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Archive for the ‘Asia’ Category

India follows suit

Jul 22,2006

Following the Bangladesh government’s condemnation of Israeli action, India has now for the first time criticised Israel since the conflict began. READ HERE.

India, like Bangladesh, has thousands of migrant workers in Lebanon and they have been forced to flee. According to the article, Sri Lanka has about 90,000 workers.

And here is a deshi blog which urges India to do its neighbours what Israel is doing to its neighbours. Old Niraj is “looking on with envy” at the death and destruction and wistfully wishes India could do the same. Sad git.

While much of the world looks on in horror as Israel bombs Lebanon, many people in India just look on with envy, wondering why India cannot respond in kind after the train bombings in Mumbai……all the Indian government has to offer is the wringing of hands, the usual palliatives about standing firm in the face of evil and incessant vows to capture the culprits. Used so often, these statements have become clichés.

Letter writing season continues

May 12,2006

L K Advani

Old L K Advani, not someone one would usually associate with an ecumenical approach, has written a letter to Manmohan Singh suggesting a tri-nation - Pakistan, Bangladesh and India - commemoration of the ‘great patriotic rising’ of 1857. If this perfectly good proposal had come from anywhere else no one would have batted an eyelid. My take on it is that the BJP head honcho wants to be remembered as a statesman. Some chance, mate.

I must say this spring season has seen a flurry of letter writing . First there was the exchange between the BNP and the Awami League, then there was the letter from Ahmadinejad to George Bush and now this. What next?

May 5,2006

Don’t you just love ranking tables? Here is a ranking table to sink your teeth into. The Foreign Policy Magazine has just published its annual index of FAILED STATES. Yipee! And is Bangladesh in the top 10? No amazingly it is not. However that place we were once attached to and which curiously calls itself Pakistan is one of the top 10 failed states. Nothing surprising there. But get this, Bangladesh is more of a failed state than Nepal and Sri Lanka. Yes it looks like Khaleda is doing worse than King Gyanendra! Not only that, even though hundreds have died in Sri Lanka in the last month alone and even though both the government and the Tamil Tigers have been going mental, Zia’s management of the country is still worse than Sri Lanka’s ! Goodness me, this government needs to get another image lobbyist pronto!

Pakistan - 9th place
Myanmar - 18th place
Bangladesh - 19th place
Nepal - 20th place
Sril Lanka - 25th place
India - 93rd place

In case you are wondering what a failed state is :

a failing state is one in which the government does not have effective control of its territory, is not perceived as legitimate by a significant portion of its population, and does not provide domestic security or basic public services to its citizens.

The survey uses 12 indicators to measure failure, including criminalisation or delegitimisation of the state, security apparatus as “state within a state,” rise of factionalised elites, intervention of other states or external actors, legacy of vengeance-seeking group grievance, chronic and sustained human flight, and uneven economic development. (via Times of India)

And more comparative rankings: The US Commission on International Religious Freedom has included Pakistan and Burma in a list of eleven nations which give cause for “particular concern” for violations of religious freedom. Bangladesh is in a group of nations where “discrimination, intolerance and other human rights violations affect a broad spectrum of religious groups.”

May 4,2006

Safia Minney

This is Safia Minney. Founder of the fair trade fashion company People Tree and according to The Independent one of Britain’s 50 happiest people of 2006! Yes, she is not only glamorous and happy but her blog is an interesting read too. There is a lot there -  from posts about lunch with Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt and  meetings of the World Economic Forum to posts about garment workers and their wretched working  conditions in Bangladesh and elsewhere.  Quite fascinating.  Just hope she keeps updating it.


Myanmar: who gives a damn?

  • Filed under: Asia
Apr 30,2006

Living in the UK, one constantly comes across literature concerning human rights issues in Burma (Myanmar). The thrust of human rights and informational campaigns is to isolate the state of Myanmar. But not so in Bangladesh. Indeed probably not so in all of the ASEAN countries. The approach in ASEAN countries is one of ‘constructive engagement.’ The idea is to overlook the relentless abuse of human rights carried out by the bizarrely named military rulers of Myanmar - the State Peace and Development Council - and instead to draw Myanmar into a variety of economic linkages and from there to bring about incremental change. Well that is the idea and it has to be said it is not working well. (See for example progress on forced-labour - I mean lack of). I also have to say that I find myself in the horrible position of agreeing with Condoleeza Rice, the blood thirsty US Secretary of State who described Myanmar as an “outpost of tyranny.” ASEAN should wake up to that reality and take the necessary steps ….. some chance.

No. Instead the talk amongst the countries in Asia is all about how to get Myanmar gas. If you are a bureaucrat in Bangladesh it is how to levy money from India and Myanmar for any future pipelines. Or perhaps about the Dhaka to Yangon road link. Sometimes there is talk about the Rohingya refugees but never about the persecution that creates the refugees in the first place.

The news out of Myanmar is consistently and depressingly bad. Only yesterday the extent of the SPDC government’s annual cull of Karens hit the pages: 11,000 Displaced as Burma Army Kills Civilians (see photo below of nine year old kid who was shot and survived). .A week and a half earlier there was a Global Day of Action against the Shwe gas project in western Burma - it is feared that severe human rights abuses will attend the development of this project (being undertaken jointly with the South Korean Daewoo corporation). But no fuss anywhere in ASEAN. The notion of solidarity is dead or dying.
injured kid

Military dictator and cry-baby

Apr 25,2006


Did you know that there was a sub-continental version of the often asked question “what were you doing when Lennon was shot?” Oh yes there is. It is “What were you doing when Pakistan surrendered in Bangladesh in 1971?” General Musharraf of Pakistan, dictator, military hard man, admirer of Roman and German generals and partner to the US in its war against terror, was apparently crying his eyes out at the “disgusting” news of the surrender. The event left the poor man “emotionally hurt” he confessed in a cosy meet-the-Musharraf-family TV show. He was, it appears, a sensitive young commando at the time (but not stationed in Bangladesh). I can just picture Musharraf as a commando with his balaclava on and his machine gun sniffing and sobbing into an atar-scented hankie.

I wonder whether it was the humiliation of defeat or the fact that he was not involved in the killing spree that bothered him most? And after all that weeping it would understandably be hard for him to have any tears left for the hundreds of thousands of innocent bangladeshis who perished?

I am afraid if you read the memoirs, biographies etc of other prominent Pakistani politicians - people like the Bhuttos (both of them) etc - you will encounter similar strange and stuck-in-the-past views about the formation of Bangladesh together with a refusal to acknowledge reality.

Just one thing I would love to know about. Which german generals does Musharraf admire? Those involved in the Nazi aggression against the godless Soviet Union no doubt? Those years of war which resulted in the deaths of millions? That would fit the profile I guess.

Apr 22,2006

Indeed the top 22! Sadly it is for judicial executions. Amnesty has just published it’s 2005 Death Penalty report. Twenty two countries carried out the death penalty last year (and also imposed new ones). Bangladesh carried out 3 executions and imposed 218 death penalties.

Still there are encouraging signs that this barbaric practice is on its way out: 86 countries in the world have abolished the death penalty altogether and 11 others for all crimes except exceptional crimes such as war crimes. Over the last twenty years the numbers of countries using executions have halved. So the trend is definitely positive. Irene Khan, the Amnesty Secretary General (and of bangladeshi origin) pointed out the usual suspects for particular criticism:

“As the world continues to turn away from the use of the death penalty, it is a glaring anomaly that China, Saudi Arabia, Iran and the USA stand out for their extreme use of this form of punishment as the ‘top’ executioners in the world.”

The death penalty issue in Bangladesh has often been raised by concerned intellectuals and some newspapers like the Daily Star and Prothom Alo. Nevertheless, like so many other human rights issues, it remains pretty much a non-issue. In a country where people applaud the extra-judicial killings of RAB this is not that surprising.

Absolute idiot relents

Apr 21,2006

King of Nepal

The absolutist monarch, King Gyanendra of Nepal, has finally given way. Well to some extent anyway. The movement for democracy in Nepal has cornered him, and he has decided not to shoot anymore people for the moment.

A little anecdote about him from today’s Indie:

Even as a child, Gyanendra was convinced he was different. While he was at school in India, he was asked to present a flower to the Indian Prime Minister at the time, Jawaharlal Nehru. He refused, saying: “I am higher than he.”

Apr 2,2006

Niko is a Canadian company engaged in gas exploration in Bangladesh. Last year it developed an image problem after two gas fields had blowouts within a short space of time. This article HERE by Geoffrey York upon first reading appears like Niko’s PR campaign kicking into action. Undoubtedly sympathetic to Niko it describes the problems of investment in Bangladesh - the “headaches of dealing with balky politicians, hostile journalists, angry activists and protesting villagers.” Nevertheless it is worth a read as it exposes Niko’s perspective very nicely. The number of condescending remarks coming out of their corporate mouths is illuminating and reveal their thinking. One thing is for sure, their production superintendent - Allen Rose - I suspect needs to go on a “dealing with the media” course or some such. He declares “From an economic standpoint, these people are farther ahead because of the blowouts. It’s been devastating for Niko, but it’s been positive for the community.” Hmmm. And their environmental consultant, Randal Glaholt, also needs a refresher course. He reckons the blowouts were a trauma for “these people” becase they were “poor and uneducated.” Right!? Of course! A gas explosion is a trifling matter if you are educated and well-to-do. It was really nothing to worry about just a “fear of the unknown” for these Bangladeshi retards…

Niko complains they have had a hard time from the press and other interest groups. My own recollections of the coverage in the english and bangla press was that the response was rather muted ( I was in Dhaka for the entire period at the time). I distinctly remember remarking to a World Bank chap in Dhaka that if this had happened in the west - all hell would have been let loose upon the polluter. Niko’s points about the general investment environment given the “ferociously partisan” political climate are worth noting. They claim they have been at the losing end of this. Most would argue they got the contract because of such a set up….

And across the way in Myanmar

Apr 1,2006

Year after year it is the same story. The International Labour Organisation flags up and condemns the forced labour policies of the Myanmar junta. The junta make some noises and appear willing to make  changes. They then fail to deliver spectacularly. And the ILO issues yet another statement regretting the lack of progress. And so it was that yesterday the 295th session of the ILO

expressed its profound concern at the continued lack of any meaningful progress towards abolishing forced labour. It was also concerned that persons who had complained about the use of forced labour were being prosecuted and asked for their immediate release. The Governing Body decided that the International Labour Conference this year would review further action to be taken to effectively secure the compliance by Myanmar with this convention as well as ways to ensure that no action would be taken against persons or their representatives who complained about forced labour.

How long is this to continue? The army is the main culprit. It displaces and disposesses rural people and uses them to perform various construction and other work without pay or very little pay. The army also uses children to work as combatants and as support staff. The situation in the border areas on the Thai border and the Bangladeshi border in northern Rakhine (Arakan state) is particularly serious.

Khaleda Zia gets on fine with these military chaps. She has been over there in 2003 and she has met various SPDC generals in Dhaka. Apart from gas pipelines, corridors and trade in pulses and onions, does she ever raise the issue of forced labour? Indeed do her discussions about Rohingya’s lead her to discuss forced labour?

Mar 29,2006

Monira Rahman

Here is a bit of news you may have missed. The German section of Amnesty International have recognised the work of the Acid Survivor’s Foundation and its executive director, Monira Rahman, with its Annual Human Rights Award. In the pics you will also spot Irene Khan, the General Secretary of Amnesty International - and also of Bangladeshi origin!

Last year’s acid tally according to the ASF was 267 victims (178 women and 89 men. figures include 53 children under 18). Causes were :

  • dispute about land, property, or money: 46 percent
  • crimes related to rejection or refusal of love, sex or marriage: 15 percent
  • marital disputes: 12 percent
  • disputes within the family: 10 percent
  • dowry disputes: 5 percent

Above figures and full story HERE.

Last year Matiur Rahman, editor of Prothom Alo, was honoured by the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation for his role in highligting the issue of acid throwing and setting up a victim fund.

Mar 26,2006

It is only correct for a blog focussing on Bangladesh to talk about Pakistan today. On 25 March in 1971 the Pakistani generals gave the orders to start massacring bengali people under an operation code named “Search Light.” Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared independence from Pakistan on the 26th. And even as the blood fest got underway, Pakistanis did not realise the significance of what they were doing. And indeed to this day, there is confusion and denial in the minds of Pakistanis about what happened today thirty five years ago. So this is my own little effort to re-jig memories. Today, Bangladesh’s independence day, should be remembered by Pakistanis as their greatest democratic interlude. This day more than half the Pakistani “nation” voted with its feet and said no to the nonsense of nationhood based simply on religion. Bangladeshis said no to a totalizing vision, to totalitarianism and oppression, and they said yes to democracy and freedom. They split from Pakistan and made nonsense of the two-nation theory. It was I guess the single most democratic event Pakistan has ever witnessed in all its years of existence.

Of course history takes strange turns: The military remain ascendant in Pakistan (will history never impart any lessons??). Those who defeated them - Bangladeshi veterans of that struggle - are neglected. Some of those who collaborated with the Pakistani army are enjoying state power in Bangladesh. And of course certain ideals held aloft on that independence day, not so many years ago, are almost forgotten.

Mar 22,2006

Rana at Baitul Mukkaram

Next time you go for jummah prayers to Baitul Mukkaram (Dhaka’s landmark mosque) take a look around at the stalls around there and at the stadium. This is Rana. You will see him there. He sells all *types* of VCD at his stall. I asked him whether the recent intended crackdown on p*rn*gr*phy troubles him (announced by Information minister M Shamsul Islam). ( Pls excuse the asterisks: if i write the whole word, google picks it up and I get the wrong kind of visitor to this site!) Not in the least, he tells me. Sometimes he has to lie low because the police have to flex their muscles etc but “things always blow over.” The last time he had to lie low for a bit was about six months ago. He sells triple x, double x and a new genre, well to me at least:- Rana calls it “ganer modhe khola mela,” which roughly translated means “songs with open stuff” - that is risque dhallywood music videos interspliced with european hardcore stuff.

Taking a look at the titles you suddenly realise you don’t get them in Gulshan video stores. I asked him what the quality is like. He assured me that he would give me top quality stuff. I bought four video CDs. Two turned out to be blank CDs. One had a virus file as well as the intact VCD files. Only one of the four CDs was playable - it was a “ganer modhe khola mela” one. Not bad for 120 takas?! I was a bit saddened that my copy of Sayed Shamsul Alam’s “Damn Care” was a blank - it looks like a real dhallywood classic with buxom Moiuri look-alikes brandishing knives dripping with blood.

Read my earlier brief post questioning Hayekian interpretations of this phenomenon of intersplicing p*rn*, and Dhallywood in general.

Mar 20,2006

Seera Myal is doing her bit to highlight this deeply hidden but surprisingly common issue . I personally know one victim myself….The UK government is currently injecting some energy in bringing to light these human rights abuses through their Forced Marriage Unit. The Home and Foreign and Commonwealth Office jointly launched a publicity campaign last week. They make clear that:

Forced marriage affects children, teenagers and adults from all races and religions, including Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims and Sikhs. And it is not solely an issue facing Asian communities. We deal with cases in the Middle East, Western Balkans and Africa.

They have a case study on their website involving Bangladeshis. Here it is:

M, aged 23, wanted to marry a Bangladeshi man whom she had met whilst he was visiting family in the UK. Her family objected and M was regularly beaten. Her family wanted her to marry a cousin in Bangladesh.

On 10 July 2002, M went to Bangladesh and married her boyfrien a few days later. After the marriage, she contacted her family who then managed to trace her in Bangladesh. They convinced her to go to their home village as it was traditional for a girl to return to her parents and then be returned to her husband in an honourable way. However, once she went with them, they locked her up in a house. She was told she would not be allowed to leave until she divorced her husband and married the person they had chosen for her.

M’s husband found her and took legal action in a magistrate’s court to try to obtain her release. He heard that M had been subjected to physical abuse, was unwell and not receiving medical treatment. M’s family threatened to kill her husband if she told the court that she was being held against her will. M therefore said that she did not want to go with her husband.

M’s husband did not give up. He contacted the Forced Marriage Unit. We liaised with the British High Commission in Dhaka, who contacted a local Non Government Organisation (NGO) that helps with many cases of forced marriage. The NGO and its lawyers submitted a Habeas Corpus petition to court, demanding M’s release. The lawyer requested that the court allow her husband to speak to her privately. The judge agreed and M had a chance to speak to her husband who persuaded her that her only chance was to speak up in court and to say that she wanted to go with him. She found the courage to do this and the judge had no option but to release her. M’s lawyer insisted on a police escort to Dhaka where M and her husband were taken to the High Commission. They have since returned to the UK together.