Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Process on to modernise BDR, raise its strength

BDR chief says at Rajshahi flag awarding ceremony
Director General of Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) Maj Gen Shakil Ahmed yesterday said initiatives are underway to modernise the paramilitary force and increase its strength within a short time.

A 'quick reaction force' is being raised in every BDR sector to face emergencies while each battalion will be equipped with an anti-tank platoon, he said. Armored Personal Carriers (a kind of vehicle) were already sent to some sectors to raise the special force, he said.

Maj Gen Shakil was addressing 10 BDR Battalion's prestigious colour-flag awarding ceremony at Rajshahi BDR compound.

The BDR chief also called upon the troops to dedicate themselves for the cause of the country with utmost honesty.

He lauded the success of BDR-run 'Dal-Bhat Operation' and 'Fair Price Shops' in controlling prices of essentials.

"You have done this beyond your duty of patrolling borders amid limitations including shortage of vehicles and other engagements in domestic affairs", he said.

Among others, Brig Gen Mahfuzur Rahman, Commander of Armored Brigade in Bogra; Brig Gen Nazmul Islam, Commandant, Bangladesh Infantry Regimental Center; Rajshahi Sector Commander Col M Iqbal; Battalion Commander Lt Col Lutful Kabir; Rajshahi Divisional Commissioner M Shafiul Alam; DIG Mokhlesur Rahman; vice- chancellors of Rajshahi University and Rajshahi University of Engineering and Technology also attended the ceremony.

Maj Shams, second-in-command of 10 BDR Battalion led a colourful parade during the ceremony.

10 BDR Battalion was awarded the colour-flag for its outstanding performance both before and after the Liberation War, said BDR a spokesman.

The battalion set a record in BDR's history by becoming champion for the third consecutive term in 2006 since 2004 in checking smuggling.

The 49-year old BDR battalion was honoured for its role during natural calamities in 1968 and 1970 in southern region of the country, during the Liberation War (six national heroes -- three Bir Uttam, two Bir Bikrom and one Bir Protik were chosen from the batallion), and for anti-terrorism role in Chittagong Hill Tracts and service to Sidr victims and operation Dal-Bhat, he said.

The newly raised battalion No. 46 at Bahubolpur in Patnitala of Naogaon was also inaugurated at the ceremony.

With this, Rajshahi BDR sector that patrols 342 kilometer border with India consists of four battalions -- two in Naogaon, and one each in Rajshahi and Chapainawabganj.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Homage to Selim Al Deen

Natya Manchayan Parshad organised a condolence meeting in memory of Selim Al Deen, a legendary drama icon of the country, at Padma Manch in Rajshahi city yesterday. Litterateur Hasan Azizul Haque, theatre personality Nasiruddin Yusuf and Prof Moloy Kumar Bhowmik attended the meeting. Photo: STAR
Homage to Selim Al Deen
Selim Al Deen, the legendary drama icon of the country, was remembered at a citizens' condolence meeting at Padma Mancha in Rajshahi city yesterday (Sunday).

Speakers at the meeting said the death of Al Deen brings to an end the illustrious career of a man who made significant contributions to literature and theatre of Bangladesh.

They said he is the only playwright in Bangla literature who developed a 'new drama form' based on the narratives of traditional indigenous theatre.

Shakuntala, Kittonkhola, Keramat Mongol, Hat Hadai, Chaka, Joiboti Koinnar Mon, Horgoj, Bonopangshul, Nimojjon and many other plays by Al Deen are remarkable examples of the narrative style he popularised, they added.

Presided over by Hasan Azizul Haque, a well-known litterateur, the meeting was attended by Nasiruddin Yusuf Bachchu, a noted drama director, as the main speaker.

Nasiruddin, who directed most of Al Deen's plays, said, "For last three decades, we worked together establishing a new trend in theatre. In his death I have lost my best friend."

Hasan said, "Al Deen's death is an irreparable loss. He successfully highlighted typical Bengali cultural identity through his plays."

Rajshahi University teacher Moloy Kumar Bhowmik, General Secretary of Rajshahi Muktijuddho Library Dr Shafikul Alam, drama artistes Humayun Kabir Himu, Sayeed Hossain Dulal, Tawfik Hossain, Kamarullah Sarker and Mamunur Rashid also spoke on the occasion.

Rajshahi Natya Manchayan Parishad organised the meeting.

Selim Al Deen passed away on January 14.

Bird flu spreads in 9 more districts

BDR put on alert to check illegal poultry entry

Since the outbreak of bird flu in nine more districts in the country this month, 41,620 poultry were culled so far, while the government beefed up its awareness raising campaign and tightened the bio-security measures in border areas.

At a news briefing in Bangladesh Secretariat in the capital yesterday Special Assistant to Chief Adviser Manik Lal Samaddar, who is in charge of the fisheries and livestock ministry, said there are 11 points in the border areas where disinfectant is being sprayed regularly to contain the spread of the H5N1virus.

Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) was directed to check illegal entry of poultry and eggs from India as in West Bengal the outbreak is currently at a severe level, he added.

The already infected farms in the country are under continuous monitoring and the city corporations were directed to improve their waste management to contain the spread of the virus, Manik Lal said.

Some 3,26,844 chickens were culled since March 2007 while the country has around 21 crore poultry. A total of 93 farms were infected in 84 upazilas and six metropolitan cities, government sources confirmed.

Asking the people not to panic, government officials said they should be more aware of the disease and should take cautionary measures like refraining from buying sick chickens or other sick fowls, washing their hands properly with detergent after touching fowls and eggs, and putting a stop to mixed fowls farming as ducks are sometimes the carriers of the virus, spreading it to other fowls.

Although no human being has been infected with bird flu virus yet, the government is nonetheless prepared to face any such infection, said the officials.

Samples from 803 patients in 12 hospitals across the country were tested recently, but no H5N1virus was found in them, they said.

Director of the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) Mahmudur Rahman said a bird flu ward has been set up in the National Institute of Diseases of Chest and Hospital (NIDC&H). A laboratory has also been set up to diagnose infected persons.

"Sequestration facilities have been prepared in 64 districts to treat infected persons in isolation. Civil surgeons also have been trained in treatment of bird flu and the government has already procured adequate amount of antiviral, masks, and gloves as part of its beefed up security measures," he said.

Last year avian influenza (AI) had been confirmed in 68 poultry farms in 20 districts, following which some 2,85,224 poultry including free range poultry like ducks, pigeons and other domestic birds were culled.

This year the first outbreak of bird flu was recorded at Kurigram on January 3. Later the outbreak was recorded at Savar, Bonosree, Moulvibazar, Barisal, Barguna, Rajshahi, Dinajpur, Natore, Narayanganj and in some other districts.

A presentation on bird flu was made at a cabinet meeting yesterday informing it the situation is not very alarming. The meeting was also informed about government measures to check the spread of avian influenza.

The chief adviser asked the authorities concerned to follow the measures that had been adopted by preceding governments to check such outbreaks. He also asked the authorities to take further steps to raise awareness among the people about the pestilence.

Our Rajshahi correspondent reported that the authorities concerned were put on highest alert in the entire division following an outbreak of bird flu there affecting 13 out of 16 districts in the northern region so far, posing threats to some 10,000 farms.

The district administration and border security forces were asked to strictly prevent entry of Indian poultry, a practice that is reportedly quite rampant despite a ban on poultry import, said officials adding that out of 124 upazilas in 11 districts, 35 are near the border.

The authorities were also directed to stop transportation of poultry from the affected districts after veterinarians and scientists had claimed that infected birds could have been smuggled out of the districts.

The steps were taken after Manik Lal Samaddar, special assistant to the chief adviser on livestock affairs, had rushed to the north following the outbreak on a two-day visit to the affected farms in Natore and Rajshahi, where he talked to farm owners and officials till Saturday.

All poultry within a kilometre radius of the 18 infected farms in Rajshahi were culled.

Owners of poultry farms there who had already been hit hard by high prices of poultry feeds, are feeling distressed following the outbreak of bird flu.

"Prices of farm chickens already fell on the market due to shoppers' reluctance to buy poultry following the outbreak of bird flu. Now I am looking at a loss, because I had to spend Tk 2,000 more than usual to feed the chickens," said Mofizur Rahman Swapan, owner of Bird Corner Farm in Rajshahi.

Our Correspondent from Netrakona reported that the district livestock officer (DLO) and the district administration admitted that there has been an outbreak of bird flu.

After a confirmed report of the outbreak in Ananda Bazar area, the DLO and district administration culled 2,500 ducks and chickens of a farm and of different households in the town on Saturday night.

In Dinajpur, at least 1,304 free range fowls including 109 ducks were culled, and 377 eggs were destroyed on Saturday night in Biral upazila.

Some 17,381 fowls were culled in Dinajpur since bird flu had been first detected there in March last year, according to district livestock officials.

Our Nilphamari correspondent reported that around 4,000 poultry were culled in Jaldhaka upazila there.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sector commanders for probe commission with int'l jurists

War Criminals

Thursday, January 24, 2008

RU teachers for complete solution; Family of killed rickshawpuller seeks justice

The family of rickshaw-puller Afzal Hossain, reportedly killed in police firing during last August's campus unrest at Rajshahi University (RU), has demanded justice and compensation for his death.

Afzal's wife Asma Begum along with her three minor daughters and mother-in-law are surviving on a meal, or less, a day as they wait for justice for their loss.

The police had initially claimed that students have beaten Afzal to death. Later when his autopsy report showed that he died from shot wounds, police dropped the issue of Afzal's death from the cases filed against students for lack of witnesses or evidence of who killed him.

Afzal's family now lives in a tiny straw hut at Jalmunda village of Jaldhaka upazila in Nilphamari district in dire poverty.

Choking on her tears, his 25 year old wife Asma said, "I heard many teachers were punished (for violating emergency rules) and later released from jail, what about the murder of my poor husband? He was a good man."

Afzal's 60-year old mother Siratunnesa demanded justice for her son's death. She said that they were living on next to nothing since Afzal's death. Asma had to send two of her children to live with her mother, as she is too poor to keep them herself.

Afzal used to ply rickshaw no.15 of Rabi's Garage at Hadi Crossing in Rajshahi city.

On the day of the incident, at around 11am, Afzal was waiting outside RU Medical Centre after carrying an injured student there on his rickshaw.

Eyewitnesses and newspaper reports say he received bullets when riot-gear police entered the campus firing shots and moved towards the gymnasium attacked by angry students.

Afzal was rushed to Rajshahi Medical College Hospital (RMCH) in an ambulance but succumbed to his injuries on the way. He was refused admission and his returned to RU medical centre.

Later students paraded his body in protest of the police atrocity.

Rajshahi Metropolitan Police in a press release that evening claimed that Afzal died of beating by unruly students.

The same night, sub inspector SM Faruk Hossain of Motihar police station lodged a case against some 2500 unnamed students for the murder and violent activities on RU campus.

However, Afzal's autopsy report said his death was caused by shock and haemorrhage following the shot on his head. Following the report, the investigation officer (IO) of the case sub inspector Rajab Ali on October 20 pressed charges against 10 students for violent activities but dropped all reference of Afzal's killing from the case.

In the final report, the IO said no witness or evidence was found to identify Afzal's killers to press charge against. He added that if any witnesses were found regarding Afzal's death, police would take up the matter.

Police and prosecution witnesses during trial of a case over RU unrest told courts that students used brick-bats and wooden weapons during violence and none of them were seen using any firearms.

In total four cases filed over RU campus unrest, eight teachers were arrested, taken on remand. The court later acquitted four teachers.

Meanwhile the government on Monday has asked local authorities in Rajshahi to drop the case filed by SI SM Faruk Hossain against students.

Rajshahi University Progressive Teachers' Association yesterday urged the caretaker government to solve the crisis regarding the teachers and students of Rajshahi University and Dhaka University without hurting their dignity.

"A complete and just solution to the crisis is yet to be done as some of the teachers and students were branded as criminals through conviction", said former RU vice-chancellor Saidur Rahman Khan.

He was reading out a paper at a press conference at the Deans' Complex of the university.

Expressing resentment over the conviction against the teachers and students, he said the convicts are still aggrieved.

Association convener Abdus Sobhan, Moloy Kumar Bhowmik, Mizan Uddin, Jalal Uddin, SM Abu Bakkar, Shamsuddin Ilias, Fayekuzzman, Muhammad Naser, Sujit Kumar Sarker, Muhammad Nurullah, Hasibul Alam Prodhan, Dr Anisur Rahman and Dr Ahsan Kabir, among others, were present.

The teachers and students were convicted for protesting injustice. Although they were relieved of punishment through clemency, they had been branded as criminals, he said.

"We think the conviction against the university teachers and students will not solve the crisis, rather it will intensify if they are not acquitted from the charges" they said adding that the conviction will create scopes for harassment.

The teachers said they fear the convicted students might face difficulties in getting government jobs and other facilities in future.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Govt must ensure welfare of indigenous people

Speakers tell Gono Gobeshak Confce
Girls from indigenous community perform a dance number at a function marking the Gono Gobeshak Conference at Tanore in Rajshahi.
Speakers at the Gono Gobeshak Conference yesterday said the government must play a major role in ensuring welfare of underprivileged indigenous groups.

They said the achievements of different NGOs in development of neglected indigenous ethnic societies are small in comparison to their huge population. So, government should undertake an initiative to follow the examples of Gono Gobeshak (researchers among rural poor) programme.

Eminent litterateur Prof Hasan Azizul Haque attended the conference as the chief guest while Rabindranath Saren, general secretary, Jatiya Adibashi Parishad, Rina Roy, director (Rights), Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF), and Tanore Upazila Nirbahi Officer Majedur Rahman Khan were present as special guests.

Sharmin Murshid, team leader, Setu Bandhan project of Brotee, chaired the event. Brotee organised the conference in association with MJF at Tanore to mark the third anniversary of Gono Gobeshak programme.

Several hundreds of indigenous and common people from 18 villages at Tanore in Rajshahi and Manda and Mahadevpur in Naogaon districts joined the daylong programme.

Prof Hasan said indigenous people will continue to lose their lands, culture and heritage until a truly pro-people government takes measures to protect them.

The government must take responsibility to ensure primary education for all. Because, all attempts for establishing human rights will be foiled without it, said Prof Hasan, adding that it is shameful to identify human beings as marginal ones.

Rabindranath Saren said no development can sustain without state-protection for the indigenous people.

Miseries of the indigenous people are countless since they fall victim to the land grabbers and influential quarters.

The daylong programme began in the morning with a colourful rally.

Gono Gobeshak team members shared their experiences in self-motivated activities of eradicating poverty, protecting human rights and social reforms.

They revealed how 60-year old Majeda of Sikarpur in Naogaon is now receiving primary education.

They added the common people now respect them while the authorities were forced to provide proper healthcare opportunities.

They also detailed their anti-dowry, anti-child marriage, sanitation and infrastructural development activities.

Cultural presentations by different ethnic groups like Santals, oraons, traditional tribal dances and Bangla and indigenous songs were performed following the discussion.

Eighteen stalls were built at the conference venue for demonstrating elements of traditional Bangalee and indigenous cultures by Gono Gobeshak teams.

Brotee formed Gono Gobeshak teams with 10 young male and female members from both indigenous and Bangalee families in a village. The teams are guided by an advisory committee consisting elderly villagers.
Swiss envoy says in Rajshahi

Swiss ambassador in Bangladesh Dora Rapold yesterday met the business leaders here and exchanged views with them.

She met the business leaders and women entrepreneurs at Rajshahi Chamber of Commerce and Industries (RCCI) Bhaban before ending her three-day tour to Rajshahi.

She said there is a bright prospect for establishing agriculture-based and textile industries in the region.

She also hoped the possibility of Swiss businessmen's investment in Rajshahi.

At that time, Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation (SDC) deputy country director Corinne Huser, RCCI vice president Khondoker Mainul Hossain, directors Hafizur Rahman, Abul Hossain, M Shahidullah and Kabirur Rahman were present.

Later, the business leaders briefed the newsmen about the outcome of her visit. 'When we described the local trading situation, she said the possibility of Swiss businessmen's investment in Rajshahi,' said RCCI leaders.

Earlier, the Swiss envoy met the district administration officials.

Police yesterday arrested two leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh in Puthia upazila in connection with Tk 2 lakh extortion case filed against them.

The arrestees are Rajshahi eastern region Jamaat amir (chief) Moksed Ali, also teacher of Puthia Degree College and chairman of Puthia Islamia Women's College governing body and Bagha upazila Jamaat amir Abdul Mannaf, also principal of Puthia Islamia Women's College, police said.

After arrest, they were produced before a court here. The court sent them to jail custody.

Police said the two were arrested from Puthia Bazaar.

Kamal Uddin, a dismissed teacher of Puthia Islamia Women's College lodged the Tk 2 lakh extortion case against them. He alleged that he was suspended on June 1 last year. The two demanded Tk 2 lakh promising reinstatement in job on August 25.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Switzerland to spend 20m francs annually for dev projects for five yrs

Switzerland to spend 20m francs annually for dev projects for five yrs
Ambassador of Switzerland to Bangladesh Dora Rapold yesterday said her country would spend up to 20 million Swiss francs annually for different development projects for next five years.

"We have defined our priorities which include strengthening of the local government and spreading of education among the rural poor," she said.

"Our second priority will be rural employment and income generating activities apart from funding on micro-credit and small entrepreneur promotion," she added.

Dora was talking to The Daily Star after her visit to some projects involving indigenous groups on fisheries, sanitation and water distribution system at Tanore and Mohonpur upazilas.

"We took Rajshahi and Sunamganj as our priority region considering poverty and great potentials of the areas," she said.

Switzerland is spending about 4 million Swiss francs for 16 development projects in Rajshahi and Sunamganj under Sharique programme in cooperation with Care Bangladesh.
DGFI Vehicle Torching

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Arrest warrant against RU senior teacher

Defamation Suit By VC
Rajshahi Chief Metropolitan Magistrate (CMM) court yesterday issued arrest warrant against a Rajshahi University teacher in a defamation suit filed by the vice-chancellor.

CMM Rejaul Karim issued the arrest warrant against history teacher M Faruk-uz Zaman after police report said that RU VC Prof Dr M Altaf Hossain's allegations against him (Faruk-uz Zaman) made in suit were correct.

In his allegation, the VC said the teacher tried defame him and also threatened him.

Faruk-uz-Zaman on July 7 last year sent memoranda to the Chief Adviser of caretaker government, education adviser, University Grants Commission (UGC) chairman and the RU VC containing allegations of irregularities against the VC and demanding his resignation.

The VC then lodged a defamation suit in August last year, claiming that his reputation as a teacher was damaged by the 'false propaganda' and that he felt threatened.

The court then asked police to probe the matter.

"I lodged the case as a professor, not as the VC. It (the letter) was very offending … His language was so attacking", VC Prof Dr Altaf told The Daily Star yesterday evening.

"My complaint was aimed at ensuring safety of all teachers and fostering good relations among them so that one can respect the other", he said.

Faruk-uz-Zaman, a senior teacher, in his memoranda alleged that the VC recruited more than 500 teachers, officials and employees on political considerations by violating UGC directives.

Appointment of three close relatives of the VC including his son-in-law as lecturers, appointment of pro-Jamaat teacher Prof Nazrul Islam as a professor at the Education and Research Institute, promotion of a pro-Jamaat assistant registrar to the post of registrar without selection committee meeting and re-appointment of some former deans after expiry of their tenure were among the allegations made by Faruk-uz-Zaman, his lawyer Aslam Sarker said.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Bangladsh - Waterworld

Caption: With rising Islamic fundamentalism, weak government, and not enough dry land for its 150 million people, Bangladesh could use
a break. Instead, it must face the catastrophic threat of climate change.

Bangladesh - Waterworld is published in the Monthly Atlantic's January/February 2008 issue
by Robert D. Kaplan

(Robert D. Kaplan is correspondent for The Atlantic and has reported on assignment from Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Latin America, and the United States. Kaplan, is the Class of 1960 Distinguished Visiting Professor in National Security at the U.S. Naval Academy. His latest book is Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts: The American Military in the Air, at Sea, and on the Ground.)

The monsoon arrived while I was in a shallow-draft boat traveling over a village that was now underwater. In its place was a mile-wide channel, created by erosion over the years, separating the mainland of Bangladesh from a char—a temporary delta island that would someday dissolve just as easily as it had formed.

As ink-dark, vertical cloud formations slid in from the Bay of Bengal, waves began slapping hard against the rotting wood of our small boat. Breaking days of dense, soupy heat, rain fell like nails upon us. We started bailing. The boatman, my translator, and I made it to the char before the channel water that was splashing into the hull, heavy with silt, could threaten the boat's buoyancy. It was a lot of work just to see something that was no longer there.

On another day, in order to see a series of dam collapses that had forced the evacuation of more than a dozen villages, I rode on the back of a motorcycle along a maze of embankments framing a checkerwork of paddy fields that glinted in the steamy rain. Again, the sight that greeted me—a few crumbled earthen dams—was not dramatic, unless, that is, you were holding the "before" picture in front of you.

Yet from one end of Bangladesh to the other, I saw plenty of drama, encapsulated in this singular fact: remoteness and fragility of terrain never once corresponded with a paucity of humanity. Even on the chars, I could not get away from people cultivating every inch of alluvial soil. Human beings were everywhere on this dirty wet sponge of a landscape. Squeezed into an Iowa-sized territory—20 to 60 percent of which floods every year—is a population half the size of that in the United States and larger than the one in Russia. Indeed, Bangladesh's Muslim population alone (83 percent of the total) is nearly twice that of either Egypt or Iran. Considered small only because it is surrounded on three sides by India, Ban¬gla¬desh is actually a vast aquascape, where getting around by boat and vehicle, as I learned, can take many days.

I went through towns that had a formal reality as names on a map, but were little more than rashes of rusted-corrugated-iron and bamboo stalls under canopies of jackfruit trees, teeming with men wearing skirt-like lungis and baseball caps and women in burkas that concealed all but their eyes and noses. Between the towns were long lines of water-filled pits, topped with a green froth of hyacinths; the soil had been removed to raise the road a few feet above the unrelieved sea-level flatness. Soil is a commodity so precious in Bangladesh that people dredge riverbeds during the dry season to get more of it. When houses are dismantled, the ground on which they stand is transported through slurry pipes to the new location.

In every respect, people were squeezing the last bit of use out of the land. One day I saw a man carried by on a stretcher moments after he had been mauled by a Royal Bengal tiger. It is not an uncommon occurrence. As fishing communities crowd in on one of the tigers' last refuges in the mangrove swamps of the western Bangladeshi-Indian border area, and as salinity from rising sea levels reduces the deer population on which the tigers feed, man and tiger have nowhere else to go.

The Earth has always been unstable. Flooding and erosion, cyclones and tsunamis are the norm rather than the exception. But never have the planet's most environmentally frail areas been so crowded. The slowdown in the growth rate of the world's population has not changed the fact that the number of people living in the countries most vulnerable to natural disasters continues to increase. The Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004 was merely a curtain-raiser. Over the coming decades, Mother Nature is likely to kill or make homeless a staggering number of people.

American journalists sometimes joke that, in terms of news, thousands of people displaced by floods in Bangladesh equals a handful of people killed or displaced closer to home. But that formula is now as unimaginative and out-of-date as it is cruel.

With 150 million people packed together at sea level, Bangladesh is vulnerable to the slightest climatic variation, never mind the changes caused by global warming. The partial melting of Greenland ice over the course of the 21st century could inundate a substantial amount of Bangladesh with salt water. A 20-centimeter rise in the Bay of Bengal by 2030 could be devastating to more than 10 million people, says Atiq Rahman, executive director of the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies.

While scholars debate the odds of such scenarios, one thing is certain: Bangladesh is the most likely spot on the planet for one of the greatest humanitarian catastrophes in history. The country's future, however, and the fate of its impoverished millions, will be determined not necessarily by rising sea levels, but by their interaction with, among other things, the growth of religious fundamentalism, the behaviour of its neighbours and other outside powers, and the evolution of democracy. So, I came to Bangladesh.

Atop the Bay of Bengal, the numberless braids of the Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Meghna rivers have formed the world's largest, youngest estuarine delta and one of its most dynamic. It is, in effect, the world's biggest flush toilet. Once a year, over the space of four months, God yanks the handle. First comes the snowmelt in the Himalayas, swelling the three great rivers. Then, in June, comes the monsoon from the south, up from the Bay of Bengal.

Calamity threatens when the amount of water arriving by river, sea, or sky is tampered with, whether by God or by humans. India, for example, is appropriating Ganges water for irrigation schemes, limiting freshwater flows into Bangladesh from the north, causing drought. Meanwhile, to the south, in the Bay of Bengal, global warming appears to be causing a rise in sea levels that is bringing salt water and sea-based cyclones farther inland. Salinity—the face of global warming in Bangladesh— threatens trees and crops and contaminates wells. And the less fresh river water that comes down from India, the greater the hydrologic vacuum that sucks salt water northward into the countryside.

Yet Bangladesh is less interesting as a hydrologic horror show than as a model of how humankind copes with an extreme natural environment. Weather and geography have historically worked here to cut one village off from another. Central government arrived only with the Turkic Moguls in the 16th century, but neither they nor their British successors truly penetrated the countryside. The major roads were all built after independence in 1971. This is a society that never waited for a higher authority to provide it with anything. The isolation effected by floodwaters and monsoon rains has encouraged institutions to develop at the local level. As a result, the political culture of rural Bangladesh is more communal than hierarchical, and women play a significant role.

Four hours' drive northwest of Dhaka, the capital, I found a village in a Muslim-Hindu area where the women had organized themselves into separate committees to produce baskets and textiles and invest the profits in new wells and latrines. They had it all figured out, showing me on a crude cardboard map where the new facilities would be installed. They received help from a local nongovernmental organization that, in turn, had a relationship with CARE. But the organizational heft was homegrown.

In a mangrove swamp in the southwest, at a fishing village of bamboo-thatched huts, I watched a local NGO perform a play about climate change. It emphasized the need to conserve rainwater through catchments and to plant trees against erosion. Hundreds of villagers were there. I was the only foreigner. Afterward, they showed me the catchments that they had already built to direct rainwater into their wells.

Through similar bottom-up, purely voluntary means, the total fertility rate in Bangladesh has been cut from seven children born per woman after independence to three now—a striking achievement, given the value placed on children as labourers in a traditional agricultural society. Polio had been eradicated, before a recent reinfection from India. Despite all of Bangladesh's predicaments, it has gone from starving in the mid-1970s to feeding itself for the past two decades.

The credit for coping so well rests ultimately with NGOs. As familiar as their work now is, NGOs in Bangladesh represent a whole new organizational life-form; thousands of them fill the void between village committees and a remote, badly functioning central government.

Of course, this enhanced role raises ethical questions, not least because many of these Bangladeshi humanitarian enterprises have for-profit elements. Take Muhammad Yunus, who, along with his Grameen Bank, won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for pioneering micro-credit schemes for poor women: Grameen also operates a cell-phone and Internet service. Then there is the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee, which, besides doing bounteous relief and development work, operates dairy, poultry, and clothing businesses. Its head offices, like those of Grameen, are in a skyscraper that is some of Dhaka's most expensive real estate. Yet to focus on the impurities of these NGOs is to ignore their transformative powers.

"One thing led to another," explains Mushtaque Chowdhury, BRAC's deputy executive director. "In order not to be dependent on Western charities, we set up our own for-profit printing press in the 1970s. Then we built a plant to pasteurize milk from the cattle bought by poor women with the loans we had provided them." Now they've become a kind of parallel government, with a presence in 60,000 villages.

Just as cell phones have allowed developing countries to make an end run around the need for a hard-wired communications grid, Bangladesh shows how NGOs can make an end run around dysfunctional governments. Because Bangladeshi NGOs are supported by international donors, they have been indoctrinated with international norms to an extent unmatched by the private sector here.

The linkage between a global community on one hand and a village community on the other has made Bangladeshi NGOs intensely aware of the worldwide significance of their country's environmental plight. "Come, come, I will show you the climate change," said Mohon Mondal, a local NGO worker in the southwest, referring to a bridge that had partially collapsed because of rising seawater. To some degree, this awareness feeds a mind-set in which every eroded embankment becomes an indictment against the United States for walking away from the Kyoto accords. (Muslim Bangladeshis are in almost every other way pro-American—the upshot of their historical dislike for their former colonial master, Great Britain; frequent intimidation by nearby India and China; and lingering hostility toward Pakistan stemming from the 1971 war for liberation.) But regardless of the merits of this case, the United States can't just defend its own position. As the world's greatest power, the U.S. must be seen to take the lead against global warming, or suffer the fate of being blamed for it. Bangladesh demonstrates how developing-world misery has acquired—in the form of climate change—a powerful new argument, tied to the more fundamental outcry for justice and dignity.

NGOs would not have such influence in Bangladeshi villages without the country's moderate, syncretic form of Islam. Islam did not arrive in Bengal until the end of the 12th century, when Muslim invaders brought it from the northwest. It is but one element of Bangladesh's rich, heavily Hindu-ized cultural stew. In Muslim Bengali villages, matbors (village leaders) can be weaker than the sheikhs in Arab villages. And below these figureheads, women—whose committee mentality has been both receptive to and empowered by Westernized relief workers—can play a great role.

But this low-calorie version of Islam is giving way to a stark and assertive Wahhabist strain. A poor country that can't say no to money, with an unregulated, shattered coast of islands and inlets, Bangladesh has become a perfect setup for al-Qaeda affiliates, which, like Westernized NGOs, are filling needs unmet by a weak central government. Islamist orphanages, madrasas, and cyclone shelters are mushrooming throughout the country, thanks in part to donations from Saudi Arabia as well as from Bangladeshi workers returning home from the oil-rich Arabian Peninsula.

A decade ago, women in Dhaka and in the port city of Chittagong wore jeans and T-shirts, but more and more they cloak themselves in burkas. Madrasas now outnumber secondary schools, according to Anupam Sen, the vice chancellor of a new private university in Chittagong, who also told me that a new class of society is emerging that is "globally Islamic" rather than "specifically Bengali."

Here is how global warming indirectly feeds Islamic extremism. As rural Bangladeshis flee a countryside ravaged by salinity in the south and drought in the northwest, they are migrating to cities at a rate of 3 to 4 percent a year. Swept into the vast anonymity of sprawling slum encampments, they lose their local and extended-family links, becoming more susceptible to a form of Islam with a sharper ideological edge. "We will not have anarchy at the village level, where society is healthy," warns Atiq Rahman. "But we can have it in the ever-enlarging urban areas." Such is the weakness of central authority in Bangladesh following 15 years of elected governments.

Bangladesh perfectly illustrates the perils of democracy in the developing world. That is because it is not a spectacular failure like Iraq, but one typical of those developing countries that officially subscribe to democracy and pay lip service to liberalism: here, civil-society intellectuals play almost no role in the political process, the army is trusted more than any of the political parties, and everybody—at least everybody I met—dreads elections, which they fear will lead to gang violence. "We have the best constitution, the best laws, but no one obeys them," lamented one businessman. "The best form of government for a country like ours," he went on, "is a military regime in its first year of power. After that, the military fails, too."

The military has become the power behind a caretaker civilian government since the autumn of 2006, when the political system appeared on the brink of chaos, with strikes, demonstrations, a spate of killings, and a stagnant economy. The ruling Bangladesh National Party was in the process of fixing the upcoming election, and the opposition Awami League was planning a series of attacks by armed gangs in return. Up to that point, elections had essentially been contests between these two feudal dynasties: the Awami League, headed by Sheikh Hasina Wazed, the daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, one of Bangladesh's founding fathers who was assassinated in a military coup in 1975; and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, headed by Khaleda Zia, the widow of another of the country's founders, General Ziaur Rahman, who was assassinated in another coup in 1981. The animosity between the two women harks back to their feud over whose family played a greater role in the country's independence struggle, as well as to the pardon Zia's late husband gave to the killers of Hasina Wazed's father.

Because each party is too weak to rule on its own, each has sought alliances with various Islamic groups and turned a blind eye to al-Qaeda affiliates such as Jemaah Islamiyah, which has reportedly used Bangladesh as a transit point and training base. Last March, when the military-backed caretaker government hanged six militants from the Jama'atul-Mujahideen—another local Islamist group responsible for hundreds of terrorist attacks from 2003 through 2005—the conventional wisdom had it that neither party could have carried out the sentence, compromised as each was by its Islamist coalition partners. In the eerie calm of the present moment, with the country more orderly than it has been in years—with no terrorist attacks, no strikes at the ports, army checkpoints everywhere, hundreds of politicians arrested on charges of corruption, and technocrats getting promoted over party hacks—nobody I met wanted a return to the old two-party system, even though no one wanted the military to continue playing such an overt role in the nation's affairs.

For now, the fear that radical Islam will take advantage of a political void keeps the military from returning to the barracks. "But in the long run, we are hostages to democracy," Mahmudul Islam Chowdhury, a former mayor of Chittagong, told me. "Your Westminster–Capitol Hill system won't work here. But we're poor and need aid, and so are required to hold elections." Democracy works in India, Chowdhury explained, because there are so many states and cities where different political parties dominate, so that state and municipal governments thrive alongside the federal one in a multi-tiered system. But in Bangladesh, the central government finds it hard to risk an opposition party's gaining control of one of the two big cities or some of the smaller ones; all power is hoarded in Dhaka. The result is a gap that village committees have filled at the bottom level of government, and NGOs and Islamists are vying to fill in the vast and crucial middle ground.

Barisal, a major river port in southern Bangladesh, offers a case study of the costs of that vacuum: a middle-sized city that reeks of garbage and raw sewage, because treatment plants are inadequate and canals have dried up, and because unauthorized high-rises have brought ever more people into the urban core. Ahmed Kaiser, the district environmental director, was another official who told me, "The laws are just fine. There is just no enforcement." I had walked in on him without an appointment. He did not seem busy. His phone never rang, and there was no evidence of a computer. With electricity cuts throughout the day, use of the Internet is severely limited in Barisal, as in other Bangladeshi cities. He was like many a bureaucrat I encountered, with a spacious office but little effective power. And as his city sprawls around him, its growth driven in large part by rural migrants escaping the flood-ravaged countryside, his job becomes harder still.

For the many rural newcomers to Bangladesh's cities, there is the rickshaw economy, as much an animating force in urban areas as the search for usable soil is in villages. Dhaka alone, a city of more than 10 million people, has several hundred thousand bicycle rickshaws. A rickshaw driver generally pays a rickshaw mastan (a mafia-style gang, often associated with a political party) the equivalent of $1.35 a day to rent the rickshaw. He collects 30 cents from an average passenger and ends up making around a dollar a day in profit. His wife may earn a similar amount breaking bricks into road material, while their children sift through garbage. In a country where 70 percent of the people subsist on less than $2 per day, such is the lot of a typical Bangladeshi family. This economic environment is perfect for the growth of radical Islam, which offers answers and spiritual rewards for suffering that a conviction in voting periodically cannot match. The surprise is not how radical Bangladesh (and much of the developing world) is, but how moderate it remains.

The social cohesion that does exist on the national level is the result of linguistic nationalism, not democracy. Unlike Pakistan or Iraq, this is an ethnically homogeneous country, and Islam is not the glue that holds together disparate groups. Moreover, national identity has been built on a shared history of violent struggle. In 1947, Muslim Bengalis rose up against the British and against India to form East Pakistan. Next came the 1971 liberation war against Muslim West Pakistan, which led to widespread rape and executions committed in Dhaka by a West Pakistani military hell-bent on imposing its Urdu language on the Bengalis. From East Pakistan—the "Land of the [Muslim] Pure"—the country became Bangladesh, the "Land of the Bengals." Language had replaced religion as the society's organizing principle.

But that principle is not inviolable. India, because it occupies most of the subcontinent—between the Himalayas and the Indian Ocean—enjoys a demonstrable geographic logic; not so Bangladesh. Yet as small as Bangladesh is, it is vast in its own right. "Whoever comes to power in Dhaka—democratic, military—neglects us in Chittagong," Emdadul Islam, a local lawyer, complained to me, voicing a sentiment common in the southeastern port city. "We have our own Chittagongian dialect—a mixture of Portuguese, Arakanese, Burmese, Bengali, and so on. Historically, we are as linked to parts of Burma and India as we are to the rest of Bangladesh. Who knows what will happen when Burma one day opens up and we have new road and rail links with India and southwestern China? Give me my fundamental rights and dignity, and I'll love this soil. If not, I don't know." He was not calling for secession. But he was indicating how this artificial blotch of territory on the Indian subcontinent—called in turn Bengal, East Bengal, East Pakistan, and Bangladesh—could metamorphose yet again, amid the gale forces of regional politics, religious extremism, and nature itself.

India and China are nervously watching Bangladesh, for it holds the key to the reestablishment of a long- dormant historical trade route between the two rising behemoths of the 21st century. This route, as the Chittagong lawyer indicated, would pass through Burma and eastern India, before traversing Bangladesh on the way to Kolkata, helping to give China's landlocked southwest its long-sought access to the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean. Whether this happens may hinge on the relationship between the environment and politics in Dhaka. A stable Bangladesh is necessary for this trade route, even though the route may lead, in time, to a weakening of national identity.

Toward the end of my stay in Bangladesh, I was in a bus traveling north from Cox's Bazar in the southeast of the country, near the Indian and Burmese borders, to Chittagong, plowing through one recently formed swamp after another. It was only a week into the monsoon: there'd been no cyclone, no tropical storm, just normal heavy rains and mudslides that had killed more than 120 people in 48 hours. Along the sides of the raised road on which the bus traveled, the tea-collared water reached up to the bottom of corrugated-iron roofs. In other places, men gripped their lungis in waist-deep water. Whole trees were being swept downstream as rivers flowed only a foot or two under bridges. On these bridges, hordes of young men had gathered with ropes, fishing for firewood as it passed beneath. High mounds of wood were piled up, waiting to dry. Even heavier rains would come in July and August.

Society coped as well as it could, often ingeniously. A cascade of cell-phone text messages told of danger ahead. Signal flags had been set up on beaches to forewarn of incoming water. Disaster supplies had been pre-positioned in places as part of an increasingly sophisticated early-warning system. The Bangladeshi army and navy were available in case of major catastrophe. Otherwise, in many ways, it was up to the villages and the NGOs to deal with the natural world.

...taken from the Robin Khundkar's letter at 'Uttorsuri' and blog Bangladesh watchdog

Saturday, January 5, 2008

My Clippings on eve of Irene Khan's visit to Rajshahi

Amnesty International visits Bangladesh

4 January 2008

An Amnesty International delegation, led by Secretary General Irene Khan, is making a special trip to Bangladesh to discuss human rights issues with members of its government, political parties and civil society.

The mission comes on the eve of the anniversary of 2007's declaration of the state of emergency. It is the first visit of an Amnesty International Secretary General to the country. The spotlight will be on the rule of law, with special focus on the institutional changes necessary to promote and protect human rights in Bangladesh.

Representatives of the delegation will visit Dhaka and Rajshahi and will meet with survivors of human rights violations and members of civil society. They will meet senior members of the caretaker government, including the Chief Adviser Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed, the Adviser on Foreign Affairs, Dr. Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury, and Adviser of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, Barrister Mainul Hosein.

The time of the meeting with General Moeen U Ahmed, the Chief of Army Staff, is still to be confirmed.

Mission highlights:
Saturday 5 January DHAKA
The delegation will meet with NGOs and other members of civil society to discuss the current human rights situation within the country.

Sunday 6 January RAJSHAHI
The delegation will carry out a field visit to Rajshahi, the scene of anti-government protests in August 2007.

The delegation will visit projects by BRAC (an international development organization) in Tangail and Rajshahi, focussing on their human rights, legal services, microfinance, health, education programmes.

Tuesday 8 January DHAKA
Irene Khan will meet Dr. Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury (Adviser on Foreign Affairs).

Irene Khan will deliver the keynote address at the event "Human rights: countering the disappointment of democracy" organized by Daily Star/Prothom Alo.

Wednesday 9 January DHAKA
Irene Khan will meet Barrister Mainul Hosein (Adviser of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs) and Dr Fakhruddin Ahmed (Chief Advisor of caretaker government).

Irene Khan will launch Amnesty International's new Bangla website during a discussion on freedom of expression.

Thursday 10 January DHAKA
Irene Khan will hold a press conference at the Sheraton Hotel, Dhaka, to present the findings of her visit.

About Bangladesh

Amnesty International calls for thorough unrestricted inquiry into violations by security forces

Fear for safety/torture/prisoner of conscience: Jahangir Alam Akash (m)

Death in custody and reports of torture

Fear of torture/Possible prisoner of conscience: Tasneem Khalil (m)\n\n

Further information on fear of torture/Possible prisoner of conscience: Tasneem Khalil (m) \n\n

Like most other countries in the world, Bangladesh has produced a fine number of influential and famous people. Amongst these is an individual known for her humanitarian spirit, Irene Khan. Currently the Secretary General of Amnesty International, Bangladeshi Irene Khan is making a difference in the world and the people of her homeland can beam with pride when they think of her achievements.

Irene Zubaida Khan was born in the Bangladesh city of Dhaka on 24 December 1956. During her youth Bangladesh had just received independence and was a struggling, poverty-stricken country, racked with the pains of civil war. Although part of a wealthier family, Irene Khan was terribly aware of the injustices and abuse of human rights going on around her, thus a keen interest to protect people from such violations developed in her. In time, her family had to move to Northern Ireland. After completing school she decided to study law at the fine University of Manchester as well as Harvard Law School where she went on to specialize in public international law and human rights.

In 1977 Irene Khan assisted in the establishment of Concern Universal. Following that, in 1979, she joined the International Commission of Jurists as a dedicated human rights activist. Always eager to do more, Khan went on to become part of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the year 1980. She was given the privilege in 1995 of becoming the UNHCR Chief of Mission in India. Then, in 1998, she took the lead at the UNHCR's Center for Research and Documentation. Always eager to assist others, Irene Khan led an important mission during the 1999 Kosovo crisis. That same year she was assigned the role of Deputy Directory of International Protection.

Khan's amazing humanitarian career didn't stay there. In August 2001 she was appointed seventh Secretary General of Amnesty International. She stands out as the first women, first Muslim and first Asian to hold this position. Certainly she has proved herself a real asset. Right from the word "go" Irene Khan has done much to improve the operations of Amnesty International, beginning with the organizations response to crises. She has promoted women's rights in Pakistan, revealed human rights violations in Australia, assisted victims of ethnic strife in Burundi and addressed the issue of discrimination against the mentally disabled in Bulgaria, plus much more.

Irene Khan has received much deserved recognition for her fine deeds. She was honored with a Ford Foundation Fellowship. In 2002 she was the recipient of the Pilkington "Woman of the Year" Award. Then in 2006 she was awarded the Sydney Peace Prize. Khan has also received academic awards and she was given an institutional honorary doctorate by the Ghent University in 2007. Indeed, Irene Khan is making a big difference in the world today and Bangladeshis can think of her with pride.

Irene Zubaida Khan, born December 24, 1956 in Dhaka, East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), is the Secretary General of Amnesty International, a human rights organization. She is the seventh Secretary General.[1]

Early years

Khan grew up in a relatively wealthy family in what was then the eastern, Bengali-speaking wing of Pakistan which was racked by poverty and civil war. During her upbringing, East Bengal was fighting for independence from Pakistan. Human rights abuses that occurred during the Bangladesh Liberation War in which the secessionists achieved independence, helped shape teenage Khan's activist viewpoint. She left Bangladesh as a teenager for school in Northern Ireland.[citation needed] Irene then went to England and studied law at the Victoria University of Manchester and then, in the United States, at Harvard Law School. She specialised in public international law and human rights, graduating in 1978. [2]

Human Rights Career

Irene helped to create the organisation Concern Universal in 1977, an international development and emergency relief organisation working in partnership with Children in Crossfire. She began her career as a human rights activist with the International Commission of Jurists in 1979.

Irene went to work at the United Nations in 1980. She spent 20 years at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In 1995 she was appointed UNHCR Chief of Mission in India, becoming the youngest UNHCR country representative at that time.

During the Kosovo crisis in 1999, Irene led the UNHCR team in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. This led to her being appointed as Deputy Director of International Protection later that year. [3]

[edit] Amnesty International career

Khan joined Amnesty International in August 2001 as its Secretary General. She is the first woman, the first Asian, and the first Muslim to hold the position of Amnesty International Secretary General.[1] In her first year of office she reformed Amnesty's response to crisis situations and initiated a global campaign against violence towards women.

[edit] Awards

Khan received a Ford Foundation Fellowship and the Pilkington "Woman of the Year" Award 2002[1] as well as the Sydney Peace Prize 2006. In 2007 she received an institutional honorary doctorate at the Ghent University.[citation needed]


Bangladesh: Amnesty International calls for thorough unrestricted inquiry
into violations by security forces

In a letter to Bangladesh's leader, Chief Adviser Dr Fakhruddin Ahmed,
Amnesty International called on the authorities to ensure that all
violations reported in the context of recent student unrest are thoroughly
investigated and those responsible brought to justice.

In the letter, Amnesty International refers to a newly established judicial
investigation by Justice Habibur Rahman Khan which is to submit its
findings to the government on 11 September 2007.

The organization calls on the government to ensure that the inquiry is
fully independent, has access to all persons and information that it
considers relevant to its inquiries, and is able to ensure protection of
witnesses. The inquiry's conclusions and recommendations should be made
public, and the government should issue a public response indicating the
steps it will take to implement recommendations made by the inquiry.

The letter from Amnesty International's Secretary General Irene Khan comes
after reports of excessive use of force by security personnel following
outbreaks of violence involving student demonstrators and law enforcement
personnel in Dhaka and several other cities between 20 and 22 August, 2007.

Use of excessive force by police as well as reports of torture and
ill-treatment of detainees while being interrogated by law enforcement
personnel is deeply concerning. Detainees have also been denied access to
lawyers and family members in clear violation of international human rights

Demonstrations occurred after an altercation between students and military
personnel attending a soccer match at Dhaka University on 20 August, which
resulted in a number of students being beaten by soldiers. In subsequent,
often violent, protests hundreds were reportedly injured as law enforcement
personnel used batons, rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse
demonstrators. At least one person was killed after being hit by a rubber
bullet at Rajshahi University on 22 August, according to media reports.
Several law enforcement personnel were also injured by stones and bricks
thrown by protestors.

The organization also urged the authorities to take concrete measures with
regard to the reports of torture and ill-treatment of detainees at the
hands of members of the security forces. Amnesty International expressed
concern for those detained and for extended periods denied access to
lawyers and family members, including Dhaka University professors Harun ur
Rashid and Anwar Hossain, and Rajshahi University professors Sayedur Rahman
Khan, Abdus Sobhan and Moloy Kumar Bhowmik.

Public Document
For more information please call Amnesty International's press office in
London, UK, on +44 20 7413 5566
Amnesty International, 1 Easton St., London WC1X 0DW. web:

2006 a crucial year for HR, democracy
Irene Khan tells The Daily Star about Bangladesh
Julfikar Ali Manik and Shamim Ashraf

Amnesty International (AI) Secretary General Irene Khan who has just been offered a second stint in office sees 2006 as a crucial year for political developments centring the forthcoming general election as uncertainty is rife about the election being held in a free and fair manner.

"This year is crucial for Bangladesh also economically and socially," the Bangladesh-born AI chief said in an interview with The Daily Star Wednesday during her stay in Dhaka on a family visit.

She strongly criticised the Bangladesh government for failure to check rampant corruption and human rights abuses in different spheres of the society, and for failure to form a human rights commission, an independent judiciary, and an accountable administration.

Irene discussed in detail her points on political crisis, rise of militancy, human rights condition, government's attitude to global human rights bodies' recommendations, repression on the minorities, extra-judicial killings, and trial of war criminals.

"Private sector is doing well and there are some positive trends. Bangladesh came out of WTO not with a good record and there was quite a lot criticism that Bangladesh actually did not negotiate well," she said.

The AI chief observed that the coming year is significant because some tensions with fundamentalist trends are emerging and clashing with the traditional secular and tolerant tendencies in the country.

In the political field, the big test is going to be the election, she said. "Many are saying whether the election will be held at all and if held, whether it'll be free and fair and what will be the consequences if it is not free and fair."

A sense of uncertainty and unease is widespread over holding of the election, she noted.

She said she fears there will be an increase in human rights violation in the build-up to the next election over the opposition's threat not to take part in the polls without reforms in electoral and caretaker government systems, and the apprehension about coming of a third force.

"People will take to the streets, there will be more demonstrations, more violence, one party against the other or other elements coming in that case. So, the risk of violence and human rights abuses will be high in this process," she said.

For human rights to thrive, a good strong democracy is a must and free and fair elections are a prerequisite to the democracy, she said. "You need simultaneously an independent judiciary, a dynamic civil society, free media and an accountable administration, none of which are existing in a perfect state here in Bangladesh."

Continues she: "Election process is being challenged for various reasons. Independence of the judiciary has been a big issue. "We're in a situation of a democracy that is emerging and at risk."

"I still hope our political leaders, in power and seeking power, will show political maturity. They will give us the leadership so that we can hope 2007 will give us a stronger democracy."

It is possible only if the leaders believe and hold themselves accountable to the people, she said, adding: "Accountability doesn't come just by dropping a paper in the ballot box once in five years. It's a process. Where is justice of attack on rights activists, politicians and political leaders, murder of people like Kibria and Ivy Rahman, attacks on common people and journalists?

"There should be trial and just trial for injustices and the government has to be open to the people and there should be parliamentary scrutiny, which is also missing in our system."

She said she hopes the political parties, international community and the government will sit together and work out a solution that'll respect human rights.

Asked about the possibility of a third force emerging if the situation worsens, she said, "I don't think people of Bangladesh will accept any situation where their rights are going to be trampled again, the political rights for example. I think the leaders know it. Whatever third force they might be, is also aware of it, I suspect."

"But what happens if the political process itself is corrupted? If a government comes through an election not held in a free and fair manner and if it's not able to govern the country properly? That'll be even more dangerous," the AI boss said.

"I think this government could have done many things, they came with a very powerful mandate. This is time for this government to put in place some lasting institutions. Another significance is how this government wants to be judged," she said.

Irene identified people's growing awareness about human rights and mobilisation for themselves at different levels, flourishing civil society organisations and performance of private enterprises as positive trends.

"The great concern for human rights situation is impunity, absence of trial of injustice. The poison of impunity is deep-rooted in Bangladesh, right from the beginning. Many injustices have taken place since 1971 and trial of none of these has been made.


On coming to power, political parties think they got the people's mandate to rule without scrutiny, which simply cannot be acceptable in a democracy, she said.

"There is barely any parliamentary scrutiny or accountability to people, and corruption is rife. This sort of bad governance makes it very difficult for people to exercise their human rights. Misgover-nance is ruining the hopes of ordinary people," she said, stressing the need for proper institutions of governance and human rights.

The administration is getting worse in terms of governance and this has been consistently the pattern, she said, adding, "And this is where private enterprise and actors are stepping in to fill that vacuum."

The AI and international community will keep a close watch on the minority issue in the coming year because of the upcoming elections and the Bangladesh government is aware of it, she said.

"The government has taken an ambivalent view on the Ahmadiyya issue, sometimes we see them stopping the anti-Ahmadiyya activists but in other times they turn a blind eye. Our position is very clear, the government is bound to protect everyone within its territory from human rights violations."

First the government launched the Operation Clean Heart and then introduced the Rab. "This is not the way. The guilty people also have human rights and have to be tried justly. When you bring the army in and people get killed, people do not get justice. The army was given indemnity. This is not the way to administer law and order."

"The government has to work within the law to improve law and order. How can it expect the people to have confidence in the rule of law when the government itself has no confidence in the rule of law?" she observed.

The AI chief said it is worrying that the government is not paying heed to the concern of the AI and other rights organisations. "We had requested the present and past governments to put in place human rights institutions, national human rights commission. Both the last government and present government had promised to do it, but they didn't."

"Governments generally tend to believe that they need to control when there is any security problem and the global tendency is to reduce liberty and restrict human rights to increase security," she said, talking about newly introduced tele-tapping law.

"There is provision of restriction in human rights system in the cases of emergency and other situation as well. The way tele-tapping is being done is a matter of concern to me. There is no proper scrutiny, no debate in the parliament, whose phone is being tapped, and there is no system of redress. There is no protection of the individual," she added.

"There is a civil society and not-so-civil society and that's why we've seen the militancy. The vacuum that has been created because there is no governance which provides a space for bad elements to indulge in violence," Irene said.

Government first ignored the issue, then did nothing, and then is doing something half-heartedly, she noted. "Although these elements are few, their influence appears much because of the way the government is dealing it. I think the government needs to take it very seriously and get to the roots of the problem. So far their tendency is only to deal with the symptoms."

"The whole world is watching how the government deals with the militants because so far it was in a state of denial. The test will be in 2006 of what action the government takes and how effective those steps would be."

"The militants are trying to restrict tolerance and diversity. They are trying to restrict the space for liberal and alternative thinking," she said.

But Irene sees no success for the militants. "I don't think any kind of extremist ideology will succeed. Because people of Bangladesh are tolerant, there is diversity here. The militants can't destroy everything and take us back 500 years. What can happen is an increase in fear, insecurity and instability."

On international link, she said, "I don't know if there is an international link or not, but we should solve the problems inside the country. If our own house is in order, no foreign power can do anything to us."

Asked to comment on government reaction of expelling Abu Hena MP for his statement about militant network, she said, "Instead of being transparent, the government goes after whistleblowers like Abu Hena."

Irene finds it 'very important' to deal with the issue of war crime because international human rights trends are now towards justice and ending impunity.

"The wounds need to be healed, not to divide the country but to bring people together and provide them justice, so that people can forgive and move on," she said.

If the Bangladesh government feels it is going to be a very tricky situation to deal with, it can invite the UN Human Rights Comm-ission and other international bodies that have experience and seek their advice, she said.

The government has to be aware that others cannot create its image. "It is the government who has the power to create its image or destroy it; others simply reflect and expose it. So, the responsibility has to lie with the government," she observed.

A ruling government cannot use others as an excuse not to discharge its own responsibility. "If it does so, it admits its own failure. If it accuses others of doing something that means the government is not capable of running its affairs," she said, adding that what the government is doing is putting pressure on the media not to expose the situation as it sees.

Irene finds 2005 a mixed year. But the trend is in favour of Human Rights in the long run. "Even the most powerful country in the world was put on the docks of global conscience. Bangladesh cannot buck the trend, because the government will face the same pressures." "We're not in a hopeless situation in Bangladesh. I've found a growing awareness and maturity among the cross section of people here. The question is whether our leaders will show the same political maturity."

Irene Zubaida Khan is secretary general of Amnesty International, in London.

Irene Khan was born in Dhaka (now capital of Bangladesh, but then in East Pakistan) in 1957, into a relatively wealthy family — her father was a doctor and her grandfather was a lawyer who had gone to England at the age of 14 and studied law at Cambridge University before returning to what was then British India.

Khan grew up East Pakistan and in Northern Ireland where she was sent in 1973 by her family to study for her A-levels. She says that:

"I went from one civil war situation to another – it was pretty violent at that time in Northern Ireland. I went to a Roman Catholic boarding school in County Down and my sister went to the state-run school, which in those days was mainly Protestant, so the two of us have a rather different experience of Northern Ireland."

Khan joined Amnesty International as the organization's seventh Secretary General in August 2001. She was the first woman, the first Asian and the first Muslim to guide the world's largest human rights organization.

In her first year in office, Khan led high level missions to Pakistan during the bombing of Afghanistan, to Israel/Occupied Territories just after the Israeli occupation of Jenin, and to Colombia before the Presidential elections in May 2003. She called for better protection of women's human rights in meetings with President Musharraf of Pakistan, President Lahoud of Lebanon and Prime Minister Khaleda Zia of Bangladesh. She has initiated a process of consultations with women activists to design a global campaign by Amnesty International against violence on women.

Khan has been keen to draw attention to hidden human rights violations. In Australia, she drew attention to the plight of asylum seekers in detention. In Burundi, she met with victims of massacres and urged President Buyoya and other parties to the conflict to end the cycle of human rights abuse. In Bulgaria, she led a campaign to end discrimination of those suffering from mental disabilities.

Interested in working directly with people to change their lives, Khan helped to found the development organization, Concern Universal, in 1977, and began her work as a human rights activist with the International Commission of Jurists in 1979.

Khan joined the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in 1980, and worked in a variety of positions at Headquarters and in field operations to promote the international protection of refugees. From 1991-95 she was Senior Executive Officer to Mrs. Sadako Ogata, then UN High Commissioner for Refugees. She was appointed as the UNHCR Chief of Mission in India in 1995, the youngest UNHCR country representative at that time, and in 1998 headed the UNHCR Centre for Research and Documentation. She led the UNHCR team in Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia during the Kosovo crisis in 1999, and was appointed Deputy Director of International Protection later that year.

Khan studied law at the University of Manchester and Harvard Law School, specialising in public international law and human rights. She is the recipient of several academic awards, a Ford Foundation Fellowship, and the Pilkington "Woman of the Year" Award 2002.