Economist: Trying war crimes in Bangladesh

The trial of the birth of a nation

Rumours abound that this issue has been banned in Bangladesh (SA).
This week the chairman of Bangladesh?s International Crimes Tribunal resigned. We explain the background to his action, our role in the story, and what it all means for his country?s search for justice

BANGLADESH suffered a violent birth. In the last days of 1971 the country then called East Pakistan was engulfed by torture, rape, mass-killing and other acts of genocide. The main perpetrators were Pakistani troops bent on preventing secession from ?West Pakistan?. But the army had the support of many of East Pakistan?s fundamentalist groups, including Jamaat-e-Islami, which remains Bangladesh?s largest Islamic party. Estimates of the death toll vary from around 300,000 to the current government?s reckoning of 3m?one in 20 of the population at that time. Continue reading “Economist: Trying war crimes in Bangladesh”

Unlike Afghan leaders, Obama fights for power of indefinite military detention

Obama lawyers file a breathless, angry appeal against the court ruling that invalidated the NDAA’s chilling 2011 detention law

Bagram airbase

Bagram airbase was used by the US to detain its ‘high-value’ targets during the ‘war on terror’ and is still Afghanistan’s main military prison. Photograph: Dar Yasin/AP
In May, something extremely rare happened: a federal court applied the US constitution to impose some limits on the powers of the president. That happened when federal district court judge Katherine Forrest of the southern district of New York, an Obama appointee, preliminarily barred enforcement of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the statute enacted by Congress in December 2011 with broad bipartisan support and signed into law by President Obama (after he had threatened to veto it). Continue reading “Unlike Afghan leaders, Obama fights for power of indefinite military detention”

Questions for police

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By William Gomes

February 16, Dhaka

Source: Sri Lanka Guardian


Kazi Imtiaz Hossain Abir, a student of higher secondary level at the Northern College at Mohammadpur was killed in a so called “Cross Fire” in the capital. Apart from ‘why’ he was killed the question is now where Abir was killed?
There are inconsistencies in the documents related to Abir’s extrajudicial killing. The police submitted a “Death Certificate” with its forwarding placed before the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Court of Dhaka through the Deputy Commissioner (Prosecution), a police officer, of the Metropolitan Court. The Death Certificate was issued by Dr. Nurul Islam of the National Institute of Trauma and Orthopedic Rehabilitation (NITOR) of Dhaka. It does not assert the cause of death although it mentions that “there is a penetrating injury on the medial aspect of the right lower thigh about (2cm X 2cm)”.
This differs from the police report by the Investigating Officer (IO) Sub Inspector (SI) Mr. Hekmat Ali in both the age and time of death. More significantly the report states that he was sent for treatment of his bullet wounds.
While the entire document was composed in a computer, the crime scene was penned, in all three cases.
So where was Abir killed?
The Pallabi police filed three cases against Abir naming him as the accused with four-five unidentified persons. FIR no. 27 sates that the a police patrol team went to Balurmath area, when they came across indiscriminate gunshots. They immediately returned fire in self-defence. All the “terrorists” fled the scene and hid in darkness. They found one critically-injured person, who was bleeding at the time from his bullet wounds. He was holding a revolver in his right hand. The person told the officers his name as “Abir (28)” before losing consciousness. The police took signatures from the three “witnesses” on the seizure list. They claim that ASI Ismail and constable Saidur were injured (without any details about their injuries) and received first aid from “Adhunik Hospital”, which referred them to the Rajarbag Police Hospital for further treatment.

FIRs no. 28 and FIR no. 29 were made in the same language by SI Md. Yasin Munshi and SI Md. Ezajul Islam, using identical text but under different sections of the Penal Code-1860. Professionals related to the forensic examination of dead bodies told the human rights defenders that the shot fired at Abir’s right thigh had been done at close range.
Abir’s relatives said that Abir’s cell phone has not been returned to the family and is not included in the seizure list. They did not even register a complaint regarding the extra judicial killing, asking instead ?have authorities ever prosecuted any personnel of the law-enforcement agencies despite the fact that a large number of innocent persons have been murdered?? They argued that there are a number of wanted criminals in the city whom the people want to see behind bars. They want legal action against the police who have failed to arrest them for years. They demand answers as to why an innocent student, who did have not a single complaint against him with any police station or court of the country, should be killed and publicized as a robber. Does the government ever feel how deeply shocked and infuriated people are about these lawless murders by the government’s own agents?
Even recently the prime minister has spoken out against extra judicial killings. The foreign minister has said extrajudicial killing have become almost part of the system and it cannot be changed overnight.
The Home Minister Sahara Khatun in public blamed human rights organizations for “siding with the criminals” and claimed that no extra-judicial killing has taken place during the tenure of the present government.
Also available at countercurrents

Meeting Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina

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By Abbas Faiz ? South Asia researcher for Amnesty International

It was a welcome opportunity to meet Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina during her official visit to the UK. Three of us, Lord Eric Avebury of the UK House of Lords, Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch and I met the Prime Minister on 30 January at her hotel suite in London.
Bangladesh Foreign Minister, Dr Dipu Moni and the Bangladesh High Commissioner to the UK, Dr Sayeedur Rahman Khan were also present at the meeting.
We began with a discussion on the war crimes trials, restrictions on human rights groups visiting Chittagong Hill Tracts, and the continued delay in implementing the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord (CHT) that was signed in 1997 during Sheikh Hasina?s previous tenure as Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister said she was committed to implementing the CHT Accord and had set up a committee to advise her on how to implement it.
The Foreign Minister said the government was aware of the concerns the International Bar Association had raised about the law under which war crimes will be tried. She said the government had sought the opinion of legal experts on those concerns and that the amended law incorporates their advice. She said the process is to heal wounds, and the government is looking at all issues in relation to the trials, and the rule of law would be followed.
The law denies, among other things, the right to challenge the jurisdiction of the Tribunal and the right to the possibility of bail but it was not clear if the government would move to amend the law.
I told the Prime Minister that Amnesty International welcomes the government?s move to make the National Human Rights Commission permanent and asked for her assurances that it would remain independent and well resourced. Also, the government?s move to try Bangladesh Rifle mutineers in civilian courts, as against courts martial, was welcome.
I expressed concern that the government?s move to address some of the human rights concerns appear to favour only members of her own party, the Awami League. There is a long, unwelcome legacy in Bangladesh for governments to go soft on the criminal activities of members of their own party and harsh on the opposition. I asked why the only known cases of the government pardoning death penalty convicts were 20 convicts, 19 of whom were members of the governing Awami League. I also expressed concern about the activities of the Bangladesh Chattra League (BCL), the student wing of the Awami League, and the serious allegations of human rights abuses by this grouping, which have gone unpunished.
The Foreign Minister said the deaths sentences had been politically motivated and for that reason the prisoners have been pardoned. I was dismayed as I had hoped to hear a commitment to pardoning more death penalty convicts and the exercise of utmost impartiality in choosing who to pardon.
The Prime Minister said she had taken action against the BCL members. Some have been arrested for committing crimes and some have been expelled from the Awami League.
I explained that torture continues to be widespread and asked the Prime Minister if her government would consider implementing the 2003 Supreme Court ruling that provides guidelines for torture free investigation of suspects. This question remained unanswered.
I referred to statements the Prime Minister had made before and after the 2008 elections that extrajudicial executions would end. Yet, they continue and nothing seems to be done to stop them.
The Prime Minister said extrajudicial executions have been happening since 2004 and she has been very vocal on the issue from that time. She said they could not stop overnight. She said all incidents are investigated, and if any officer is found to have committed a crime ?immediately we take action against it?.
I agree that extrajudicial executions cannot stop overnight, but work to stop them can begin straight away. While the Prime Minister?s comments generate the hope that the government might be prepared to address the issue, the Home Minister?s comments last week that extrajudicial executions were not happening undermines that hope.

Statement on the Binayak Sen Judgement

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Posted by Radical Notes

December 31, 2010 at 8:44 am in India

Sanhati

We are deeply anguished by the convictions and sentences of Dr. Binayak Sen, Piyush Guha, and Narayan Sanyal by the additional district and sessions judge of Raipur for sedition. We also note that in a separate case, Asit Sengupta was convicted and sentenced to eight years imprisonment for his work as magazine editor and publisher. Sanhati strongly condemns their convictions and sentences.
Convicting Dr. Sen of sedition and treason against the country, when he has devoted his life to service for the poorest citizens of India, yet again illustrates the disdain of the state towards its citizens and democracy. The real crime of Dr. Sen in the eyes of the government has been his protest against the state-sponsored vigilante force of Salwa Judum, and his efforts to bring to light the atrocities committed by this vigilante army on the indigeneous population of Chattisgarh. The state has attempted to make an example of Dr. Sen to all dissenting against its policies or protesting repression. Nevertheless, the state will fail in its attempt to create a fear psychosis among political and social activists; its efforts will only lead to the strengthening of resistance against state repression.
The charge made out by the prosecution against Dr. Sen was that he was responsible for passing letters from Narayan Sanyal lodged to Piyush Guha. Examination of witnesses and evidence presented by the defence demonstrated that the meetings in prison between Dr. Sen and Narayan Sanyal, the jailed Maoist leader, followed all legal norms and were based on the capacity of Dr. Sen as a physician and a human rights activist. When the accusations against Dr. Sen could not be supported by evidence in court, the government brought up other trumped-up charges and falsified evidence, much of which was glaring in its absurdity. That the court chose to overlook all this, has exposed the nature of our judicial system to the entire world.
It is necessary at this juncture to also mention that numerous undertrial political and social activists are today incarcerated in various prisons in India or languishing in jail for prolonged periods without trial, charged under various draconian state or central laws. These laws, and various draconian provisions of the criminal penal code, are being used to clamp down upon resistance movements against various anti-people policies pursued by the Indian state. The charges against Dr. Binayak Sen, and the travesty of justice in the name of his trial, have brought this hard truth to the fore.
We strongly condemn the convictions and sentences against Binayak Sen, Piyush Guha, Narayan Sanyal, and Asit Sengupta. We demand that the injustice meted out to them in the name of dispensing justice be rectified immediately. We also demand that the state immediately stops the systematic usage of various draconian laws and charges of sedition against activists to silence all voices of dissent.

Arrest warrants against top TIB executives

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bdnews24.com Sun, Dec 26th, 2010 1:43 pm BdST

Comilla, Dec 26 (bdnews24.com) ? A Comilla court has issued arrest warrants against the TIB chairman, director and a fellow for ‘maligning’ the judiciary in its household survey report.
Mohammad Tawhidur Rahman, a lawyer, filed the case with the Comilla Senior Judicial Magistrate’s Court on Sunday.
The court of magistrate Gazi Saidur Rahman took the case into cognisence and issued arrest warrants against TIB trustee board chairman M Hafiz Uddin, executive director Iftekharuzzaman and fellow Wahid Alam of the Transparency International, Bangladesh, a Berlin-based international corruption watchdog.
The case statement said the TIB report had tarnished the image, honor and reputation of the judiciary by naming it as the most corrupt service sector.
The plaintiff sought actions against the defendants claiming that the report had maligned his professional career.

Moshrefa Mishu Hospitalised

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From Rahnuma Ahmed:

Dear friends,
Moshrefa Mishu, president of the Garments Workers Unity Forum, who was admitted to Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH) last night, is under strict police surveillance at the hospital. Although she is in a woman’s ward, she is being guarded by both police men and women who surround her bed 24 hrs. It is very inconvenient and distressful for both Mishu and other patients in the ward as many are confined to their bed and have to use bedpans.
Her breathing difficulties have largely eased but her back pain is still severe, she is largely immobile; her sister told me that she cannot turn in bed without any assistance. X-ray and ECG tests were conducted today; she was taken to the examination room on a stretcher as she cannot sit upright.
Media reportage last night after news of her illness spread in Dhaka, particularly, news coverage in private TV channels, led to strict restrictions being placed on journalists and reporters today. Since no beds had been vacant when she was admitted last night, a `bed’ was improvised for her on the floor of the women’s ward; however, this afternoon she was upgraded to a `proper’ bed.
After last night’s media reporting, police are understood to have pressurised doctors at DMCH today to not allow anyone to enter the ward or to approach and talk to her. She is reported to be?receiving medical care and attention but doctors at DMCH are not answering any queries about the state of her health. If asked, they reply, they cannot say anything without the permission of the hospital’s director. Since Mishu’s falling sick — I learnt today that she had to be rushed to the National Hospital after court proceedings yesterday because she fainted when the police were helping her on to the police van to take her back to the DB headquarters — has received good coverage, it has meant `bad’ publicity for the government and has reportedly aroused the wrath of an Awami League-supporting doctor, who’s also very influential in the doctors’ association. He has threatened Mishu’s family members that she will be discharged tomorrow regardless of the state of her health.
Different labour and human rights organisations have contacted us in the meanwhile, they have expressed deep concerns over Mishu’s safety and security,?and promised to take up the matter with the Bangladesh government/ministries.
I request everyone to do the same, to spread the word, and to protest.
Tomorrow brings uncertainties, in addition to the state of her health, since Mishu’s sister is not sure whether she will actually be suddenly discharged from the hospital.
I promise to keep everyone posted.
In solidarity/r

Murdoch phone hacking scandal

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Murdoch phone hacking scandal engulfs all Britain?s major parties

By Jean Shaoul
22 September 2010

World Socialist Website

A desperate damage control operation is underway as further allegations emerge about the extent of the illegal phone hacking at the Rupert Murdoch-owned?News of the World. The paper?s royal editor and a private investigator were found guilty of hacking into the voice mail of members of the Royal family and their aides in 2007.
It is now alleged that the practice was much more prevalent than was revealed at the time and that the Metropolitan Police failed to investigate all the cases known to them.
Journalist Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire were found guilty at the Old Bailey in January 2007 after they admitted hacking into phones. Goodman was jailed for four months and Mulcaire for six months.News of the World editor Andy Coulson resigned following the case. He denied knowing about the hacking, but he accepted ultimate responsibility as editor of the paper. Prime Minister Gordon Brown immediately phoned to offer his commiserations. He assured the journalist that he had acted honourably in resigning and expressed his confidence that Coulson would soon have another job.
Coulson is now Prime Minister David Cameron?s director of communications and at the centre of the new allegations. His presence in the new Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition administration implicates all three major political parties in the affair. It is now suggested that under the previous Labour government, the police and parliamentary investigations were cut short. The Liberal Democrats, who challenged Coulson?s claims that he was ignorant of the phone hacking, are now part of an administration in which Coulson plays a key role and must, as deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg did in the House of Commons earlier this month, defend him.
A network of relationships has been exposed which reveal the incestuous nature of the British political elite and its ties to global corporate interests, in particular to Rupert Murdoch?s News International Corporation. A coalition government has just come to power that supposedly represents a new chapter in British political life after 13 years of Labour rule. But the Murdoch empire has slipped seamlessly from one government to the next. Even if Coulson is never charged with any crime and never found guilty of any crime, this affair will have demonstrated beyond a shadow of doubt that official politics in Britain is entirely divorced from the interests of ordinary people and in the hands of a criminal oligarchy who act outside the law.
Real political power lies with this plutocratic layer and not with elected representatives in Parliament. Allegations have emerged this month that the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee held back from pursuing its investigation into phone hacking at the?News of the World. Adam Price, a former Plaid Cymru MP who retired from Parliament in May, claims that MPs were afraid that their private lives would come under investigation if they called on News International Chief Executive Rebekah Brooks to testify. Members of the committee discussed getting the sergeant-at-arms to issue a subpoena for Mrs. Brooks.
Continue reading “Murdoch phone hacking scandal”

`Dismantling the master's house'

HC judgments on sexual harassment

rahnuma ahmed

The High Court’s verdict was a `revolution’ said Salma Ali, president of Bangladesh Jatiya Mahila Ainjibi Samity (BNWLA)

In response to a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by the BNWLA, the High Court ruled on May 14 that any kind of physical, mental or sexual harassment of women, girls and children at their workplaces, educational institutions and at other public places, including roads, was a criminal offence, punishable by fine and/or imprisonment. The ruling detailed sexual misdemeanour as `any kind of provocation through phone calls or e-mail, lewd gestures, showing of pornography, lurid stares, physical contact or molestation, stalking, vulgar sounds or any display of a derogatory nature.’ The HC Bench directed the government to make a law on the basis of its guidelines; until that happened, it’s guidelines would enjoy the status of law.

On May 17, `another’ revolution took place. The same bench, of Justices Syed Mahmud Hossain and Quamrul Islam Siddiqui, in response to a writ, declared that the decision of the Jahangirnagar University authorities to exonerate Drama and Dramatics chairperson, Sanwar Hossain Sani from charges of sexual harassment and, to suspend six students (which includes four women complainants) for allegedly assaulting him, was `illegal.’ It directed the JU authorities to hold a fresh enquiry?. The new one, according to the verdict, should be conducted by `neutral persons.’ It should accord with the HC’s recent guidelines. The writ petition, represented by barrister Sara Hossain and advocate Ruhul Quddus Babu, was jointly filed by Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), Nijera Kori, Karmojibi Nari, professor Serajul Islam Choudhury, and journalist Kamal Lohani.

The complaints were not proven `beyond any doubt,’ there was no `hard evidence’ — that is what the JU Syndicate had said when clearing Sanwar Hossain of all charges in September 2008. Dismissing this, the HC Bench ruled that the standard of ‘beyond a[ny] reasonable doubt’ could not be applied to allegations of sexual harassment. A slap in the face of the JU authorities? Of the members of the Final Enquiry Committee, the Syndicate, and the university teachers association (JUTA) which had expressed `relief’ at the Syndicate’s decision and had advocated that `indisciplined’ students (and not a teacher who had sexually harassed women students) be punished? Beyond any reasonable doubt.

Of course, we are happy, thrilled, and excited at the HC’s recognition, at its validation of our long-standing demands and struggles. That unwelcome sexual attention is, well, just what it is. Unwelcome. Period. And as Fawzia Karim, the petitioner’s counsel, had argued in court, the absence of a law against sexual harassment, `rampant’ in Bangladesh, means that victims can not file accusations against the offendors.

But our moment of happiness is also overcast with feelings of grief and loss. We have not forgotten our sisters, those who were either killed for having rejected declarations of love, or took their own lives at the humiliation suffered. Simi Banu, art student, taunted and harassed by local mastaans, committed suicide in 2001. Mohima Khatun, raped, killed herself in 2002. Shahinoor, a garment worker, raped, threw herself under a train, in 2003. Biva Rani Singha, a college student, kidnapped and raped for a week in 2003, later became mentally unbalanced. Farzana Afrin Rumi, a college student, hanged herself when a local group of thugs barged into her house to kidnap her, in 2003. Alpina, a class four student, killed herself after being assaulted in front of her mother, in 2003 (Farzana Rahman Shampa). Chameli Tripura, nine years old, was raped and killed in Ramgarh, CHT, in 2008. And many, many more. Killed. Committed suicide. Became mentally ill. Acid disfigurement. Humiliation. No, we have not forgotten our sisters. Nor have we forgotten sub-Inspector Bashar who went to Simi’s house and insulted her parents. He advised them to control `her’ movements. He filed a general diary (GD) against her, instead of her harassers. Nor have we forgotten countless police officers who have repeatedly refused to register complaints made by women and their family members, distraught and angry, seeking safety and protection through legal means.

It was, after all, a bloody revolution.

Will things change? Krishnokoli, a young singer and cultural activist, doesn’t think so. Mere court verdicts are not enough. The political structure of the country needs to be altered first (New Age, May 15).? I understand and sympathise with her misgivings as I turn to look at neighbouring India, at the famous Vishaka judgment (Vishaka and others vs State of Rajasthan and others, Supreme Court, 1997), which is known to have informed our own HC judgment. The Vishaka PIL arose out of the gang rape of Bhanwari Devi, a member of a group of women called sathins, trained by the local government to do house-to-house social work at the village level, in exchange of honorariums. Bhanwari Devi, as part of a government campaign against child marriage, had tried to prevent the marriage of a one year old girl. The family, who happened to be high caste, were outraged at Bhanwari’s audacity. Five men, including the girl’s father, gang-raped her in her husband’s presence. The village authorities, the local police and doctors teamed-up with the rapists: police were reluctant to record her statement, two government doctors refused to examine her. When she finally took her case to the state criminal court, the accused were acquitted. The judge declared that it was not `credible.’ Upper caste men would surely not stoop as low as raping a lower caste woman? The humiliation and violation of the court process, says Naina Kapur, a New Delhi-based lawyer, led her to initiate the Vishaka petition. She, like many others, was frustrated by the criminal justice system’s inability to provide tangible remedies, restore the dignity of the victim, address systemic issues, and to create social change (Avani Mehta Sood, 2006).

The Vishaka PIL has made a significant impression upon the public, says Sood, because it has led to the establishment of systems of legal accountability. It has created tremendous awareness and open acknowledgement of sexual harassment. The judgment has had a huge impact on universities and large workplaces. Women now know that there is a law, and as a human rights lawyer put it, “It makes a big difference to people harassing women as well, to know that they can be called upon it.” Awareness created by the Vishaka decision has also led to many more cases being filed by women victims, at the HC level. However, it has not yet been enacted (The Protection of Women Against Sexual Harassment at the Workplace Bill 2007), and the SC guidelines continue to be the law. Very few complaints comittees have been set up. Service rules have not been amended. The judgment has been flouted by both public and private employers. Social activists have claimed that the guidelines were too general, it did not cover the entire gamut of workplace relationships (for e.g., doctor molesting his patient). The unorganised sector does not fall under the ambit of the Bill. Investigations carried out by the inquiry committees have too often been bound by red-tape, leading to long drawn out cases, and thereby, delaying punishment for the harasser, and adding to the victim’s trauma. But continued activism has led to two significant interim orders being issued by the Supreme Court. One of these asks professional bodies (for e.g. the UGC) what steps they have taken to implement the Vishaka guidelines, while the other, clarifies that the investigation and report of the investigation committee is to be deemed final. Committees have also been directed to submit annual reports of complaints and actions taken, to the government.

By highlighting the problem of sexual harassment, the Vishaka judgment has simultaneously opened up questions and dilemmas over separating sexual harassment from, and its close intermeshing with, other forms of gender-based discrimination/harassment at workplaces (Kalpana Kannabiran and Vasanth Kannabiran 2002). As the authors say, the separation between professional victimisation and sexual harassment is never absolute. And there are other things too. Sometimes sexual harassment can become a weapon of retaliation for progressive dalit men who face offensive and discriminatory behaviour from upper caste and upper class, articulate women classmates and colleagues. Where systemic forms of discrimination and inequality run deep, where the legal system, in its entirety, overwhelmingly promotes unjust hierarchies, are changes possible? Or, to pose Caribbean-American writer, poet and activist, Audre Lordes’ words as a question: can the master’s house be dismantled with the master’s tools?

Not, in its entirety, no. But as I write this, it is also important to acknowledge the difference that it is bound to make at Jahangirnagar, to the lives of six young women and men-students, whose suspension will have to be withdrawn by the JU authorities. The difference that the second HC judgment will make to the lives of four young women complainants who had, against overwhelming odds, protested. Whose dignity — with the help of a new inquiry committtee composed of neutral persons, working in accordance with guidelines set by the HC — will be restored.

Laws, fortunately or unfortunately, are part of the political process. And, revolutions need to be created, and re-created. Again, and yet again.

Published in New Age 25 May 2009