Archive for the ‘Emergency Rules’ Category

Bangladesh is urged to initiate reforms for rescuing human rights from the arbitrariness and the State of Emergency

December 10, 2008

December 10, 2008

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

The AHRC is publishing its 2008 annual human rights report on Bangladesh.

Download a pre-publication version of the report

Today being December 10, it is the International Human Rights Day. It is also the 60th anniversary the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by the United Nations in 1948.

The day transmits a message to the stakeholders to review the practical status of implementation of people’s human rights from mere paperwork to actual reality.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has prepared its report on the situation of human rights in Bangladesh during the year 2008 based on documentation of human rights abuses. The state of human rights has exposed a scenario of massive violations under the state of emergency. The nation has been found to be a militarised state during this year. The rule of law has been seriously undermined and numerous incidents of illegal arrest, arbitrary detention and authoritarian persecution crippled public life in the country. People’s rights have been seriously abused at the hands of the State’s actors that allow impunity to the perpetrators.

International Human Rights Day can be another opportunity for the authorities to change their practice of abuse from this day on. Human Rights Day should not merely be remembered by the high officials of the State to issue one or two statements and continue similar or further abuses in the coming days. This day should not an only opportunity for the rights groups to share their sufferings on the journey of reinstating rights and the struggle throughout the year and previous decades.

The AHRC is aware that a National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has recently been set up by the current military-controlled emergency regime, which is accused of massive crackdown against the ordinary people of the country. It is hoped and expected that the NHRC will not be a useless body for validating the abuses or observe the problems in silence.

The Asian Human Rights Commission urges the nation to initiate a united movement for the sake of people’s human rights. The members of the civil society and human rights groups should strengthen their struggle and debate for reforms in the country’s criminal justice delivery system. It is only a functioning system that can establish the rights of the citizens. The authorities are urged to free the nation from the illegal and unconstitutional state of emergency without delay.

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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.


Suspending rights through emergency challenged: High Court rule on govt

November 25, 2008

The Daily Star, November 25, 2008

The High Court (HC) yesterday issued a rule upon the government to explain why the provisions of the constitution empowering the president to suspend the fundamental rights of the people during the state emergency should not be declared void.

Upon a writ petition, the HC bench comprising Justice Syed Mahmud Hossain and Justice Quamrul Islam Siddiqui also asked the government to explain why the president’s proclamation of emergency, suspending the fundamental rights on January 11, 2007, should not be declared unconstitutional.

The law secretary, president’s secretary and home secretary have been made respondents and asked to reply within four weeks.

Retired secretary M Asafuddowlah, New Age editor Nurul Kabir, senior journalist Amir Khasru and former Jahangir Nagar University teacher Rahnuma Ahmed filed the writ petition as public interest litigation with the HC challenging the legality of Article 26(3), 141(B), 141(C) and 142(2) of the constitution suspending the fundamental rights of the people enshrined in Articles 36, 37, 38, 39 40 and 42 of the constitution.

The petitioners also challenged the legality of the President’s Emergency Proclamation Orders (EPO) 1 and 2.

The president issued the EPO 1 on January 11, 2007, and EPO 2 on January 13, 2007, suspending the right to move any court for the enforcement of the fundamental rights during the emergency.

Counsel for the petitioners, barrister Moyeen Firozee argued before the court that Articles 26(3), 141B, 141C and 142 (2) were inserted through the Second Amendment to the constitution in 1973 for the obvious purpose of curtailment of the fundamental rights of the people.

He said fundamental rights are guaranteed in the constitution and through the second amendment the harmony of the constitution has been damaged.

Lalon and Terror: Re-configuring the nation’s political map during emergency

October 29, 2008

NewAge, October 29, 2008. Dhaka, Bangladesh

In the name of bringing ‘beauty’ to politics in Bangladesh, the lineaments of political reconfiguration undertaken by this military-backed caretaker government are becoming ominously clear: mainstream political parties in shambles, Jamaat-e-Islami intact, Muslim clerics and Islamic forces re-emerging as a political force under state patronage, and the exercise of rampant power by western diplomats, writes Rahnuma Ahmed*

Drifting in cage and out again

Hark unknown bird does fly

Shackles of my heart

If my arms could entwine

With them I would thee bind

Fakir Lalon Shah, Khachar bhitor ochin pakhi
   Translation by Shahidul Alam

Baul sculpture and the nation’s most powerful man

‘NO DECISION is taken without the army chief’s consent, that’s why we informed him,’ said Maulana Noor Hossain Noorani, amir of Khatme Nabuwat Andolon Bangladesh and imam of the Fayedabad mosque, at a press conference. ‘He didn’t like the idea of setting up an idol either, right in front of the airport, so close to the Hajji camp. It was removed at his initiative’ (Prothom Alo, October 17).

The ‘it’ in question was a piece of sculpture, of five baul mystics and singers. Titled Unknown Bird in a Cage, it was being created in front of Zia International Airport, Dhaka. Madrassah students and masjid imams of adjoining areas were mobilised, the Bimanbondor Golchottor Murti Protirodh Committee (Committee to Resist Idols at Airport Roundabout) was formed. A 24-hour ultimatum was given. The art work, nearly seventy per cent complete, was removed by employees of the Roads and Highways Department and the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh.

Artists, intellectuals, cultural activists, writers, teachers, students, and many others have since continuously protested against the removal of the sculpture, both in Dhaka, and other cities and towns of Bangladesh. They have demanded its restoration, have re-named the roundabout Lalon Chottor, and accused the military-backed caretaker government of capitulating, yet again, to the demands of Islamic extremists, and forces opposing the 1971 war of liberation.

Soon after its removal, Fazlul Haq Amini, chairman of a faction of Islami Oikya Jote and amir of Islami Ain Bastabayan Committee said at a press conference, if an Islamic government comes to power, all statues built by Sheikh Hasina’s government (1996-2001) will be demolished, since statues are ‘dangerously anti-Islamic’. Eternal flames, Shikha Chironton (Liberation War Museum), and Shikha Anirban (Dhaka Cantonment) will be extinguished. ‘Paying respect to fire is the same as worshipping fire.’ What about statues built during Khaleda Zia-led four-party alliance government (of which he had been a part)? ‘Where, which ones?’ Rajshahi University campus was the prompt reply. ‘Why didn’t you raise these questions when you were in power?’ ‘We did, personally, but they didn’t listen. We were used as stepping stones.’ Amini also demanded that the National Women Development Policy 2008, shelved this year after protests by a section of Muslim clerics and some Islamic parties, should be scrapped (Prothom Alo, October 18).

Noorani and his followers demand that a hajj minar should be built instead, and the road should be re-named Hajj road. ‘Men from the administration and the intelligence agencies,’ he said at the press conference, ‘wore off their shoes, they kept coming to us.’ (Prothom Alo, October 17). Now where had I read of close contacts between Khatme Nabuwat and the intelligence agencies?

I remembered. A Human Rights Watch report, Bangladesh: Breach of Faith (2005), had stated that Khatme Nabuwat had close links to the ruling BNP through the Jamaat-e-Islami and the IOJ, its coalition partners. I remembered other things too. It was the same Noor Hossain Noorani who had said Tarique Rahman, senior secretary general of the BNP, was their ‘amir and same-aged friend,’ and had threatened police officials saying Tarique would directly intervene if Khatme Nabuwat’s anti-Ahmadiyya campaign was obstructed. According to reports, high-up intelligence agency officials (DGFI, NSI) had mediated contacts between the ruling party and Khatme Nabuwat. He had met the DGFI chief in Dhaka cantonment thrice, Noorani had thus boasted to Satkhira reporters in 2005, a statement never publicly refuted by the intelligence agency (Tasneem Khalil, The Prince of Bogra, Forum, April 2007, issue withdrawn, article available on the internet).

What links does the present military-backed caretaker government, and more so, its intelligence agencies, have with these extremist groups? I cannot help but wonder. Is there more to what’s happening than meets the eye?

Other questions pop into my head. The baul sculpture was not advertised, as public art should be. No open competition, no short-listing, no selection panel. On the contrary, the contract seems to have been awarded as a personal dispensation. The only condition seems to have been that the sculptor must get hold of a sponsor. High regard for public art, for baul tradition, listed by the UNESCO as a world cultural heritage, and for procedural matters. Particularly by a government whose raison d’etre is establishing the rule of law and rooting out corruption.

Simplifying the present: from ‘1971’ to the ‘Talibanisation’ of Bangladesh

British historian Eric Hobsbawm terms what he calls the ‘short twentieth century’, The Age of Extremes (1994). I can’t help but think, things seem to be getting more extreme in the twenty-first century.
   In his most recent book, On Empire: America, War and Global Supremacy (2008), Hobsbawm traces the rise of American hegemony, the steadily increasing world disorder in the context of rapidly growing inequalities created by rampant free-market globalisation, the American government’s use of the threat of terrorism as an excuse for unilateral deployment of its global power, the launching of wars of aggression when it sees fit, and its absolute disregard of formerly accepted international conventions.

The US government’s role in not only contributing to the situation, but in constituting the conditions that have given rise to extremes, of being the extreme, is disregarded by many Bangladesh scholars, whether at home or abroad. Most of these writings are atrociously naïve, exhibiting a theoretical incapacity to deal with questions of global inequalities in power. Authors repeatedly portray American power – in whichever manifestation, whether economic or cultural, military or ideological – as being benign. Two images of Bangladesh are juxtaposed against each other, a secular Bangladesh of the early 1970s, the fruit of Bangladesh’s liberation struggle of 1971, and a Talibanised Bangladesh of recent years. ‘National particularities’ and ‘the dynamics of domestic policies’ are emphasised (undoubtedly important), but inevitably at the cost of leaving the policies of US empire-building efforts un-examined.

One instance is Maneeza Hossain, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, who, in her 60-page study of the growth of Islamism in Bangladesh politics, tucks in a hurried mention of the US’ supply of weaponry to Afghan jihadists, and moves on to call on the US to shake off its ‘indifference’ to Bangladesh, to use its ‘good offices’ to help democratic forces within Bangladesh prevail (Broken Pendulum: Bangladesh’s Swing to Radicalism, 2007).

Ali Riaz, who teaches at Illinois State University, author of God Willing: The Politics of Islamism in Bangladesh (2004), provides another instance. International reasons for the rise of militancy are the Afghan war, internationalisation of resistance to Soviet occupation, policies of so-called charitable organisations of the Middle East and Persian Gulf, and (last, it would also seem, the least) ‘American foreign policy’. A token mention showing utter disregard towards 1,273,378 Iraqi deaths, caused by the invasion and occupation. 1971 was genocidal, but so is the Iraq invasion. On a much larger scale. Unconcerned, he goes on, policy circles in the US are ‘apprehensive’ about militancy in Bangladesh. Even now. The solution? He advocates open debates, particularly between the intelligence agencies and the political parties (Prothom Alo, February 3).

And then one comes across Farooq Sobhan who claims that president Bush has ‘taken pains’ to convince Muslims that the war against terror is not a war against Islam or a clash of civilisations (no, it’s a crime against humanity). Rather petulantly, he asks, why has Bangladesh, a Muslim majority country, not figured prominently on the US ‘list of countries to be wooed and cultivated.’ Further, he writes, ‘High on the US agenda has been the issue of Bangladesh sending troops to Iraq.’ Sending ‘troops’, like crates of banana, or tea? Surely, there are substantive issues – of death and destruction of Iraqis and Iraq, of war crimes – involved.

Re-configuring politics during emergency

Creating a level playing field so that free and fair national elections could be held, that’s what the military-backed caretaker government had promised. Twenty-two months later, after failed attempts at minusing Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina, with their respective parties in shambles, thousands of party workers in prison, constitutional rights suspended due to the state of emergency, economy in tatters, police crackdowns on protests of garments workers, jute mill workers, women’s organisations and activists, on human chains against increasing prices of essentials, the only two forces to have remained unscathed are the Jamaat-e-Islami, and Muslim clerics, Islamic parties and madrassah students, those who protested against the Women Development Policy, agitated for the removal of baul sculptures, recently caused havoc in the Dhaka University vice-chancellor’s office protesting against newly-enforced admission requirements. Are these accidental, or deliberate governmental moves? I cannot help but wonder.

Several western diplomats – members of the infamous Tuesday Club, particularly ambassadors from United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, and the EU representative – and also the UN resident coordinator actively intervened in Bangladesh politics prior to January 11, 2007, in events that led to the emergence of the present military-backed caretaker government. Renata Dessalien did so to unheard degrees, leading to recent demands that the UN resident coordinator be withdrawn.

In a week or so, the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, arrives in Dhaka, to see for himself electoral preparations, and extend support for the government. A visit that has nothing to do with politics, we are told. In the eyes of many observers, Ban is one of the most pro-American secretaries general in its 62-year history. He has opposed calls for a swift US withdrawal from Iraq, and is committed to a beefed-up UN presence in Baghdad. The UN staff committee has protested against Ban’s decision saying it would ‘make the institution complicit in an intractable US-made crisis’ (Washington Post, September 24, 2007).

In the name of bringing ‘beauty’ to politics in Bangladesh, the lineaments of political reconfiguration undertaken by this military-backed caretaker government are becoming ominously clear: mainstream political parties in shambles, Jamaat-e-Islami intact (‘democratic party’, Richard Boucher, US assistant secretary of state, 2006), Muslim clerics and Islamic forces re-emerging as a political force under state patronage, and the exercise of rampant power by western diplomats.

A beast in the guise of beauty? Time will tell.

On the flight path of American power

I borrow the title from British-Pakistani historian Tariq Ali’s coming event – ‘Pakistan/Afghanistan: on the Flight Path of American Power’ – to be held at Toronto, November 14.

Seven years after the US-led invasion, Pakistan, America’s strong military ally, is now ‘on the edge’ of ruin. Pakistani political analysts repeatedly warn Bangladeshis that they see similar political patterns at work here: minusing political leaders, militarisation, milbus, National Security Council, etc, etc. I do not think that an Obama win will make any difference to the American flight path for unilateral power. As astute political commentators point out, Obama and McCain differ on domestic policies, not substantively on US foreign policy. A couple of days ago, president Bush signed the highest defence budget since World War II.

Maybe there should be an open public debate in Bangladesh, as Ali Riaz proposes, but with a different agenda: Are we being set on America’s flight path to greater power by this unconstitutional, unrepresentative government, one which is more accountable to western forces, than to us?

Military dealing with case assignments in the Supreme Court and the systematic smothering of the judiciary

October 14, 2008

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)

October 14, 2008 

The media reports alleging that it is in fact a military officer who decides the case lists in the Supreme Court of Bangladesh is a shocking revelation which sharply brings to light the militarised political context in the country. Barrister Rafique-ul Haque who is defending two former prime ministers of Bangladesh in graft cases revealed to the Bar and the media that an army major is occupying a room on the second floor of the Supreme Court Building and deciding which judge should decide what case in the country.

It has also been revealed that three senior lawyers, Barrister Rafique-ul Haque, Barrister Shafique Ahmed and Barrister M. Amir-Ul Islam have received letters from anonymous sources stating that they are national betrayers and threatening the lawyers and the members of the judiciary with cross fire, which in the local context means assassination.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) and several other national and international civil society organisations have reported that the current administration in the country is trying to smother judicial independence in Bangladesh by all possible means. The incidents cited above are the latest in a series of revealing acts where the army has infiltrated the judiciary to an alarming level. The recent reconstitution of High Court judges at the behest of the army is yet another example of this increasing interference.

Interference of any nature, however minor it may be, with the administrative and adjudicating function of the judiciary is a major setback for any country. Bangladesh need not look anywhere else to find shocking examples of how bad such interference could be. Pakistan, Burma, Nepal and Sri Lanka are immediate South Asian neighbours that have suffered severely from such interference with the function of their judiciaries. In Pakistan, however, the Bar was bold enough to challenge this interference when the independence of the judiciary and that of the lawyers was threatened by General Musharraf’s military regime.

The recent history of the administration of justice in these illustrates the fact that the judiciary is weak, subjected to executive control and sometimes even corrupt. The situation of Bangladesh in this regard is no different.

It is obvious that the judiciary in Bangladesh is fully aware of such interference by the executive and the military. In the context of the widespread fear psychosis in the country and the practice of impunity the judiciary may be unwilling to want to put up resistance against such interference. However, there is a widespread feeling among the lawyers and the people that executive and military interference must be resisted.

Threats received by lawyers and senior judges and even the recovery of explosives and explosions in the residences of sitting judges who challenge the current administration is proof that the current administration is bent upon silencing all opposing voices. Even the Bangladeshi media has fallen victim to this tragedy. Unfortunately some senior jurists within Bangladesh rally along with the administration, condemning anyone who opposes the current government and even directly and indirectly support the administration.

It appears that as of now the armed forces of Bangladesh is in absolute control of the government. The armed forces have literally transformed the administration into a puppet that dances to their tune.

So many of the important government posts are occupied by members of the armed forces that demilitarizing the country’s administration will take years. It is unfortunate that most of the country’s politicians are facing graft charges or have such tainted backgrounds that none of them dare to challenge this new status quo that is pulling the country into deeper corruption and nepotism. The support given by the World Bank and some other European countries to the military regime strengthens the militarization process in the country and makes the transformation into democracy and rule of law even more difficult.

The present situation can easily degenerate and the whole country may come under the grip of the military as has happened in countries such as Burma. It is the duty of all to prevent such a situation and it is particularly the duty of all civil society organisations and the international community to ensure that the militarization process should be brought to an end. In this context it is most important that the military presence in the Supreme Court office and other offices such as Sessions judges office, the Special Tribunal on Anti Corruption and the Judicial Magistrate’s Court should be brought to an end immediately.

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

Emergency not conducive to proper electoral atmosphere

October 13, 2008

Staff Correspondent, NewAge, October 13, 2008

The next general elections, slated for December 18, cannot be held under the state of emergency as such a situation is not conducive to a congenial voting atmosphere owing to curtailment of some fundamental rights of the people, said Odhikar on Sunday.

Despite repeated assurances by the military-controlled interim government, the human rights body felt that doubts still persist about the holding of elections since the state of emergency has lost its justification, legal and otherwise, and continues to pose a serious threat to basic human rights.

Odhikar demanded immediate lifting of emergency in its monitoring report on the state of human rights in the 21 months under the state of emergency.

‘The Parliament that will be elected through free and fair elections should not extend blanket immunity to this government,’ said Odhikar.

Reiterating its criticism of the current state of emergency, the human rights watchdog said that emergency has suspended basic human rights enshrined in the Constitution and has essentially encroached on the space that the people need to make choices through election.

‘Odhikar strongly believes that the state of emergency should be lifted in its entirety and in the whole territory of Bangladesh in order to create a climate conducive to free and fair elections,’ said the report.

‘Odhikar also maintains that human rights are indivisible and it is neither possible nor permissible to restore some rights while others are still being denied. Human rights should be upheld and respected under all circumstances. Therefore, attempts to hold a general election under the emergency cannot offer a congenial atmosphere for a credible polls and transition to an elected government,’ said the rights body.

Stressing the need for the formation of a government through electoral democracy, Odhikar said that a free, fair and participatory popular election was the only legitimate way to fulfil this goal.

‘Odhikar believes that only through a widely participatory, credible general election can the nation make a transition to representative governance from the current extra-constitutional administration,’ said the watchdog.

It demanded that nothing should be done by the government to jeopardise the holding of the general elections on the set date.

‘Odhikar feels it is time to think about the post-election situation too, and this gives rise to the question of the ratification by the next elected Parliament of the deeds of the present regime that, instead of acting as a caretaker government, exceeded its constitutional authority and acted as a regular government.’ said the human rights body.

It said that the question of ratification or legalisation of the activities of the government would arise soon after the election is held.

‘In this general election the electorate will vote for an elected government, but not necessarily to ratify or otherwise legitimise the actions and measures of the current government,’ Odhikar maintained.

The rights watchdog said that there has not been any improvement in the safeguarding of the people’s basic rights and the formation of the National Human Rights Commission would not make any difference to this end as it will be manned by persons chosen by the incumbents and will be political appointees and bureaucrats.

‘It is highly paradoxical that the government has proceeded to establish the National Human Rights Commission while keeping all basic rights suspended and denied!’ quipped Odhikar.

The report also stated that the Right to Information Ordinance, approved by the interim Cabinet, would not ensure the people’s right to know.

Making a new order

September 18, 2008

By Nurul Kabir*, NewAge, September 2008


Change is the key word that has been ringing in the political discourses in our country for quite some time now. Almost all the thinking sections of our society, even of diametrically opposite ideological moorings, have been talking about the need for a changing order – political, economic and cultural – for the further progress of our people. The various left groups talk about change, as do those on the right. Even the middle-roaders, still the mainstream, who are proponents of a centrist polity, preach change. And that almost an entire population initially supported enthusiastically the anti-political, and therefore anti-people, military-controlled ‘caretaker’ government of Dr Fakhruddin Ahmed in January last year, was a massive manifestation of our people’s eagerness to see a change – a change for the better that is – in their social, political and economic lives. The incumbents, one would remember, promised qualitative change in our political, economic and cultural order. And that the entire populace, barring the small politically naïve or self-seeking coterie known here as ‘civil society’, quickly got disillusioned about the present regime is due, by all probabilities, to the latter’s visible failure to prove itself anything but an agent of the cherished change – the pervasive popular aspiration of the day.

However, that all the thinking sections of a people, including the politically organized ones, eagerly talk about a new social, political and economic order – regardless of the differences of opinion they have with one another on the nature of the required change – is a clear proof that the exiting order has failed utterly to serve the cause of the people.

What is the nature of the order that we are forced to live in that has failed to fulfil the people’s social, political, economic and cultural aspirations of the day? What kind of an order, then, can help realise the popular aspirations, and how can such a positive order emerge? These are questions that perhaps need to be discussed thoroughly, and debated freely, in the society in order to facilitate a comprehensive change of qualitative nature.

To begin with, the political order that rules us is non-representative and non-participatory, and therefore undemocratic, and does not effectively allow people to have a decisive say in policy formulations of the state – thanks primarily to the absence of elected local governments at all the tiers of the administration, a constitutional obligation on the part of the elected governments which has never been met properly. Then, the dominant political culture, plagued with the overriding influence of money and muscle, hardly provides any opportunities for the thinking people with moderate income, let alone the poor, even to contest the elections – local or national. Thus the elected representative bodies, if one calls them so, eventually become the clubs of the rich, understandably indifferent towards the need of ensuring effective public participation in the policy making process of the governments – local and central.

Moreover, the parliamentary form of governance that the country has experienced since 1991 has never ever been able to deliver even some of the positive results that it produces in some parts of the world – the most important idea being parliament controlling government policies. In reality, just the opposite has happened in Bangladesh: the governments have controlled the parliaments – thanks primarily to the constitutional failure of separating the legislature from the executive wing of the state. How can members of parliament control a government when the head of that government simultaneously remains the head of parliament, and that too in a parliament where a member loses his/her seat if s/he votes against the party that s/he is elected on the ticket of? Notably, the Bangladeshi brand of parliamentary democracy allows the same person to simultaneously hold three vital positions: chief of the ruling political party, head of the government, and leader of parliament. No wonder that our ‘democratic system’ is not keen on democratising the state and devolution of power, let alone democratising the political parties and their front organisations.

Then, we have an economic system that is entirely insensitive towards inclusive developments, and thus devoid of the democratic principle of social justice. Under the system, the economic policy makers, usually a bunch of economists and bureaucrats influenced more by the political-ideological hegemony of the anti-people foreign financial institutions like World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Asian Development Bank, etc rather than the ideas of public good, blindly pursue a kind of unrestrained ‘market economy’ which is committed only to maximisation of profit , and that too primarily of the transnational corporations and their local cronies in the age of imperialist globalisation. Least bothered about the democratic concept of equal rights and opportunities of the citizens in general, the unbridled market economy, which is practiced here, only contributes to perpetually widening the income gap between the rich and the poor. The obvious political implication is powerlessness of the vast majority of the poor, which pushes them further from participating in the policymaking process of the state, and thus practically turns the state to be the association of the rich minority. And there is the bureaucracy, fashioned on the colonial model, to perpetuate the anti-people system by using the coercive state machine.

Then comes the question of culture/s, one of the most important components of human life that provides, among many other things, social legitimacy to a political order – democratic or undemocratic. The culture that dominates our national political psyche, the psyche of the Bengalis within the nation-state called Bangladesh that is, still gravely suffers from horrible insensitivities towards various inequalities – gendered, ethnic and religious alongside the social, political and economic inequalities – in almost all spheres of life, private and public. It is, therefore, not surprising that the political parties or anti-political groups governing the country still do not face any effective public resistance of their political practices devoid of the sense of equality of citizens. Slogan mongering for democratising the society and state is the last thing to help democratise the society and state, if the slogans are not inspired by a pervasive cultural sense of social, political and economic equality of citizens irrespective of their gender, faith and ethnic identities.

However, there are at least two political camps – the left and the right – that engage in critiquing the dominant political ideologies of the dominant political stream represented primarily by the Awami League and Bangladesh Nationalist Party. The right wing offers religious rule, which is nothing but theocracy, as the sole solution to get rid of the exploitative socio-economic formation of the day. Theocracy, it is to be noted, does not believe in the idea of sovereignty of people in running the affairs of the state in the first place. Besides, the camp, committed to gendered social division of labour, abhors the democratic idea of equality between men and women. Moreover, it does not appear to have serious objection to the West dominated international politico-economic order, identified by the progressive democratic sections of people across the globe as a prime impediment towards the social, economic and cultural emancipation of the post-colonial countries of the world. However, the right wing political groups, although divided in various groups, have seriously been propagating their ideologies for quite some time now, and thus slowly, but steadily, progressing towards creating a cultural hegemony to secure social legitimacy of its political agenda to set up a theocratic state in Bangladesh.

The left, on the other hand, offer socialism, the dictatorship of the proletariat that is, as an ultimate solution to the existing politico-economic order standing in the way of social, political and economic emancipation of the people at large. This camp, however, identifies an interim phase of representative democracy, at least theoretically, before it reaches its final destination. The camp rightly identifies the corporate global political–economic order as a serious impediment towards national economic liberation of poor countries, rightly criticise the social injustice produced and reproduced by the development paradigm of the undemocratic mainstream political parties, points out the democratic importance to demolish gender inequalities, repression of the ethnic and religious minorities, etc for a genuinely democratic order to emerge in the country. But unlike its rightwing counterpart, the left camp, divided into splinter groups, is hardly carrying out any significant programmes to create a counter cultural hegemony against either of its opposing streams – the failed existing system presided over by the dominant parties, and the right wing slowly filling the political space automatically created by the failures of the dominant polity of the day.

It is a complex circumstance, indeed. The old order has failed to deliver, the new order is to yet emerge. The present, naturally, is inflicted with hopeless confusion. But the future has to be created – a future that genuinely promises people’s democratic emancipation – social, political and economic.

We are aware that any qualitative change in the existing order needs painstaking efforts, theoretical and practical, by those politically ready to bring in the cherished changes. There are no short-cuts to be taken in creating new history. The cherished changes cannot be translated into a political reality until the majority of the people are convinced about the need of a change of order, the way of changing it, and they themselves are ready to change. Heroes do not change history one fine morning. Rather, it is the people who bring about heroic changes over time.

But there is always the question of guiding history, which by itself is blind, towards the light of hope. It is always the farsighted intelligentsia with proper understanding of the dynamics of history who have shown the right paths across the globe. We, on the occasion of New Age’s fifth anniversary, offer our readers some essays, written by some of our reputed scholars most committed to bringing positive changes to Bangladesh’s history, that hint at various paths that they find right. The readers, we believe, would find the essays thought provoking. 

*Nurul Kabir, Editor, NewAge. Contact:  

Ban on trade unionism relaxed with conditions

September 9, 2008

Staff Correspondent, NewAge, September 8, 2008

The military-controlled interim government has conditionally relaxed ban on trade unionism across the country about 19 months inside the declaration of the state of emergency amid pressure from various quarters at home and abroad.

The home affairs ministry has issued a gazette notification with immediate effect setting the conditions for trade union activities indoors including elections to collective bargaining agents in industrial units, commercial organisations and other institutes under the Emergency Powers Rules 2007.

The gazette notification, issued on September 4, was made available on Sunday.
   Labour leaders, however, rejected the conditional, partial withdrawal of the ban.
 Demanding a complete withdrawal of the ban, they said conditional or partial trade unionism would not be of much help to protect labourer’s rights by ensuring healthy industrial relations.

According to the gazette notification, trade union activities will be allowed indoors on a limited scale and elections to collective bargaining agents can be conducted with permission from the metropolitan police commissioner or the district magistrate concerned.

‘The police commissioner, district magistrate or upazila nirbahi officer depending as applicable must be informed 48 hours before holding any trade union meetings where not more than 100 persons can participate,’ the home ministry order said. ‘For participation of more than 100 persons, the trade bodies concerned must take permission 72 hours before the meetings from the authorities concerned who can allow maximum 500 people to attend.’

‘The unions would not be allowed to hold meetings in open space. The meetings will only discuss and make decisions on matters related to organisations and workers’ interests. Discussions on politics or other matters would not be allowed,’ said the order, adding live broadcast or telecast of trade union meetings on electronic media has been prohibited. But news items in this regard can be aired as part of regular news bulletins.

Use of PA system to make meeting activities reach outside the venue would not be allowed, according to the home ministry gazette, published on September 3, but made public on September 7.
 The government of Fakhruddin Ahmed enforced the Emergency Powers Rules on January 25, 2007 restricting political and civil rights, including trade unionism, with effect from January 11, 2007 against the backdrop of political violence.

The ban on political activities was conditionally relaxed for Dhaka in September 2007 and for other areas of the country in May.

Labour leader Abul Basher, also the convener of the Jute, Yarn and Textile Mills Workers and Employees’ Action Council, said they did not want trade unionism on a limited scale. It would not hep the workers to establish their rights.

‘We want full-scale trade unionism and it is our basic rights. We do not want mercy,’ he said. ‘We have enjoyed trade union rights under the martial law of Ayub Khan and now the rights have been seized under the state of emergency.’

The Sramik Karmachari Oikya Parishad coordinator, Wazedul Islam Khan, also the general secretary of the Trade Union Centre, said it was nothing but effort to make people believe that the government was doing something. ‘Trade union rights can not be given partially.’

Labourers will not be able to establish their rights with a limited-scale trade unionism, he said.

The Sramik League president, Abdul Matin Master, said they would first observe how much of labour rights could be ensured with a limited-scale trade unionism.

HC asks govt to explain legality of emergency

July 21, 2008

Staff Correspondent, NewAge, July 21, 2008

The High Court on Sunday issued a rule on the military-controlled interim government to explain in four weeks the legality of the state of emergency, declared on January 11, 2007.

The High Court bench of Justice Khademul Islam Chowdhury and Justice Mashuq Hossain Ahmed ordered the government to explain why the proclamation of the state of emergency, two emergency powers orders suspending fundamental rights, Emergency Powers Ordinance and the Emergency Powers Rules would not be declared ultra vires of the constitution.

The government will also need to detail in affidavit in four weeks when the national elections would be held and how it would hand over power to the elected representatives.

Issuing the directive on the government, the court also observed the government’s plan for power handover must be transparent.

The court passed the orders after hearing in four working days a public interest litigation writ petition filed by Supreme Court lawyers M Saleem Ullah, Mohsen Rashid, Nahid Sultana Juthi and Abdul Mannan Khan on July 14.

The petitioners’ counsel, Ruhul Quddus Babu, told reporters, ‘The court issued the rule being satisfied at the grounds mentioned in the petition.’

Deputy attorney general Naima Haider, who appeared for the government, told reporters, ‘The court asked the government to detail its plan on when the national elections would be held and how power would be handed over to the elected government… The court will also examine the legality of the state of emergency.’

The president proclaimed the state of emergency on January 11, 2007, stalling the elections to the ninth Jatiya Sangsad scheduled for January 22, 2007 and the present interim government came to power with military backing on January 12, 2007.

During Sunday’s hearing, the court asked the petitioners’ chief counsel MI Farooqui to explain the constitutional provisions on the declaration of emergency.
  The constitution empowers the president to issue a proclamation of emergency, but the power is not absolute, but conditional, Farooqui replied. ‘In order to declare emergency, the president must be objectively satisfied that “a grave emergency exists in which the security or economic life of Bangladesh is threatened by war or external aggression or internal disturbance”.’
   ‘But, in the proclamation, issued on January 11, 2007 declaring the emergency, no reasons were cited establishing the “objective satisfaction” of the president for the declaration of the emergency,’ the counsel said.

Opposing the petition, Naima argued the president had declared the emergency in accordance with the constitution.
   Referring to the arguments of the petitioners’ counsel, the court asked the state attorney whether the emergency powers orders issued on January 11, 2007 had specified any specific fundamental rights to be suspended.

As Naima answered in the negative, the court said, ‘You cannot, according to the constitution, suspend all the fundamental rights… There are some rights which cannot be suspended under any circumstances.’

The court further said, ‘The suspension of fundamental rights without specifying them has made it difficult to examine whether you [government] have the power to make the ordinances you are making… The Supreme Court has the power to examine that.’

Naima also argued the emergency had been declared in the wake of a political turmoil and there had been a a situation in the days which warranted a state of emergency.

Opposing her contention, Farooqui argued there were democratic, political movements to uphold the people’s rights to vote. ‘A democratic, political movement cannot be considered an internal disturbance to invoke an emergency.’

Naima questioned the delay in filing the writ petition, saying, ‘It is too late… We have already headed towards elections and carried out a number of reforms.’

Elections to four city corporations and nine municipalities will be held on August 4 and the national polls in December, Naima contended. ‘Now one should not file such a petition which might hamper the process of the elections and reforms.’

The court said, ‘But the emergency continue for an indefinite period. There must be an end to it.’

Naima said, ‘The proclamation of emergency along with the orders, ordinance and the rules will be placed before the next parliament in accordance with the constitution.’

‘But the spirit of the constitution does not allow an emergency for indefinite period,’ the court said. The government’s plan to hold the national elections, the deadline for the elections and the process and timeframe for power handover to the elected government must be transparent to the people, the court said. ‘We want rule of law to be established and the constitution and democracy to be sustained.’

Emergency proclamation challenged in High Court

July 15, 2008

Staff Correspondent, NewAge, July 15, 2008

The legality of the state of emergency, proclaimed on January 11, 2007, has been challenged in the High Court.
 Supreme Court lawyers M Saleem Ullah, Mohsen Rashid, Nahid Sultana Juthi and Abdul Mannan Khan on Monday filed a writ petition challenging the legality of the declaration of the emergency, two emergency powers orders suspending fundamental rights, Emergency Powers Ordinance and the Emergency Powers Rules.

Moving the petition with the High Court bench of Justice Khademul Islam Chowdhury and Justice Mashuq Hossain Ahmed, the petitioners’ counsel MI Farooqui said the president on January 11, 2007 had declared the emergency without any lawful authority.

The emergency was declared in violation of the constitution as there was no existence of ‘a grave emergency in which the security or economic life of Bangladesh’ was threatened by internal disturbance, the counsel said.

The court, however, adjourned the hearing till this morning as assistant attorney general Mahfuza Begum Nila sought time for the hearing on behalf of the government.

This is the first-ever writ petition challenging the declaration of the emergency and subsequent orders, ordinance and rules.

The constitution empowers the president to issue a proclamation of emergency, but the power is not absolute, but conditional, Farooqui said. ‘In order to declare emergency, the president must be objectively satisfied that “a grave emergency exists in which the security or economic life of Bangladesh is threatened by war or external aggression or internal disturbance”.’

In the proclamation, issued on January 11, 2007 declaring the emergency, no reasons were cited establishing the ‘objective satisfaction’ of the president for the declaration of the emergency, Farooqui said.

The declaration of the emergency is also tainted with malice in law as in the wake of strong condemnation, the president surrendered the de facto office of the chief adviser, but hastened to declare mala fide the emergency before the induction of the chief adviser on January 12, 2007, suspending fundamental rights without any specification, the counsel said.

The blanket suspension of the fundamental rights without any specification is in conflict with the constitution and the fundamental rights so suspended have no link with the objectives of the proclamation of the emergency and is also in direct conflict with the objects of the caretaker government to hold free, fair and credible national elections, he said.

He also said, ‘The caretaker government is a government defined by the constitution under the thirteenth amendment to the constitution and cannot assume the character of a representative government, nor can it claim to be supra-constitutional government and it has no authority to declare and linger the emergency beyond 90 days that goes against the objectives of the caretaker government to hold national elections within the specified period of 90 days.’

Human Rights Watch: End Mass Arrests, Release Detainees

June 19, 2008

Crackdown on Party Members Appears Politically Motivated

Human Rights Watch, June 5 2008. 

New York, June 5, 2008 – The government should immediately end the recent wave of mass, arbitrary arrests under the Emergency Power Rules, Human Rights Watch said today. The thousands detained should be either charged on the basis of credible evidence of criminal activities or immediately released.

Using emergency rules put in place in 2007, Bangladesh’s military-backed interim government has arrested at least 12,000 persons since May 28, 2008. The arrests follow the breakdown of prospects for negotiations between the government and the two main political parties, the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, over planned national elections in December. Many of those arrested are local-level political party leaders and activists. Human Rights Watch expressed concern about the health and safety of the detainees, given massive prison overcrowding and well-documented patterns of torture and mistreatment of detainees.  
“The timing and targets of the arrests are a dead giveaway they are politically motivated,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “It’s obvious that they are paying the price for the political parties’ refusal to accept the government’s conditions to participate in the elections.”  
The government has rejected suggestions that the arrests are politically motivated, claiming that it was a planned sweep against criminality. Political parties and human rights groups have alleged that arrests are being carried out to pave the way for pro-government candidates to be elected in upcoming local and national elections.  
The crackdown started just days after the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party declared that they would boycott a government-initiated dialogue aimed at developing a roadmap for parliamentary elections in December and sustainable reforms of the country’s troubled political institutions. To take part in the dialogue, the parties demanded the release of their leaders, Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia, who are currently detained on corruption-related charges. The parties also stated that they may organize mass movements to secure their release.  
Through the Emergency Powers Rules, adopted shortly after a state of emergency was declared on January 11, 2007, soldiers and members of paramilitary forces, such as the Rapid Action Battalion and Bangladesh Rifles, have been granted the same arrest powers as the police. The rules allow for arrests without a court warrant on the mere grounds of a reasonable suspicion that a person is related to an offense and allow for lengthy periods of preventative detention.  
“Emergency rule is once again being used to carry out arbitrary arrests and to harass political opponents,” Adams said. “The government’s stated commitment to reform is undermined by its continuing disregard for basic due process rights.”  
Since the state of emergency was introduced, the authorities have reportedly arrested well over 500,000 people. Even though the majority were released within days of their arrests, the prison population has nevertheless increased significantly. As the right to seek release on bail is restricted under the Emergency Power Rules, there are fears that the ongoing wave of mass arrests may result in a total breakdown of the prison system. With approximately 90,000 detainees and convicted prisoners in a prison that has an official capacity for just over 27,000, overcrowding is already severe, leading to inhumane and unsafe sanitary and other conditions.  
Among those currently incarcerated are several hundred former politicians and businesspersons in pretrial detention or convicted on corruption-related charges.  
“The government’s determination to pursue party members stands in stark contrast to its unwillingness to prosecute soldiers and police for torture and killings,” said Adams. “As usual under this government, it’s not clear whether it is the civilian authorities or the army that is behind these decisions. Either way, they are indefensible.”