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By Saleem Samad   
Tuesday, 18 March 2008
Article Index
The International Audit of Bangladesh
Page 2

Bangladesh for obvious reasons is under renewed scrutiny by global watchdogs, think tanks, and the international press. This is not just because of more than a year of emergency rule, but also due to recent dramatic political developments toward democratic transitions in several countries, including Thailand, Nepal and Pakistan. Expectations have risen for Bangladesh.

Around Bangladesh, political observers see optimistic developments, perhaps light at the end of the tunnel. The Nepalese are preparing to change their century-old kingdom into a republic. Thai military generals have vowed to not interfere in the polity and have returned to the barracks, though they’ve left behind institutions for influencing internal security. In Pakistan, after decades of military subjugation, there is a change of heart—forced in no small part by a change of heart in the US administration—among the Generals, who have conceded their failure to manage the country.

An overall estimate

Global watchdogs are keenly observing the reforms agenda in Bangladesh toward a transition to democracy. And none of them seems happy. Despite a year of anti-corruption and anti-crime drives by the interim government, Bangladesh is still placed toward the bottom on the list of world’s most corrupt nations. The Global Integrity Report 2007 stated that Bangladesh’s caretaker government had failed to deliver the wishful target it had set about reducing corruption and increasing accountability. Accountability at all levels—executive, legislative, judicial—was rated as very weak, even though laws were strong. The Global Integrity Report pointed out that the military is routinely involved in government affairs.

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Global watchdogs are increasingly critical of the caretaker government's disregard for human rights and due process.
Similarly, Washington based Freedom House in its Freedom In The World 2008 report says that Bangladesh experienced a reversal due to the introduction of emergency rule in January, the suspension of scheduled elections, and the curtailment of civil liberties and press freedom, were identified as severe blow on good governance and democracy.

Religious freedom has never improved since previous military rulers declared Islam the state religion two decades ago. Persecution of religious minorities like the Hindus, Ahmadiyya Muslim, Buddhists, Christians and cultural minorities (animists) in Modhupur, Sylhet and Chittagong Hill Tracts have continued unabated. It was expected that after the military returned to power in early 2007, the status of religious freedom may improve. But the predators remain loose, and even in 2008, Bangladesh remains in the watch list of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. (1)

So far, no notable initiative has been taken by the quasi-military government to ensure transparency in governance. With no real improvement in weak institutions, the Failed States Index, published by Foreign Policy / Fund for Peace, placed Bangladesh among the 20 most unstable and highest risk countries, next to Burma, Uganda, Nigeria, and Ethiopia.

The slide in human rights

More troubling are the problems regarding human rights and democracy. In its “Human Rights Report 2007,” local watchdog Odhikar has written flatly: “Human rights situation deteriorated sharply in Bangladesh in 2007.” This not just because fundamental rights remain suspended, but also because the anti-corruption and anti-crime drives are being used “as nothing more than a tool to reform the political parties to its [i.e., the government’s] liking.” (2)

Amnesty International made a high profile visit to Bangladesh in January. The delegation, headed by Amnesty’s Secretary General, made similar observations about “new patterns of manipulating due process.” It also noted with concern the “creeping role of the armed forces in a range of functions, with no clear rules of accountability.” (3)

In February, a group of British and European parliamentarians visited Bangladesh in order to encourage the return to democracy through holding free and fair elections. They also expressed “deep concern over the human rights abuses.” (4) 

The same month, Human Rights Watch published a scathing criticism of severe abuses by “Bangladesh’s notorious military intelligence agency.” It pointed out that “the government has routinely used torture to extract confessions,” and that it has protected abusers. Its Asia director asked, “Are they reformers, or do they just say they are reformers?” (5)

In March, the US Department of State submitted to Congress its annual report on human rights in different countries. It gave similar conclusions about Bangladesh’s record in 2007: “The government's human rights record worsened, in part due to the state of emergency and postponement of elections.” It noted how the government has restricted freedom of press, freedom of association, the right to bail, and due process, with political discrimination and “serious abuses, including custodial deaths, arbitrary arrest and detention, and harassment of journalists.” (6)

Law, order, justice

It will be incorrect to think that all of these are new. DGFI, the dreaded security service at the center of many abuses, operated unhindered during the elected governments of Khaleda Zia (1991-1996, 2001-2007) and Shiekh Hasina (1996-2001). Like in Pakistan, interference by state security agency jeopardised the transition of democracy, even after last military dictator General Ershad quit power in 1990 in the face of violent street protests.

The last elected government headed by BNP gave unprecedented powers to elite law-and-order agencies, using them politically and frequently. The current government also uses the same techniques. “Joint Forces,” a combination of uniformed military officers, the anti-crime squads and elite police are given the responsibility in implement the government’s anti-crime campaign, in which hundreds of suspects have been tortured and killed in custody. The differences between then and now are twofold: whatever rights people had before have all been extinguished, and there is no accountability whatsoever for the government’s actions.

The judiciary is yet to demonstrate that it is independent of government influence, or that the security agencies are not intimidating the magistrates and judges. Most of the District Magistracy and Speedy Trial Court judgements are glaring examples of government interferences. The judgements are arbitrary, illogical and mysterious, based often on forced confessions and fictitious estimates—and each and every one of the 61 verdicts given in the high profile cases so far have gone in favour of the government. As a dismayed newspaper editorial observed recently: “the prosecution, i.e. the present regime, has been able to ensure a near perfect conviction success rate … Even the best prosecution lawyers around the world cannot boast such a conviction success rate" (New Age, 25 February 2008).

To conclude, Bangladesh’s present military-driven government has made many promises and taken many initiatives, but failed to perform neutrally and satisfactorily, with good governance, transparency and accountability.

Supporters of the government usually respond to this allegation in two ways. First, they accuse all critics of “tarnishing the image of the country,” as if performance is nothing and image is everything. Second, they say that it is too early to judge them: they have not been given a fair chance or enough time to clean up all the mess that Bangladesh was in. The first accusation has no substance. To the second accusation we say, the job of the caretaker government, by Constitution, is to hold elections toward a return to democracy. Their job is not to fix everything in the country, and claiming to fix everything an ominous excuse to hold on to power.


(1) Annual Report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom 2007
(2) Odhikar, Human Rights Concerns 2007 (Dhaka: Odhikar, 2008)
(3) Amnesty International, “One Year On: Human Rights in Bangladesh under the State of Emergency,” 10 January 2008
(4) “British, EU MPs for lifting emergency,” The Daily Star, February 27, 2008.
(5) Human Rights Watch
(6) US Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2007 - Bangladesh


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Comments (31)
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1. 19-03-2008 09:41
 
things are not good in my beloved homeland. i was very alarmed whan i read about now they're removing high court judges because the judges are giving verdicts against the government
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munir
2. 21-03-2008 05:26
 
I find your website quite useful. Thank you.  
Prof. Bijon B. Sarma 
Khulna University 
Bangladesh.
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3. 22-03-2008 04:28
 
"The taste of the pudding is in eating it",and by this count the "Emergency" of 1/11 2006 has been unable to deliver to the man on the street the boon of the "Anti-Corruption" drive that had been the stated cause for the 1/11 change. 
 
Nothing much has indeed changed, except for one lot of looters and perpetrators of corruption and injustice being replaced by another set! 
 
Emergency and its draconial dictats by way of "Ordinances" are directly antithetical to the tenets, procedures and practices of Democracy. The Devil's advocate (advocatus diaboli) can hardly indeed offer deliverances for a journey into the promised land of democracy, fundamental human rights, et cetera. 
 
The Emergency having been in place for about 13 months now bely transparency and accountability that paradoxically went even with a flawed and corrupt Democracy. Emergency and its shackles of extra-judicial rule by arbitrary and self-righteous assertions at gun point, or by brute force, by the "Servants of the State" point more towards the apotheosis of a "failed State" than did the cantankerous and corrupt "Democracy " of the politicians. 
 
Politicians of old did have power and corruption, sprinkled with poor governance, if at all. The rulers of "Emergency" in Bangladesh since 1/11 have all the explosive ingredients of absolute power and monopolistic corruption duly accompanied by no governance at all! If these syndromes reflect Acton's dictum - "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely", then the absence of transparency and accountability in this extra-Constitutional Government in Bangaldesh bespeaks of wholsale corruption and misrule behind the curtain of invincibility that the "Emergency" lends to the present government! Facts that deny the advocates, actors and supporters of the 1/11 change any moral and legal right to govern.
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4. 23-03-2008 10:33
 
why internatinal organizations still monitoring bangladesh? goverment recently warned them, don't interfere in bangladesh internal affairs.
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noname
5. 27-03-2008 22:16
 
the CTG has made the checks and balance process in bangladesh worse. the acc is nothing both another harrasment apparatus of bangladesh government right now.
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6. 06-04-2008 03:35
 
ACC is not taking any steps to investigate cooruption in the army. Syed iskendar was allowed to leave the country only because he is an ex-army person and he is brother in law of General Masud.
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7. 06-04-2008 03:49
 
Genral Muin is a corrupt person. How could he repay Tk. 10,000,000 loan to Trust Bank (a bank owned by the army) in one year's time ? Where did he get the money from?
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Giasuddin
8. 06-04-2008 03:58
 
Present government is the most effecient government in the history of Bangladesh. It failed to curb corruption. It also failed to stop price hike of essential commodities.
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Shaila
9. 20-04-2008 10:38
 
Like the adage goes: it's easy to bandy around opinions from the outside when you are outside the storm. 
 
The current government has done more for the people of Bangladesh in its short time than the previous 'democratically elected' governments have ever sought. 
 
It's all too easy for western NGOs and NRBs to criticise the current administration for not being elected by the people. However, your average layman on the street and the middle class are much better off today than they were previously - both in terms of security (a self-evident right) and bureaucracy. This is a reality at ground level. Those who bemoan and yearn for the BNP and AW invariably have vested interests in derailing the process being implemented by the CTG. 
 
It is unfortunate that during the tenure of this CTG, Bangladesh has been hit by waves of bad weather and poor harvest. Couple this with the global 'credit crunch' and rising oil and food prices worldwide, the Bangladeshi people have fared bad and many people have doed as a result. This is a very unfortunate coincidence; however, to say it is the fault of the CTG is preposterous. 
 
I have full confidence in the current administration and from the depths of my heart I pray that the previous leaders (both political and business) are held to full account for looting our country and plunging the land into chaos for decades for their own gains. 
 
Not only do I want financial accountability, I want every previous leader to be held accountable for the many innocent people they have lynched - directly or indirectly. No one man's life is worth more than another's. Also, that those convicted be permanently barred from holding public office. 
 
Like Guevara once said, "I'd rather die on my feet than live on my knees".
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Bengali
10. 21-01-2009 13:10
 
some bangladeshi ahmadiyya denger in france it because france government no except them.
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11. 30-03-2009 21:37
 
THE NEW LOAD-SHEDDING OFFICER  
 
 
NEW LOAD-SHEDDING OFFICER : 
Load shedding is not a new phenomenon. It evolved on the day electricity was produced. Load shedding takes place not only when the load exceeds the limit production, but also when there is less of production for one or more reasons. During Pakistan period, however, load shedding for one or half hour used to take place only at certain time of the day. Quite often it took at 8.00 in the evening. In such a situation, a new profession with the title “load shedding officer” appeared in Dhaka city. At that time chargeable lights were not in use. So, as soon as there was load shedding people started looking for candles and matches. The few moments required for this purpose created the only scope of the day for the above professionals. Every evening they used to roam in busy spots or enter in important shops. The time the bigger hands of the clock was nearing twelve, they also would be nearing valuable items like the cash box, a lady’s purse, ear-ring etc. Then, on the auspicious moment all lights were gone, there were sounds of men searching for match, cigarette lighter etc. After some lights were re-established a lady discovered her purse to have vanished, a customer to handover money to the cashier and the cashier to have empty hand etc. At that time “load shedding officer” turned to a popular and familiar term in the country.  
 
Then, because of no use for a long time, the term turned obsolete. This was the period when luck was not in favour of such professionals. At this time rechargeable lights, that could work within the fraction of a second appeared in the scene, (some shops even kept such lights on) and timing of load shedding became uncertain.  
 
Long after that, most recently, I mean to say in March 2009 we were fortunate to see one such “load shedding officer”. By the second half of 2008 it was being understood that the latest ``Paper-wealth`` game played by the US capitalists would soon attain its success. At the end of the year the great recession became ripe in the developed countries. So, 2009 was the year when recession was expected to travel the developing countries like Bangladesh. All who were scared to think of its consequences became busy in thinking, what to do. At this time the new load-shedding officer chalked out his golden plan. At the golden time, after sincere hospitality in costly hotel and adoring the honourable guest with the nicest adjectives, the new load-shedding officer proposed for sanction of an enormous sum as `bailout program` for the garments industry. After the meeting the new officer even disclosed to the newsmen that the prime minister `nearly consented`. One patriotic leader however, expressed a different opinion that acted like instant appearance of light to scare the LS officer.  
 
If the rich countries suffer from economic recession the suffering people would naturally observe austerity. In place of buying shirts every month they would naturally wash their old ones again and again (A recently published book has suggested to use clothes till those are worn). Naturally that would reduce their import of clothes. If the garments find problem, the first persons to face the problem would be the workers. Do any intelligent person ever believe that the garments owners would keep the workers in pay role when they would lose market ? One has to keep in mind that they are the people who constructed their headquarter building by ignoring the government rules and even ignoring the natural drainage requirement of Dhaka city.  
 
Even though no one instantly lighted the match, the mission of the new load-shedding officer could not come out successful. Even though we heard from him that he prime minister ”nearly consented”, later we saw no indication of that. On the other hand the government has taken up the right decision to help the affected garments workers. Thus a big amount of the country’s hard earned money was saved only because “the prime minister was reluctant to instantly accept the grand proposal” given by the great man.  
 
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------  
Prof. Bijon B. Sarma, Head Architecture Discipline, Khulna University, Khulna, Bangladesh.
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