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