Wednesday, August 24, 2011

International Rights Group urges Bangladesh to halt extra judicial executions

SALEEM SAMAD

AN INTERNATIONAL rights group has called for a freeze on arms supplies to Bangladesh in a bid to stop the elite anti-crime unit and other security forces using them for extralegal execution of crime suspects which violates human rights.

In a statement released Wednesday, Amnesty International said Bangladesh's government must act now and take what it called “concrete steps” to protect people from the alleged unlawful killings.

Bangladesh's police and elite anti-crime unit Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) continue to receive a wide range of military and police equipment from overseas, including from Austria, Belgium, China, Czech Republic, Italy, Poland, Russia, Slovakia and Turkey including United States.

"Any country that knowingly sends arms or other supplies to equip a force which systematically violates human rights may itself bear some responsibility for those violations."

The rights group has urged Bangladesh to stop its authorities from committing extrajudicial killings and other abuses that allegedly have continued despite government pledges to stop them.

Soon after coming to office, the Prime Minister spoke of a “zero tolerance” policy toward extrajudicial executions. These hopes were dashed in late 2009 when the authorities, including the Home Minister, began to claim that there were no extrajudicial executions in the country.

The London-based group's report singled out Bangladesh's elite Rapid Action Battalion, which stands accused of involvement in hundreds of killings and using torture against detainees.

Crimes unseen: Extrajudicial executions in Bangladesh also documents how the RAB justify these killings as accidental or as a result of officers acting in self-defense, although in reality many victims are killed following their arrest.

Amnesty International's Bangladesh Researcher Abbas Faiz said that nearly every week, the RAB shoots someone with the authorities saying the individual was killed or injured in “crossfire” or a “gun-fight.” Faiz said that regardless of the characterization, these incidents are suspected unlawful killings.

Amnesty International says the RAB has been implicated in the killing of at least 700 people since its inception in 2004. Two hundred of those cases allegedly occurred since 2009, despite Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's pledge to end extrajudicial killings when her government came to power.

At least 200 alleged RAB killings have occurred since January 2009 when the current Awami League government came to power, despite the Prime Minister’s pledge to end extrajudicial executions and claims by the authorities that no extrajudicial executions were carried out in the country in this period, says Amnesty International.

Former detainees also told Amnesty International how they were routinely tortured in custody, suffering beatings, food and sleep deprivation, and electric shocks.

In May last, New York based Human Rights Watch urged Bangladesh to ban the controversial RAB for alleged extrajudicial executions and requested United States and European Union members from refraining capacity building of the government’s crime-fighter outfit.

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, August 17, 2011

Greenpeace Rainbow Warrior retires, but will continue to serve humanity

SALEEM SAMAD

AFTER 52 years, the current Rainbow Warrior, which once patrolled the high seas restraining environmental crimes worldwide is heading for a new life.

The Greenpeace flagship formally retired on Tuesday at a Singapore harbor has been rechristened as The Rongdhonu (meaning Rainbow) and handed was handed over to the organization Friendship, a Bangladesh based NGO which specializes in medical care and emergency relief.

Environmental campaign group Greenpeace said it hoped that the charity, Friendship, would continue to use the ship as a beacon of hope.

The iconic protest vessel the Rainbow Warrior II for 22 years will be converted into a floating hospital and will serve the Bangladesh coasts of the Bay of Bengal, delivering primary and secondary medical assistance to some of the most vulnerable communities of the world, Greenpeace press release says.

Speaking at the handover ceremony, Mike Fincken, Captain of the Rainbow Warrior II, quoted the Cree Indian prophecy from which the ship got its name: “There will come a time when the Earth grows sick and when it does a tribe will gather from all the cultures of the world who believe in deeds and not words. They will work to heal it...they will be known as the "Warriors of the Rainbow.”

The Rongdhonu will also serve as an emergency medical ship around the Bangladesh coasts, bringing medical aid to areas which are already experiencing the effects of climate change, Greenpeace Captain said.

The ship confronted environmental crimes and nuclear testing, provided disaster relief to victims of the 2004 Tsunami in southeast Asia, and blocked shipments of illegal timber from the world's rainforests, Greenpeace said.

French intelligence agents in 1985 sunk Rainbow Warrior in New Zealand in a bid to stop activists from protesting against France's nuclear tests in the Pacific Ocean.

The guests and volunteers at Singapore cheered when Fincken announced that the ship will join the Greenpeace fleet in October when the organization marks its 40th anniversary.

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

For details logon to Greenpeace website: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/features/Farewell-to-the-Rainbow-Warrior-II--/

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Extraditions of fugitive assassins of Bangladesh founder Mujibur Rahman bleak

SALEEM SAMAD

BANGLADESH AUTHORITIES are using diplomatic influence to bring back six people convicted of killing the country's founding father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, nearly 40 years ago.

During a day of national mourning, home affairs minister Shahara Khatoon told journalists Monday that a task force comprised of three government ministries had been able to track the fugitives' whereabouts.

Khatoon said the United States, Canada, India and Libya have been urged to deport the “self-confessed” assassins who are convicted in the murder of Rahman, who was popularly known as "Bangabandhu" – friend of people.

In a military putsch 36 years ago, a dozen of young officers stormed the private residence of Rahman, Bangladesh’s first president, and gunned him down along with his wife, three sons, one of whom was 10 years old, and two daughters-in-law.

The fugitive officers later boasted in a documentary broadcast by a British TV network and interviews in British newspapers why they killed Rahman.

Indian government officials last month assured that they will return the fugitives hiding in the country under false identities.

Extradition has also been sought for Rashed Chowdhury, who now resides in the United States but who has sought political asylum in Canada, while another convicted assassin, former Lt. Col. Nur Chowdhury, moved to Canada after fleeing years ago to Germany.

The Canadian government has opted not to deport Nur Chowdhury, as he faces the death penalty in Bangladesh. Ottawa is reluctant to extradite persons who face execution.

Canadian immigration has thrice rejected refugee claims of Chowdhury, who has lived in Toronto for six years.

Coup leader Col. Khandaker Abdur Rashid is presumed to be living in Libya.

Rahman’s eldest daughter, Sheikh Hasina, in 2009 became the prime minister of Bangladesh. Immediately after assuming power, her government began criminal proceeding against the assassins. Authorities recently hanged five of the convicted officers.

Hasina ignored a plea by rights watchdog Amnesty International that the death sentences be commuted to life imprisonment.

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, August 09, 2011

Bangladesh indigenous people demands constitutional recognition

SALEEM SAMAD

AMIDST ANGRY debate, the indigenous communities in Bangladesh demands constitutional recognition of the 45 different ethnic communities living in the land for centuries.

The ethnic leaders burst into protest, after government recently said Bangladesh does not have any indigenous people. Instead the officials argued that the Bangla-speaking majoritarian, mostly Sunni Muslims are indigenous people.

The observance of the international day of Indigenous People on Tuesday turned into anger and frustration. The ethnic leaders were joined by scores of civil society and rights groups at a rally at the language martyrs square in the capital Dhaka.

Despite the rain, hundreds in distinctive traditional attires, sporting colorful headgears with musical instruments joined the rally.

The 300,000 indigenous people were compelled to adopt “Bangalee” national identity and dubbed as small national minorities, when amendments to the constitution was made last month, explained ethnic leader Barrister Devashis Roy.

At the rally heard Jotindra Bodipriyo Larma, who once led a 20 year bush-war against the authority for political and cultural autonomy. Guerillas under his command surrendered after signing a treaty in 1997.

Larma warned the government to rethink of their decision to delete their identity or else they will have to adopt a path of confrontation.

The 70 year old leader fears that the denial of the existence as ethnic minorities will eventually erupt into racial tension, as it happened in many countries.

After 14 years, Larma lamented that the peace accord has not been implemented, which would jeopardize the peace resolution.

Dr. Mizanur Rahman, chief of National Human Rights Commission at a seminar day before said it is a self contradiction of the ruling party. He argued that if the ethnic minorities are believed to have taken refuge for persecution and economic migrants, then the peace treaty signed with the indigenous armed militants who have pledged allegiance to the state constitution would be disillusioned.

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, August 08, 2011

Bangladesh charges Khaleda Zia with corruption, son sued for money laundering

Photo: Khaleda Zia detained on corruption charges by military backed caretaker government in 2007
SALEEM SAMAD

Former Bangladesh prime minister and opposition leader Khaleda Zia has been accused of corruption by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) on Monday.

Meanwhile, Zia's elder son Tarique Rahman was indicted for money laundering. This is the first corruption case against the former prime minister since the Awami League took power in January 2009.

The ACC charged the Bangladesh Nationalists Party's (BNP) leader over a case involving land bought for a charity named after her late husband. The charges alleged she abused of her office when she was prime minister, using undisclosed income. An ACC official said that the Zia Charitable Trust in Dhaka, of which Khaleda is chairperson, did not have any known source of income for $167,112 USD.

BNP officials rejected the charges, saying they are designed to malign the family of assassinated president Ziaur Rahman.

Meanwhile, a court in Dhaka on Monday indicted BNP's senior vice chairman Tarique Rahman and his businessman friend Giasuddin Al Mamun in a money laundering case. Rachman is currently in London, but the indictment means the trial will begin even if he does not return. He is facing 14 cases on charges of corruption and extortion against him.

According to the case filed by the ACC, Tarique and his friend allegedly channeled funds worth more than $2.73 million USD to Singapore between 2003 and 2007. The funds were allegedly accumulated from bribes by a construction company, which paid to secure a contract for an 80MW power plant.

Khaleda's youngest son, Arafat Rahman Coco, was also jailed for six years and fined $2.5 million in June for siphoning an estimated $932,000 to Singapore in a separate case.

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