Canadian Concern Over Troubled Times in Bangladesh
December 20, 2002
Canadian Concern over the Troubled Times in Bangladesh
South Asia Partnership (SAP) Canada, a forum on South Asian human development based in Canada, organized an information session on the current situation in Bangladesh on December 18 in Ottawa. The representatives of Canadian and Bangladesh governments, Canadian International Development Agency-CIDA, Commonwealth Journalist Association, PEN Canada, Canadian NGOs, private sector, media and the Canadian-Bangladeshi community leaders attended the meeting.
The meeting observed that though December 16, 2002, marked the 30th anniversary of the end of Bangladesh’s war of liberation, Bangladeshis are witnessing an unprecedented violation of human rights by the very state they fought 30 years ago to create.
In his introductory remarks Richard Harmston, Executive Director of SAP Canada, recognized that in last 31 years of existence, Bangladesh has made significant progress towards achieving democracy and addressing poverty related issues such as health, education and women’s empowerment. He noted the success stories of the non-governmental organizations like Grameen, BRAC and Proshika as well as hundreds of other vibrant development organizations of Bangladesh. Harmston also mentioned that since the independence of Bangladesh the Canadian government and civil society been partners for development with Bangladesh. However, he warned that when Bangladesh is going through a troubled time like at present, Canada as a friend is concerned and cannot just stand on the sideline.
In his presentation, Faruq Faisel, Canadian Program Manager of SAP Canada, briefed the participants on the current situation in Bangladesh. He described the severe deterioration of law and order in recent years. Faisel mentioned that the observers felt that failure to address this situation by the previous government was a major reason for the election of the current government by the people of Bangladesh. This put an obligation on the current government to deal with the problem. On October 17, the Bangladesh government called upon the army to address the issue of law and order- a command that is not uncommon. Civilian governments had called upon for army assistance 11 times since the birth of Bangladesh in 1971.
However, under the so-called “Operation Clean Heart” a drive against organized crime, the Bangladeshi army has rounded up thousands of people without specific charges. Over the past 60 days under “Operation Clean Heart”, at least 36 people have died in custody during interrogation. According to military and government spokespersons each of these persons has died from a “heart attack”. One of the latest victims include one 17-year-old student whom the army took to their camp when they could not find his father.
Freedom of the press is also at risk. In November, government agencies arrested 4 journalists — including a British, an Italian and their two Bangladeshi collaborators, who were producing a news documentary for British Channel 4. The foreign journalists spent two weeks in jail and were then deported on December 11. The two other Bangladeshi journalists, who were working with the foreign journalists, remain in custody, charged with “anti-state activities.” They were denied bail and returned to jail, pending trial. If convicted, they face a maximum penalty of death.
The latest report from Bangladesh says that journalist Enamul Huque Chowdhury, a stringer for the British news agency Reuters, was also arrested on December 13. He faces two years’ imprisonment. The government is also cracking down on selected NGOs, intellectuals, newspaper columnists, university teachers and opposition political leaders, the presenter added.
Bangladesh High Commissioner to Canada Mr. Mohsin Ali Khan also spoke at the meeting and gave reassurances that the Bangladesh government is committed to democracy and the human rights. However, the High Commissioner also expressed, that the government is determined to address the law and order situation. He claimed that the several deaths in custody were actually stray cases. The Government has appointed an inquiry commission and the people who were involved in these cases would be punished according to the findings of the inquiry.
The presenter recommended:
1. We need to acknowledge the need to improve the law and order situation in Bangladesh. However, the government of Bangladesh must do so under the rule of law with full respect for human rights.
2. The Government of Bangladesh should immediately permit an international independent body investigate the alleged “deaths by heart attack” and any reports of torture in army and police custody. The army and police personnel involved in acts of torture should be brought to justice.
3. The Government of Bangladesh should assure the complete freedom of expression in the country and immediately release all the journalists who are in custody, including Saleem Samad, Pricila Raj and Enamul Haq Chowdhury.
It was also recommended that steps should be taken to:
1. Eliminate the use of torture by the police and army as method of interrogation.
2. Remove criminals from the political system in Bangladesh.
3. Make human rights training mandatory for all members of security forces including military, police, BDR, Ansar and any other troops.
4. Reform the security sector of Bangladesh.
For More Information:
South Asia Partnership Canada
1 Nicholas Street, Suite 200
Ottawa Ontario K1N 7B7
Phone: (613) 241 1333
Fax: (613) 241 1129