General of BDR (and his wife) shocked the entire world. As the investigation began, information started coming out and reported in the national and some international media that this carnage was done largely with the direct behest and active involvement of AL Ministers and members. The State Minister Jahangir Nanak fled the country once investigation began to dig into his linkage to the notorious carnage. The more tragedy is that rather than bringing the killers to justice, the government took a very lengthy approach involving procrastination, diverting people’s attention, wiping out evidence by deaths of perpetrators and witnesses in custody. Though the investigation is completed, only a partial report has been made public. Ironically, many army officers and government officials who expressed their concerns and frustration to the Prime Minister over this carnage have been listed and dismissed from their jobs!

3. Taking the ruling party beyond the law and justice

Ex-Prime Minister (and current Opposition Leader in the Parliament) Khaleda Zia has been recently sent to court on charge of politically motivated cases while the government has dropped off 365 cases against its own people. It is interesting to note that in one case that implicated current Premier Sheikh Hasina and 45 others from her party and coalition, the government has had the case expunged from the court of law using its influence and machinery. In this specific case, on 28 October 2006, AL activists killed 6 opposition activists by beating with sticks and oars in front of the police and media and danced on the dead bodies, that shocked the whole world. One national daily in its editorial (Daily New Nation, 22 May 2007) termed the massacre as “the most heinous killing in history of the country.” [ A video showing the massacre can be viewed at:
http://www.youtube.com/watch#v=W9pfPeKONYY&feature=related ]

Just before this incidence, AL leader Sheikh Hasina asked AL activists to come prepared with sticks and oars and take control of the streets of Dhaka “at any cost.” After the massacre, it was the police who charged Sheikh Hasina and 45 others for killing six and injuring about six hundreds. AL president Sheikh Hasina’s name was included in the case charge sheet by the Investigation Officer himself declaring that he found the involvement of the AL chief in this massacre while doing the investigation. Through this expunge, AL is trying to establish that they can do anything with the law and justice as long as they are in power!  

4. Targeting academics and academic institutions

Cadres of AL student wing, Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) have carried out a reign of killings, violence, rape and extortion throughout the country. The armed cadres BCL not only killing their political opponents, but also their own activists due to factional rivalry, power clash, and financial control within the party. The brutal killings of their own leaders Abul Kalam Asad Rajib in Dhaka Medical College (March 31, 2009) and Abu Bakar Siddique in Dhaka University (Feb. 3, 2010) are just two of numerous examples.

BCL activists in many universities and institutions have notoriously established torture cells and rape houses. In many cases, they record the violent rape scenes, make CDs and sell them in local video shops (Daily Star, September 28 and September 29, 2009). It is worth mentioning that last time when AL was in power (1996-2001), in 1998 one notorious cadre of BCL named Jasimuddin Manik openly celebrated his “rape century” as he completed raping 100 girls at Jahangirnagar University drawing huge media coverage! (Daily Manobjomin, August 17, 1998; The Daily Star, September 26, 1998; Star Weekend Magazine, 7(31), August 1, 2007).

Being unable to control BCL, Sheikh Hasina recently resigned as the organizational head of the BCL, absolving personal responsibility for their catalogue of terrorism, violence, torture, killing and other misdeeds. Her son, Sajeeb Wazed Joy, who has been living abroad for over a decade and is currently a resident in the United States, has been requested to “take care” of the student wing as many of its leaders are his friends!
[ To learn more about BCL violence, please read an article by a University Professor published in The Daily Star (January 20, 2010) at:  www.thedailystar.net/newDesign/news-details.php?nid=122583 ]

5. Intimidating the opposition

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has seemingly waged a war against the opposition parties in Bangladesh. Her personal vendetta went so far that recently, by a decree of her cabinet, she ordered that the three times elected Prime Minister and the leader of the largest opposition party Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), Khaleda Zia be forcibly evicted from her residence that was lawfully allotted to her by the government following the assassination of her husband and then President Ziaur Rahman in 1981. Recently, at the estimated cost of BD Taka 14 billion (more than 200 million US Dollar) the AL government changed the name of country’s main international airport that was named after BNP founder Ziaur Rahman for the past 27 years (Daily New Nation, February 24, 2010), and the Prime Minister boasted in a public statement that she had done it “to give BNP a lesson” (The Daily Star, February 21, 2010).

The current regime is also obstructing the free movement and overseas travel of the opposition party leaders, which is a gross violation of individual rights. In one such incident, the US Ambassador to Bangladesh James F. Moriarty had to interfere and request the AL government to allow Barrister Abdur Razzaq, a leader from the second largest opposition party Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami to travel abroad. (Weekly Holiday. April 3, 2009).

6. War Crime allegation to crush the opposition:

To intimidate and eventually obliterate Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami (Jamaat), the largest mainstream liberal Islamic party of the country that formed coalition government with BNP during 2001-2006, AL came up with a plan to try the “war criminals” of 1971 and accordingly have created a discourse in which they have selectively targeted only the leaders of the Jamaat. It is true that war crimes, alongside grievous oppression of civilians were committed in the 1971 war by the Pakistani forces. Following the independence of Bangladesh, 195 Pakistani army officers (and not a single person from Jamaat) were identified as war criminals in the preliminary investigation by then Bangladesh government. Following the Simla Agreement signed on July 2, 1972 between Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister of India and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, President of Pakistan, a number of agreements were signed between India and Pakistan regarding repatriation of the POWs. On 9th April 1974, an Agreement was signed between Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan in New Delhi in which, among other issues, the question of trial of the 195 POWs was raised and finally it was decided that they would be repatriated to Pakistan along with the other prisoners without trial. For better understanding, paragraph 15 of the 1974 Agreement is quoted below:
“In the light of the foregoing and, in particular, having regard to the appeal of the Prime Minister of Pakistan to the people of Bangladesh to forgive and forget the mistakes of the past, the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh stated that the Government of Bangladesh had decided not to proceed with the trials as an act of clemency. It was agreed that the 195 prisoners of war may be repatriated to Pakistan along with the other prisoners of war now in process of repatriation under the Delhi Agreement.”  

Thus 195 POWs (identified as purported war criminals) were repatriated to Pakistan, and the question of their trial as war criminals was finally abandoned. Had Mujibur Rahman continued the trial, it would have set a good example for other perpetrators who commit similar cases elsewhere.

On 24 January 1972, the government of Bangladesh enacted another law to try those who did not side with the liberation war or politically opposed the call of liberation war or willingly cooperated with the Pakistan Army or committed criminal acts. It was called the Collaborators Act, 1972. More than a hundred thousand persons were arrested under that Act. Of them, 37,471 persons were charged. Another 30,623 could not be prosecuted for lack of evidence. A total of 2,848 were brought to trial. Of them, 752 were found guilty. The remaining 2,096 accused persons were found not guilty and freed. Taking into account the overall situation (of discontent) obtaining in the country, in November 1973 the Government of Bangladesh under the leadership of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared a general amnesty. It goes without saying that the architect of Bangladesh Sheikh Mujibur Rahman thought it fit to wipe the slate clean of all conflicts, adversities and contradictions that cropped up during the liberation war, by declaring a general amnesty. By virtue of the general amnesty, those accused or convicted for minor crimes under the Act were all set free. But those accused of rape, murder, arson or plunder were not pardoned. In other words, the general amnesty kept the scope of prosecution and trial of those accused of such serious crimes under the Act. On December 31, 1975, the Collaborators Act was repealed by a Presidential order. After the amnesty, the Act remained in force for a little over two years. In that period, no case was filed for the said four serious offences. Perhaps that was the logic behind repeal of the law in 1975 by the government of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founding father of the country.

Though Jamaat politically supported a united Pakistan (as the U.S. also did), none of the Jamaat leaders and activists was ever convicted of war crimes. Ironically, AL is conducting a hate campaign against some individuals before any charge has been brought against them, let alone be proved in the court of law. The law under which those people (the opposition political leaders) are set to be tried is called The Crimes (Tribunal) Act, 1973. Many of the provisions of this law are against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, Covenants on Civil and Political Rights 1966, and a host of other international legislations, and above all, the fundamental rights guaranteed in the Constitution of Bangladesh. Under this law trial will take place by a special Tribunal formed by the Government. The Tribunals shall not be bound by technical rules of evidence. Newspaper reports and hearsay evidences will be admissible. The provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1898 (“the code”) and the Evidence Act, 1872 (“the act”) will not apply. By excluding the code and the act that ensure free and fair trial, the current one will certainly be a sham trial and any innocent person can be convicted. The tribunal will thus simply be a kangaroo court.

While the issue of war crimes was resolved internationally (through Simla Agreement) and nationally (through Collaboration Act), bringing it up again shows that it is highly politically motivated. Moreover, Bangladesh judiciary is now being subjugated by the current regime (Daily Amar Desh, February 16, 2010) and therefore a fair judgment is unexpected from this politically motivated trial.

7. Mass arrest, killing and threat to ban opposition
In February 2010, a university student from the ruling party was killed during a clash between student wing of ruling party and Islami Chhatra Shibir (ICS), the largest democratic Islamic student organization. Although this murder case is under investigation and none has been found guilty so far according to police investigation or in the court (Daily Nayadiganta, February 16, 2010), and there is media reports that the student was probably killed by the ruling party student wing members because of internal friction (Daily Prothom Alo, February 15, 2010), the government has blamed ICS for this murder, and based on this unevidenced claim, it is taking steps to harass and outlaw ICS and other democratic Islamic organizations. The Deputy Minister for Home Affairs ordered government agencies to carry out “combing operation to uproot ICS throughout the whole country.” Since then, two ICS activists have been killed and many hundreds have been arrested, attacked, wounded, traumatized, and are being tortured in police custody. Even the female students are not spared – they are being detained and harassed for wearing religiously mandated headscarf or carrying Islamic books (Daily Amar Desh, February 19, 2010). The main Opposition Party BNP has called these government steps as “state terrorism” and “License to create anarchy.”  It is also clear from a recent statement by human rights organization Amnesty International where it says:
“While members of the Islami Chhatra Shibir have been the main targets of the mass arrests, [ruling party’s student wing] Bangladesh Chhatra League activists have continued to clash and attack opposition supporters, with no accountability.  … Theone-sided manner in which the police have carried out the arrests so far indicates that criminal investigations into the violence are unlikely to be impartial or fair. The government’s politically motivated response to the violence has allowed attacks by members of the ruling party’s student wing to continue, including against news reporters covering these attacks.” [ BANGLADESH: POLITICALLY MOTIVATED ARBITRARY ARRESTS HAMPER IMPARTIAL INVESTIGATION OF CAMPUS VIOLENCE. AI Index: ASA 13/005/2010. 23 February 2010; available at:
http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/ASA13/005/2010/en/f9f2e4ef-9f64-487e-8e70-67233f25ffbb/asa130052010en.pdf ].  
Besides universal human rights violations, it clearly violates the Bangladesh constitution that says:
“All Citizens are Equal before Law and are Entitled to Equal Protection of Law” [Article 27 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh]
Our Urgent Appeal to the government of the USA:
We applaud President Barak Obama’s historic address where he said, “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history.” We believe and hope that the United States of America would do its part to stop the Bangladesh government from repressing the opposition and disregarding the rule of law, democratic norm and justice in the society. To avoid a possible civil war and upcoming bloodbath, we hereby earnestly request you to extend your helping hand to the peaceful and democracy-loving people of Bangladesh so as to ensure that the current AL government:

  1. Stop all extra-judicial arrests and killings immediately,  and bring the responsible parties to justice 
  2. Restore the rule of law, and publish the investigation on the massacre of high profile army officers
  3. Release those who are detained unlawfully, and compensate the victims
  4. Protect all human rights, and if the AL-proposed trial of war crimes is to go, form an international tribunal under the auspices of the United Nations
  5. Ensure the multi-party democracy, and stop abusing police, judiciary, administration and other state machineries to subdue the opposition.

Indeed, today we are living in a world which is very volatile and vulnerable. By ignoring the emerging boiling situation in Bangladesh, the international community cannot afford to create another “Somalia” in South Asia. We must not betray our conscience! We appeal to you to intervene and persuade the Government of Bangladesh to stop forthwith all Violation of Human rights and the threats to the due process of law, establishing peace and justice in Bangladesh.

AMT is an umbrella organization that includes American Muslim Alliance (AMA), American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), Muslim Alliance in North America (MANA), Muslim American Society-Freedom Foundation (MAS-FF), Muslim Student Association- National (MSA-N), Muslim Ummah of North America (MUNA), and United Muslims of America (UMA). Its observer organizations include: Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), and Islamic Educational Center of Orange County (IEC).
Sincerely,
Agha Saeed, Ph.D.
Chairman, American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and Elections (AMT)

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