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Bangladesh : Rule of the peeping Generals


The euphoria and bonhomie about the military take over are all set to be dispelled as the generals show their teeth and control politics even in the bedrooms of former Prime Ministers Begum Khaleda Zia of Bangladesh National Party and Sheikh Hasina Wazed of the Awami League. According to Odhikar, 95,825 persons have reportedly been arrested under the Bangladesh Emergency Power Rules of 2007 between 12 Januray to 12 March 2007 while 50 persons have been killed by the security forces. But, the Home Ministry won’t tolerate any discussion on politics even in the bedrooms.

 

In a statement on 9 March 2007, Home Ministry stated:

 

“Despite the existing ban on processions, meetings and rallies under the Emergency Power Rules, 2007, different political parties were continuing to hold indoor meetings and rallies and the government was showing leniency attitude towards this matter.

 

So, all concerned are hereby apprised that until any other order in this regard is issued, all sorts of indoor politics and pubic meetings and political will remain banned.”

 

Holding discussion on legal aid to the arrested persons in the bedrooms may tantamount to “indoor politics”.

 

I. The Coup and the plotters: The role of the international community

 

Undoubtedly, both Begum Zia and Sheikh Hasina are responsible for the present situation. Both allowed looting of the country, growth of the religious fundamentalists and their personal acrimony virtually prevented consolidation of democracy in the country while minorities and indigenous peoples suffered innumerable atrocities. Their personal acrimony – or family politics - prevailed over. The Jatiyo Sangsad, the parliament, seldom functioned and its sessions were marked by boycotts by the opposition – with the sole aim of coming to power.

 

Begum Zia and Sheikh Hasina did not leave any space to the international community but constrained the international community to support takeover by a neutral party. International community disapproved of direct military takeover but in more ways than one, they approved of their indirect takeover. Bangladesh Army was warned of dire consequences including a ban on recruitment of Bangladeshi soldiers for the UN Peace Keeping Operations in the event of military supporting the Bangladesh National Party. However, the smoothness with which the caretaker government took control of the situation showed the direct hand of the military.

 

II. Has the situation improved?

 

The pertinent question remains whether the situation has improved.

 

International community is quite happy with the emergency arrangements. Yet, situation is far from being hunky-dory. International community will face the crunch situation sooner than later.

 

a. Mainland Bangladesh : Long rule of the army

 

There is general euphoria and Bangladesh is eerily calm and orderly. Common citizenry feels vindicated with the arrest of corrupt political leaders like Tariq Zia and Salauudin Kader Chowdhury. Many of these political leaders ensured that Bangaldesh remained No.1 corrupt country in the world according to the Transparency International.

 

It is easy to write-off Begum Zia in the current scheme of things. Current army chief, General Moeen U. Ahmed would like to hold elections before his scheduled retirement in June 2008 and ensure the defeat of the BNP to avoid any retribution. The generals have been more than lenient on the Jammats and the Liberal Democratic Party, breakway faction of the BNP. Both the Jammat and LDP leaders were serving in the government.

 

If Sheikh Hasina comes back to power, the situation will be back to square one. Only Mohammed Yunus knows what kind of support his political party Nagarik Shakti has. Average Bangladeshis are proud of his Nobel Prize but that does not necessarily mean support to his political party.

 

Sooner or later, the entire middle class of Bangladesh will have to be targeted. With banning of “indoor politics”, unheard in the lexicon of political science, euphoria are all set to evaporate.

 

The problem is not with cleansing the country of the corrupt politicians but as to how the care taker government acts within the confines of the rule of law. Until now, it has not spelt out its plan but has been acting as law unto itself. With no signs of holding the elections in the near future, the actions may appear to cling on to the power. Sooner or later, those in the care-taker government might hold the elections to prolong quasi-military dictatorship.

 

b. The periphery: Situation in the Chittagong Hill Tracts

 

Since the emergency was declared on 11 January 2007, the army and the police have gone wild - illegally arresting, detaining, torturing and intimidating indigenous Jumma activists in the Chittagong Hill Tracts especially under Section 54 of Bangladesh Penal Code. On 3 March 2007, a group of army personnel from Ghilachari camp under Naniachar Thana arrested Suresh Mohan Chakma, son of Phedera Chakma at Choichari village without any warrant or reason. The victim was tortured in the army custody in Ghilachari of Rangamati district and he died on 7 March 2007, a day after being released.

 

The activists of both the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS) and United People’s Democratic Front (UPDF) - two indigenous Jumma political organisations have been targeted.

 

Among the activists of PCJSS who were arrested included Bikram Marma, President of Kaptai upazila branch of PCJSS from his house at Chandraghona Christian Missionary Hospital area under Rangunia upazila in Chittagong district at the midnight of 4 February 2007; Sai Mong Marma, Organising Secretary of Kaptai upazila branch of PCJSS, from his house at Raikhali under Kaptai upazila in Rangamati district at the midnight of 11 February 2007; Balabhadra Chakma alias Pranjal, Vice President of Dighinala upazila branch of PCJSS, at Mahajan Para in Khagrachari on 5 March 2007; Manubha Ranjan Chakma, President of Baghaichari upazila branch of PCJSS, who was arrested by the Bangladesh Rifles in Baghaichari upazila in Rangamati district on 5 March 2007; Satyabir Dewan, Bimal Kanti Chakma, Ranjait Kumar Dewan, Udayjoy Chakma and Mayachan Chakma who were arrested under Kotowali police station of Rangamati District on 18 February 2007.

 

On the night of 10 March 2006, an activist of the United People’s Democratic Front (UPDF) Kalo Priya Chakma was arrested by the army personnel at Gurgujjyachari village in Khagrachari district of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. He was later handed over to the Khagrachari police station.

 

Even the indigenous people’s civil society organizations were not spared. On 27 February 2007, District Social Welfare Department of Khagrachari district issued a notice to Trinamul Unnayan Sangstha (TUS), a non-governmental organisation run by indigenous peoples to stop all its activities on the charges that it was being involved in “anti-state and anti-people’s interest activities”. The notice was issued under the sub-section 2 (Ma) of the Emergency Power Rules 2007. The sub-section 2 (Ma) says that it may be applicable for “political party, trade union, club or samity (society)”. The authorities did not specify what "anti-state and anti-people's interest activities" have been committed by the TUS. Nor has the TUS representatives were called for any explanation before the notice was issued.

 

Forcible evictions continue unabated. In a latest case of forcible eviction of indigenous peoples from their land, the Bangladesh army has asked the villagers of more than 62 villages under Sualok and Tangkabati Unions in Bandarban Hill District, predominantly resided by Mro indigenous communities, to vacate the villages. The Bangladesh army had earlier filed an eviction suit in the court of Deputy Commissioner, Bandarban against 62 villages on 16 November 2006 but the Deputy Commissioner’s Court is yet to pass any eviction order. Before the Deputy Commissioner could decide on the issue, in order to force the Mros, Mr Ranglai Mro, a prominent leader of the Mros, was arrested from his residence in Bandarban on 23 February 2006 on the false charges of possessing illegal arms and grabbing land. He was awarded best Union Parishad Chairman but because of the torture, he had to be admitted in the Chittagong Medical College hospital with injuries. No one was given access to Mr Ranglai Mro and the NGOs are being denied access to the villages which were asked to vacate the villages to establish military training centres.

 

III. Conclusion: 

 

International community must not be complacent with eerily order in Bangladesh. The care-taker government cannot be allowed to act as law unto itself. At present, none of the decrees of the care-taker government could be challenged before the court of law. No independent court in this world will justify ban on indoor politics. International community must not only intervene against such illegal decrees but urge the government of Bangladesh to implement the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord and bring an end to human rights violations in the region. The ills with the democracy or the political parties in Bangladesh cannot be resolved by supporting a military backed government of the technocrats or a government which considers itself above judicial scrutiny. History has shown time and again that military regimes are more corrupt, and do not give up powers without bloodshed. This lesson of history must be kept in mind while dealing with the present crisis in Bangladesh.

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