Thursday, December 29, 2011

Bangladesh police breaks energy activist’s demos

Saleem Samad

Police in riot gears in the capital Dhaka broke up a demonstration by energy activists on Thursday midday demanding postponement of contracts with foreign companies for power generation and coal exploration.

Police charged batons and fired tear gas shells to disperse the demonstrators who tried to lay siege to the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resource to press for termination of Phulbari Coal Project contract with GCM Resources, a London-based resource exploration and development company.

Activists’ spokesperson Prof. Anu Mohammad said at least 35 people of the network National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports were injured as police clubbed the activists marching towards the Ministry of Energy & Mineral Resources.

Among the injured includes Engr. Sheikh Mohammad Shahidullah and Prof. Rehnuma Khanam of the committee.

Earlier, police barricaded the entrance with barbed wire fences to hold back the angry activists.

The energy activist's network of leftists, professional and civil society members after holding a rally in front of National Press Club at the city centre marched towards the Bangladesh Secretariat, where most of the ministries are housed.

Spontaneously the network announced that it would observe countrywide rallies on Jan. 2 in protest of Thursday’s police action.

Bangladesh is in the midst of a severe and worsening energy crisis. Less than half of the country’s 150 million people have access to electricity and those that do have access suffer from frequent power cuts.

Lack of available power is a barrier to the development of industry and also impedes agricultural production.

Presently the country’s power generation is based on natural gas. Therefore coal fired power stations proposed by India could reduce the power shortage significantly.

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

Friday, December 23, 2011

South Asian plagued by corruption of police, politicians, public officials

SALEEM SAMAD

THE SOUTH Asian regularly have to pay bribes daily when dealing with their public institutions, whether to speed up paperwork, avoid harassment with the police, or access basic services.

International watchdog Transparency International on Thursday stated that police was perceived to be the most corrupt institution in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, and the second most corrupt institution in India.

Public perceptions of corruption released by Berlin based global corruption watchdog across all six of the South Asian countries– Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka – found corruption levels to be highest in political parties and the police, followed closely by the parliament and public officials.

In Bangladesh the most common reason for giving bribe to police was to receive a service and also to avoid problems with the authorities.

However, government leaders were named as the most trusted to fight corruption in Bangladesh, the Maldives and Sri Lanka. On the other hand, the media was the most trusted institution in India and Nepal.

The Transparency International study between 2010 and 2011 more than 7500 people were interviewed in six South Asian countries on their views of corruption levels in their countries and also to determine their governments’ efforts to fight corruption.

These results demonstrate an important difference in how corruption is perceived in the countries of South Asia. In Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, people were most likely to pay bribes to the police.

Surprisingly the religious bodies were perceived to be the least corrupt institution, the study said.

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

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Bangladesh, Russia's Gazprom to drill onshore gas wells

SALEEM SAMAD

ENERGY STARVED Bangladesh has jointly decided on a plan with Gazprom to prepare gas sector strategic master plan for exploration, installation of gas compressors and expanding gas distribution network.

Bangladesh on Wednesday approved a plan by Gazprom, the Russain based world biggest producer and exporter of natural gas to drill 10 onshore wells in the country, state energy exploration agency Petrobangla’s Chairman Hussain Monsur said.

Gazprom will be the first foreign company to partner with Petrobangla in exploration without a production-sharing contract, the official added.

Gazprom in late October offered to drill 10 onshore gas wells in Bangladesh on a turnkey basis at a total cost of $193.55 million, with drilling to be completed within 18 months of approval being granted, Vice-President of Gazprom Ivan Guleb told journalists.

The government recently passed a new law to ensure the quick implementation of power and energy projects that bypasses the tender process. It gives it the authority to bypass any laws that impede the execution of power projects and prevents decisions and deals inked under the new law from being challenged in court.

The shortfall has forced Petrobangla to suspended new gas connections to industries since July 2009, squeezing industrial growth. Gas rationing is widespread and CNG filling stations are closed four hours a day.

On the other hand, leaked United States diplomatic cables said the Kremlin's ambition of turning Gazprom, the world's biggest gas company, into a global energy titan is undermined by Soviet-style thinking, poor management and corruption.

The diplomatic cables from U.S. Ambassador to Moscow John Beyrle paint Russia's biggest company as a confused and corrupt like its predecessor, the Soviet Ministry of Gas.

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, December 04, 2011

Courting danger: Recounting ordeal in DGFI custody



SALEEM SAMAD

It was a late-night call. The caller told me in rustic English that they were coming to pick us up from the hotel. I had been commissioned by Channel 4 to help its crew working on the Unreported World programme. During our investigation in November 2002, we came to know that some terrorists were hiding in Dhaka. We wanted to interview them. The call was from one of their commanders. After an hour, a van arrived at the hotel.

We were blindfolded and driven around Dhaka to make us lose our sense of direction. Finally, we were taken into a building where we saw half a dozen men with AK-47s. We were asked to wait for the commander. After some time, a tall and broad-shouldered Arab fighter came to meet us. He refused to be photographed or interviewed and said he had kept his promise to meet us.

We were again blindfolded and then left in the middle of the city. On November 25, Zaiba and Bruno, two Channel 4 staffers who were with me, were arrested. I wasn’t with them that day. It was then that I realised that we were being followed by the military intelligence sleuths. A friend in the security establishment told me that we had committed a big mistake. He said the place where the terrorists hid was in fact a safe house of the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI) and the man we met was an al Qaeda commander. I couldn’t believe that the terrorists were protected by the agency which was supposed to arrest them. The news left me shocked and frightened. I knew we went too close to the story. We had blown a cover of the DGFI. By that time, DGFI men had surrounded my home.

I called my brother and said I would stay at a friend’s place. The intelligence agencies had tapped his phone and they heard our conversation. That night they raided my friend’s place and arrested me. I was brutally tortured for days. My interrogators wanted to know how much we knew about their safe houses and covert operations. Then, after 50 days in custody, I was released on January 18, 2003. I thought my ordeal was over. Hardly did I know that I would be forced to leave my country. After my release, a friend in the government told me that there was a plan to assassinate me. To save my life, I fled to Canada, where I got asylum.

First published in The Week, December 3, 2011

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Bangladesh, Russia ink nuke power deal

SALEEM SAMAD

ENERGY-STARVED Bangladesh signed a landmark deal with Russia on Wednesday to finalize arrangements for installing two nuclear power plants in the north of the country.

Russian officials confirmed that the maiden power plant will use third generation nuclear technology and that there would be no fear of a Japan-style tsunami and earthquake at the proposed site. Russia also agreed to take back the spent fuel for reprocessing of the nuclear waste.

The plants at Roopur, on the bank of the Padma River in northern Bangladesh, are free from natural calamities and far from the coast of the Bay of Bengal, should any tidal surge occur.

The two plants, with 1,000 megawatts of capacity each, will produce electricity for the country’s ever-growing export industries and massive agriculture economy.

Nearly 40 percent of the population has access to grid electricity, leaving the rest in a state of darkness that dates back to the origin of human society. Renewable energy such as solar power and wind farms contributes less than 1 percent of the demand.

According to the agreement, Moscow will provide all assistance, including construction work, human resource development, and development of the necessary legal framework for Bangladesh's first-ever nuclear power station.

Sergey Kirienko, director general of State Atomic Energy Corp. of Russia (Rosatom), said such types of projects normally take five years to complete, but it will take a few extra years as the feasibility study has not been done.

“We will engage all safety measures in the plant’s design to avoid mishaps that took place at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan when a strong earthquake hit the country recently,” the director general said.

Yeafesh Osman, state minister for science and information and communication technology who signed the agreement on behalf of Bangladesh, said the cost has not been calculated.

Sources said an estimated cost of the power plant would be between $1.5 and 2 billion. The Russian government will reportedly provide loans to build the plant and a funding agreement will be signed later.

The International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) gave nod to Bangladesh to install nuclear power plants in 2007, along with seven other developing nations, while the United States, Russia, France, South Korea, China and Pakistan offered assistance for developing the infrastructure at Roopur.

Bangladesh was the first among the poor countries to sign the non-proliferation treaty (NPT) in August 1979 and has an operational research nuclear plant at the fringe of the capital.

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

Bangladesh to create sanctuary for river dolphins

SALEEM SAMAD

BANGLADESH WILDLIFE authorities are declaring three areas in the Sundarbans mangrove forest as “dolphin sanctuaries” to protect an endangered species of freshwater dolphins from extinction.

The dolphins, known as Irabati Dolphins or locally as Sushuk, live in the southern mangrove forest, the main habitat of the endangered mammal.

According to research that began in 2002, around 6,000 river dolphins live in the area stretching from the Irabati river to southern region of Bangladesh. There are only 100 Irabati dolphins in the world living outside this area, near Southeast Asia’s Mekong delta.

The forest department’s wildlife officer, Tapan Kumar Dey, said the agency has declared three water segments--Dhangmari, Chandpai and Dudhmukhi--as sanctuaries for free roaming and breeding by the dolphins. Once the sanctuary is initiated, fishing will be prohibited in those areas.

The waterways of the world's largest mangrove forest are the lone habitat of around 676 freshwater mammals -- 225 of Ganges river species and 451 of Irrawaddy -- the largest population in a single habitat.

Hundreds of fishermen catch fish, shrimp and crab in the water bodies, known as a hotspot of dolphins, also a breeding ground for fish, he said.

Although the animals are not targeted directly by fishermen, they often get entangled in fishing nets and die in dozens every year. They are also threatened by rising salinity and pollution.

Rubaiyat Mansur, a researcher in dolphin conservation, found that the world's largest population of Irrawaddy dolphins – an estimated 6,000 – live along Bangladesh's southern coast, including in the Sundarbans.

Mansur traveled a thousand kilometers of waterways in the treacherous Sundarbans. He said the mangrove forest is the only place in the world where the Ganges river dolphins and Irrawaddy dolphins are found.

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

Rights groups moves high court on beheading 8 Bangladeshi

SALEEM SAMAD

A human rights organization has moved the Bangladesh high court on Tuesday to probe into government’s role in beheading of eight Bangladeshi immigrants in Saudi Arabia.

Manzill Murshid, the lawyer for Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh told journalists that the judges will hear the petition on Wednesday.

On Friday, eight Bangladeshis were beheaded in public at Justice Square in Saudi capital Riyadh after they confessed to guilt of robbing a warehouse and killing the security guard, Egyptian national Hussein Saeed Mohammed Abdulkhaleq, in April 2007.

The Saudi authorities turned down clemency appeal from Bangladesh amid outcry from rights groups, including Amnesty International.

The United Nations human rights office called on the country to establish a moratorium on the use of the death penalty.

On Tuesday, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is deeply distressed by the recent execution of at least 58 people in Saudi Arabia this year, 20 were migrant workers.

Dr Abdullah Al Bussairy, Saudi ambassador in Bangladesh has defended the execution of eight Bangladeshi workers on charges of killing an Egyptian security guard and robbery.

The diplomat said the convicts were given legal assistance and enough time to argue their case during the four-year trial, which contradicts Amnesty International’s claim that the trial was not free and fair.

The ambassador said under Sharia law practiced in Saudi Arabia only the victim's family can forgive the accused in exchange for blood money, but the Egyptian victim's family declined to accept the blood money despite repeated efforts by Bangladesh embassy.

“The Saudi government acts to implement the law of Allah. We had nothing to do but to uphold the sanctions of Allah. The Sharia law has been implemented through the execution," the ambassador said.

The Egyptian embassy in Riyadh also joined hands with Bangladesh embassy to satisfy the family of the Egyptian security guard Abdulkhaleq, but the family rejected any negotiation and blood money, and rather wanted "Kisash", which means blood for blood.

Asked about the criticism of the execution by international rights organizations, Bussairy said the law of Allah gets precedence over what the rights groups interpret Saudi divine laws.

Journalists asked whether the execution would strain bilateral relations between Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia, he said Bangladesh-Saudi relations are deep rooted and such an incident would no way affect the ties.

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

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Climate vulnerable nations meet to raise climate refugees

SALEEM SAMAD

SEVERAL VULNERABLE countries including Bangladesh is set to seek collective global support for climate change adaptation at the upcoming Durban Climate Summit.

A group of 32 countries, which are most vulnerable to impacts of climate change, will meet on November 14 in Bangladesh capital Dhaka to forge a common agenda for Durban negotiations.

Foreign minister Dr. Dipu Moni and junior minister for Environment and Forests Dr. Hasan Mahmud jointly briefed journalists on Tuesday said, Bangladesh will raise its voice at the forthcoming Durban to recognize the people displaced due to climate change as ‘climate refugees’.

The ‘Climate Vulnerable Forum’ will raise collective concerns of the vulnerable countries at Durban for the release of green climate and fast-start funds for adaptation and technology transfer without any conditions for mitigation.

The forum was founded in the Maldives in 2009 with countries from Africa, Asia, and the Pacific.
Bangladesh as incoming chair is going to host its third ministerial meeting on November 14 preceded by a high officials' meeting the previous day in cooperation with the UNDP, Madrid-based non-governmental organization Dara and CDKN of London.

Although the Refugee Convention, 1950 does not recognize the climate change displaced people as climate refugees. If the summit recognizes them as climate refuges, we will be able to realize our many demands, he argued.

Migration of displaced persons and funds are the two priorities of the government to deal with the climate change disaster, said the junior minister.

The junior minister said the country’s people are more vulnerable than before due to river-bank erosion, deforestation, erratic rainfall and melting glacier caused by climate change.

Losing their arable land to salinity, he said people are moving away from the coastal region to higher grounds for their survival.

Mahmud said that the per capita emission of Bangladesh is much below the level of the developing world, and we should be compensated for that.

“We’re not responsible for climate change. We’re its innocent victims,” Dr. Mahmud said adding that the annual per capita carbon emission of Bangladesh is only 0.3 tonne against 20 tonnes by developed nations.

The host country hopes the United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon will attend the meet.

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

Friday, October 28, 2011

Bangladesh, India, Pakistan vulnerable to climate change

SALEEM SAMAD

A new global ranking of climate change finds most Asian countries including Bangladesh, India, Philippines, Vietnam and Pakistan will face the greatest risks to their populations, ecosystems and business environments.

The index rates 16 countries as ‘extreme risk,’ including nations that represent new Asian economic power and possess significant forecasted growth. The highest risk categories are major contributors to the ongoing global economic recovery and are vital to the future expansion of Western businesses in particular, which worries environmentalists.

The new Climate Change Vulnerability Index released by global risks advisory firm Maplecroft recently, which enables organizations to identify areas of risk within their operations, supply chains and investments.

Principal Environmental Analyst at Maplecroft, Dr Matthew Bunce said that over the next 30 years their vulnerability to climate change will rise due to increases in air temperature, precipitation and humidity.

Maplecroft rates Bangladesh as the most at risk due to extreme levels of poverty and a high dependency on agriculture, whilst its government has the lowest capacity of all countries to adapt to predicted changes in the climate.

In addition, Bangladesh has a high risk of drought and the highest risk of flooding. This is illustrated during October 2010, when 500,000 people were driven from their homes by flood waters created by storms.

However, despite the country’s plethora of problems, the Bangladesh economy grew 88 percent between 2000 and 2008 and is forecast to by the IMF to grow 5.4 percent over 2010 and up to 6.2 percent over the next five years.

According to Maplecroft, the countries with the most risk are characterized by high levels of poverty, dense populations, exposure to climate-related events; and their reliance on flood and drought prone agricultural land.

Throughout 2010, changes in weather patterns have resulted in a series of devastating natural disasters, especially in South Asia, where heavy floods in Pakistan affected more than 20 million people (over 10 percent of the total population) and killed more than 1,700 people, said Environmental Analyst at Maplecroft, Dr. Anna Moss.

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, October 26, 2011

Bangladesh population pegged at 150.5M, compromising contradiction

SALEEM SAMAD

WORLD’S POOREST nation Bangladesh present population has been counted by a United Nations agency at 15.5 million on Wednesday, five-days ahead of when the world population is expected to reach 7 billion.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimated country’s population, which is a contradiction to Bangladesh census announced in March 2011 the population of Bangladesh stands at 142.319 million.

The UNFPA in its annual flagship publication State of World Population 2011 also indicated the number of males and females at 76.2 million and 74.3 million respectively, and pegged the country's annual population growth rate at 1.3 percent.

Whereas the UN population agency in its 2010 annual report said the current population of Bangladesh was 164.4 million, which is 15 million more than the figure released by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, responsible for national census.

The UNFPA had to revise its 2010 population figure after Bangladesh rejected the head count figure.

However, planning minister A.K. Khandker said on Wednesday he was 'happy' to see the projection which were 'close to Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics'.

The minister, decorated war veteran said the population growth would lead to invasion of agricultural land and forests for construction of new townships if the explosion in human population is not checked immediately.

“Energy crisis, unemployment problem, economic problem, health and education problem, housing problem - everything will become more acute. There will be human abodes everywhere with no space to move freely,” he said.

According to the UN, the world's population grew to 1 billion in 1804, 2 billion in 1927, 3 billion in 1959, 4 billion in 1974, 5 billion in 1987, 6 billion in 1999 and 7 billion in 2011.

Experts, however, say the world at 7 billion will be marked by achievements, setbacks and paradoxes as in some of the poorest countries a growing population stands in the way of development, while some of the richest countries are worried about low birth rates and ageing populations.

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

Bangladesh keen to send thousands of workers back to Libya

Photo: Panic stricken Bangladesh migrant workers makes desperate escape to neighbouring Tunisia
SALEEM SAMAD

BANGLADESH IS keen to send thousands of workers to Libya who fled the beleaguered country in April.

Khandker Mosharraf Hossain, the government minister for expatriates' welfare and overseas employment, on Sunday said officials plan to resend tens of thousands of construction workers and other employees back to Libya.

The Bangladesh embassy in the Libyan capital of Tripoli is negotiating with several Korean, Japanese and other private companies who had employed Bangladesh migrant workers but who were repatriated soon after the country plunged in civil war that ended last week with the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Diplomats in Tripoli said many international companies that shut down factories during the violence were also keen to reinstate Bangladeshi workers.

Despite its poor economy, Bangladesh had to bring home at least 36,000 migrant workers who had abandoned their jobs in Libya after the outbreak of civil unrest in North Africa.

International Organization for Migration (IOM) helped repatriate panic-stricken workers who poured into the neighbouring countries of Tunisia and Egypt.

Hossain is confident that the country will be able to send tens of thousands of workers as there is need of a huge workforce to rebuild Libya.

Thousands of Bangladeshi doctors, nurses and engineers have opted to stay back at their work station in Libya. In fact they were asked not leave the workplace by employers, despite risk of their life during the eight months civil war.

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

Monday, October 17, 2011

Telenor refuses to pay $400M in fines to Bangladesh authority

SALEEM SAMAD

NORWEGIAN TELECOM giant Telenor has refused to pay the Bangladesh telecommunications authority $400 million in penalties for tax evasion and revenue sharing costs.

Telenor chief executive officer Jon Fredrik Baksaas dashed to Dhaka to meet Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina over the weekend to apprise her of the standoff between Telenor’s venture partner GrameenPhone (GP) and the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC).

GrameenPhone’s chairman, Sigve Brekke, in a press briefing Sunday, threatened to take the regulatory authority to court to achieve a settlement of the purported audit findings.

Brekke, also head of Telenor’s Asia operations, said he wants the audit done in a proper way, a position the country's leading mobile phone operator has maintained since Oct. 3, when BTRC sent a letter to GP claiming the operator owes $400 million (BDT 30.34 billion) in revenue sharing and taxes.

Executives of the Norwegian phone company initially responded that the audit findings did not follow international standards, but maintain there is still room for settling the dispute through dialogue.

GP was asked to pay the dues by Oct. 23 otherwise the regulator might take legal action. BTRC chairman Zia Ahmed has described GP’s attitude as arrogant.

Meanwhile on Sunday, Hasanul Haque Inu, chairman of the parliamentary oversight committee on telecommunication, questioned whether the methodology by which the assessment of GrameenPhone was conducted had been defined.

Telenor, with a 55.8 percent share of GrameenPhone, dominates the telecom industry in Bangladesh. The company boasts of 32 million mobile phone subscribers, nearly 43 percent of the country's total mobile phone users. It has an income of $1 billion annually.

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

Saturday, October 15, 2011

U.S. cautioned Bangladesh not to shackle the press, civil liberties

SALEEM SAMAD

UNITED STATES government has cautioned Bangladesh to ensure that media outlets are able to exercise freedom of the press and that civil societies have the opportunity to be outspoken on civil liberties.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday voiced concern over the functioning of the Grameen Bank properly after its managing director Nobel laureate Prof. Mohammad Yunus was removed early this year.

Clinton speaking to visiting Bangladesh foreign minister Dr. Dipu Moni at the State Department office in Washington stressed transparency and objectivity in the proceedings of War Crimes Tribunal, which has detained seven Islamist as suspects for their war crimes during the bloody war of independence in 1971.

The US secretary of state also urged the government to ensure that media outlets were able to exercise freedom and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) had the opportunity to be a vibrant contributor to the future of Bangladesh.

On the issue of the war crimes trials in Bangladesh, the secretary of state expressed her satisfaction with the meetings US ambassador-at-large for war crimes Stephen Rapp earlier had with the Bangladesh authorities and hoped that the trials would be conducted in conformity with international standards.

On Friday, at a regular press briefing at the State Department, spokesperson Victoria Nuland said United States is supportive of that initiative for war crimes trial.

United States earlier expressed concern regarding removal of Grameen Bank’s founder Prof. Muhammad Yunus, pioneer of banking the poor and urged not to harass him. The Nobel Prize winner empowered a million rural women to help alleviate poverty.

During the 40 minutes meeting, Clinton praised Bangladesh for combating poverty and terrorism.

In response her Bangladesh counterpart said, as a secular democratic country, having a free and robust media, vibrant civil society, looks forward to more effective cooperation with United States, a development partner.

Dr. Moni raised extradition of the mastermind of military putsch in August 1975 when the Bangladesh independence hero Shiekh Mujibur Rahman assassinated.

The foreign minister mentioned that among the six fugitives, the mastermind Colonel A.M. Rashed Chowdhury has recently moved to Los Angeles. She sought Washington's cooperation in the repatriation of the self-confessed assassin in order to bring an end of the culture of impunity prevailed in the country for more than thirty-four years.

In response to extradition, she said the issue had been under judicial process and assured her that the State Department would look into it, as quoted in official press release.

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, October 13, 2011

Environmentalist fears millions will migrate into Bangladesh cities in the wake of climate change

SALEEM SAMAD

Environmentalists and NGOs are alarmed to learn that millions of “climate refugees” will be forced to migrate to cities for livelihood and shelter, causing human tragedy in Bangladesh.

Prof. Shayer Ghafur, environmentalist and teacher of state university on engineering and technology told non-government organizations network for urban poor on Thursday that 400,000 people have already begun to reach the including Bangladesh capital Dhaka annually after tidal surge twice inundated in recent years.

Bangladesh vulnerable to global warming and sea level rise is predicted that the coastal region will go 1 meter under the Bay of Bengal and displace 14.8 million people by inundating a 11524 sq. mi area of coastal Bangladesh in the next 40-50 years.

The trek to the cities under extreme weather events as their survival destination would reach staggering proportion, according to International Panel of Climate Change’s (IPCC) fourth assessment report.

Alarmed by sea level rise, the massive influx of climate refugees, who are different from economic migrants, would be arriving in urban habitats, which would baffle the city fathers for coping with the crisis of homelessness caused from population displacement.

The arrival of climate refugees in cities would become am immediate policy concern, regarding project design, implementation and resource mobilization for their shelter and livelihoods. Their arrival will create major impact on scarce shelter and services, livelihood opportunities, and health and education needs, said Prof. Gafur.

In the climate change scenario, the adaptation and mitigation measures need to be expedited, instead of waiting for compensation packages from the rich nations in near future, Khondker Rebaka Sun-yat, chief of Coalition for urban Poor told the seminar.

Meanwhile, prime minister Shiekh Hasina told Washington Post newspaper last Tuesday that Bangladesh has developed a Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan as a quick response to an immediate need to address the impacts of climate change.

“It is a cumulative effect of global emission in which Bangladesh does not have any role,” Hasina quipped. Obviously the responsibility lies with the global community to address the issue urgently, as it is not possible for Bangladesh alone to take action against rising sea level.

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

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Bangladesh ranked world’s 5th most vulnerable country for climate change

SALEEM SAMAD

BANGLADESH HAS been named one of the top countries in the world most vulnerable to a climate change-induced food crisis and hunger.

International aid agency ActionAid, in a research study revealed Monday, found Bangladesh among 28 developing countries more vulnerable to the effects of climate change than its South Asian neighbors India, Pakistan and Nepal.

The report titled “On the Brink: Who's Best Prepared for a Climate Change and Hunger Crisis?” warned that the era of cheap food was near its end due to the triple crises of climate change, depleted natural resources and skyrocketing food prices.

Bangladesh, among other countries, may not be prepared to face the consequences, the report said.

ActionAid, an international non-governmental organization focused on poverty and injustice, said that Bangladesh is facing severe water-related challenges due to scarcity of fresh water, salinity, increased flood and erosion, and frequent and prolonged drought.

The organization said the country's early warning system for floods, cyclones and storm was considered state-of-the-art.

With nearly half of Bangladesh's 150 million people already living below the poverty line, higher food prices will have a severe impact on people's ability to buy enough food, the report said.

It recommends that Bangladesh needs to produce 30 million more tonnes of rice each year to achieve self-sufficiency in food production. The challenges of losing more than 80,000 hectares to climate change or urbanization every year would complicate the ability to attain food autonomy.

While rural women play a central role in agriculture production, social norms and customs limit their mobility, according to the report.

The NGO argues that although the number of undernourished people in Bangladesh dropped to 27 percent as of January, prices of rice and wheat increased by 42 percent in April over the previous year.

ActionAid fears that climate change would add half a billion people to those facing chronic hunger around the world by 2050. Alarming rises in the price of food would push 44 million more people into poverty, while the poorest people would lose more arable lands as a result of unsustainable farming practices and an unprecedented rush by investors to control resources such as oil, minerals, bio-fuel and water.

Moreover, in the World Risk Index 2011, jointly conducted by United Nations University (UNU), Germany and the Institute of Environment and Human Security, published in September, Bangladesh ranked sixth among countries that are most vulnerable to natural disasters including typhoons, earthquake and tsunamis, as was listed in second place among Asian countries.

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