Govt failing to address rights abuses

Govt failing to address rights abuses

Bangladesh authorities failed to respond to repeated and serious allegations of secret detentions, enforced disappearances, and extrajudicial killings, denying the abuses instead of holding perpetrators accountable, Human Rights Watch said in its World Report 2018.

Although the government did not enforce refoulement on Rohingya refugees seeking sanctuary from across the Burmese (Myanmar) border, Bangladeshi citizens themselves saw no reprieve in their quest for justice, the US-based global rights watchdog said in a statement on its website yesterday.

In the 643-page report, its 28th edition, HRW reviewed human rights practices in more than 90 countries.

Starting in late August, Bangladesh saw over 655,000 Rohingya refugees cross the border from Northern Rakhine State in Myanmar fleeing a campaign of rape, arson, and killings by the Burmese military that amounted to crimes against humanity.

While Bangladesh does not officially recognise the majority of the Rohingya as refugees, the government has allowed those seeking shelter to enter the country, the report says.

Bangladesh deserves credit for not forcibly returning Rohingya refugees, and for doing what it can with strained resources to provide safety for them for the time being,” Brad Adams, director of HRW Asia, said in the report.

However, recurring plans to move the refugees to uninhabitable islands or to return them to Burma without key citizenship rights and protections remained a concern.

In domestic rights concerns, scores of Bangladeshis remained victims of enforced disappearances, even as law enforcement authorities continued to target both opposition supporters and militant suspects, the report mentions.

Security forces responsible for serious human rights violations continued to be free and unaccountable, the report says.

Despite evidence of flawed trials and coerced confessions, the High Court upheld the death penalty against nearly 140 members of the Bangladesh Rifles, as the present Border Guard Bangladesh was formerly known, it adds.

Civil society groups and the media continued to face pressure from both state and non-state actors, while dozens of Bangladeshis were arrested for criticising the government or the political leadership on Facebook, it further says.

Although the official government policy is to eliminate child marriage, in February 2017 the government passed a law permitting girls under 18 years of age to marry under special circumstances -- effectively eliminating the minimum age for marriage in this exception.

The government also failed to take steps to end discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the report says.

Particularly as the country heads into general elections in 2019, it is vital to restore the rule of law, and end all efforts to silence dissent,” said Adams.

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Coach at the centre of BD-SL showdown

Coach at the centre of BD-SL showdown

Although it is all that people outside the two relevant dressing rooms seem to want to talk about, there has been a conscious effort from those inside to avoid making today's tri-series match about Sri Lanka coach Chandika Hathurusingha taking on Bangladesh, his former charges, for the first time since switching sides.

Bangladesh are not playing against Hathurusingha; they are playing against Sri Lanka,” Sri Lanka batting coach Thilan  Samaraweera, another former Bangladesh support staff who took up a corresponding position in his native country, said yesterday ahead of the match that gets underway from 12:00pm at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium in Mirpur today.

Indeed, it is Sri Lanka taking on Bangladesh and there are things other than the Hathurusingha saga to focus on, such as Sri Lanka badly needing a win to move past an unexpected defeat to Zimbabwe on Wednesday. On the other hand, this tri-series is the first time Bangladesh are favourites in a multi-team international event, not just because they are the home side but because they are the highest ranked team on display. With a handsome eight-wicket win over Zimbabwe to kick off the tri-series on Monday, the Tigers will want to consolidate their unfamiliar position of frontrunner today.

However, it will be hard to look past the Hathurusingha factor if only because his exit from Bangladesh was so recent that, in his first press conference as Sri Lanka coach on Sunday, he absentmindedly used the pronoun 'we' while talking about Bangladesh. Then there is the hint of acrimony surrounding the timing and manner of his resignation -- two years before the end of his contract with the Bangladesh Cricket Board and midway through a disastrous tour of South Africa, without much communication with the board or the players.

Last but not least, it will also be interesting to see which team will benefit from this very recent shift of personnel -- will Hathurusingha's local knowledge gleaned over three years give Sri Lanka the edge, or will the Tigers' insight into the Sri Lankan's strategic proclivities be the difference-maker, or will they cancel each other out?

Before the tournament opener Bangladesh skipper Mashrafe Bin Mortaza and technical director Khaled Mahmud had, like Samaraweera and Hathurusingha himself, sought to play down the Hathurusingha angle, saying that the players and not the coach do the deeds on the field and also that insight into the other camp is a two-way street.

Yesterday, however, while saying that they had moved past Hathurusingha, Mashrafe let slip a missive towards his former coach, saying that it would have been interesting if the Sri Lankan had stuck around after the South Africa tour to see if the ship could be turned around. But he chose to go to Sri Lanka,” Mashrafe added, the implication being that Hathusuringha took the easy way out in a time of strife.

That is likely to be the overwhelming feeling in the Bangladesh camp in today's blockbuster clash and even though Hathurusingha has wished Bangladesh well publicly, it is a match that both camps will be desperate to win.

There will be a temptation for Bangladesh to retain the team that played so well to beat Zimbabwe, but with Sri Lanka having more left-handers in the top order, left-arm spinner Sunzamul Haque may make way for off-spinner Mehedi Hasan Miraz. For Sri Lanka, the main concern will surround the availability of skipper Angelo Mathews. Samaraweera said yesterday that they were monitoring the all-rounder, who sustained a suspected hamstring injury in Wednesday's game against Zimbabwe, and will decide today whether he is fit to play.

In the context of the tournament, Sri Lanka need to win this match more than Bangladesh, who already have a win in the bag. In a wider context however, Bangladesh's players will want to show that they can thrive in the post-Hathurusingha era.

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Ivy's Poison

Ivy's Poison

The pictures on the front page of practically every major newspaper on Wednesday, January 17, conjure an ugly image of Bangladesh's political scene. Frenzied men with weapons attacking each other, their faces in grotesque contortions representing rage, venom, aggression. This would not be anything out of the ordinary given the current trends of streets looking like battlefields after clashes between opposing political groups or more realistically, between factions of the same political group. Wednesday's images, however, have taken our political image to an all-time low. They are of a woman city mayor, the first of her kind to hold such a position, being shielded by her followers from being attacked by a mob of men—supporters of an MP known for his mysterious and tenacious grasp over Narayanganj.

Despite all their attempts to protect her, Mayor Ivy was injured—a brick hit her leg and in the jostling she fell. Newspapers say around 50 were hurt though none of them can quantify the terror and despair of the people of this city who had to witness these disturbing, shameful scenes. For it is indeed shameful that a city's mayor would be attacked by members of the ruling party because she was trying to do her job.

The entire fiasco centred on the issue of eviction of hawkers from footpaths so that pedestrians could use them. Seems like a regular duty of a diligent mayor. But in Narayanganj, as anywhere else in the country, politics is far from being regular. As expected, when the eviction drive was announced, the hawkers, through their association, protested—where would they go after all?

The mayor was given a memorandum, she announced her decision to free the footpaths, the hawkers staged demonstrations, the city corporation announced a few designated areas where the hawkers could sell their ware till February 27 from 5pm to 9pm, a lawmaker gave a 24-hour ultimatum to revoke the eviction drive and give the footpaths back to the hawkers, and finally in a bizarre confrontation, the mayor and her supporters were attacked by the said lawmaker's men.

If you were a stranger to our special brand of politics, the first logical question would be: Why is this lawmaker interfering with the mayor's work? The second one would be: If the lawmaker was so concerned about the hawkers' wellbeing, couldn't he have had a discussion with the mayor and work out a solution? Thirdly, why did it all turn so violent with someone even brandishing his gun and allegedly firing shots into the air? Fourthly, and most importantly, why would a lawmaker's followers attack the city's mayor? Are they not on the same side—same government, same party?

These questions may seem quite straightforward and resulting from pure common sense. But this is Narayanganj we are talking about—Bangladesh's Gotham City where the Joker reigns with full impunity and Batman is a simply attired woman who has taken on the task of trying to fix a city that seems almost unfixable, being in the grip of one of the most powerful political families in Bangladesh's history. This is the place of the famous “seven-murder case” that involved members of the RAB as well as influential people connected to the political elite. is is where Tanwir Muhammad Taqi, the son of cultural activist Rafiur Rabbi of Narayanganj, was abducted and killed on March 6, 2013. Even after more than three years, the law enforcers have yet to find his killer(s) although Taqi's father has filed cases against certain individuals including the nephew of the lawmaker involved in Tuesday's incident.

But to be fair, having Selina Hayat Ivy as a mayor has been a sliver of hope for this Gotham of a city. Ivy, despite her formidable opponents, has endured, perhaps because of being from a political family—her father, Ali Ahmed Chunka, was a former Narayanganj municipal chairman and an AL leader—and definitely because of sheer grit and determination. 2011, she won the mayoral elections after beating Shamim Osman by one lakh votes. In 2016, despite efforts by MP Shamim Osman to exclude her from nomination from the panel, the prime minister picked her to be mayor.

Tuesday's unsavoury incident in which a mayor and her supporters were attacked by goons of a lawmaker, gives an indication of the obstacles she faces. According to Mayor Ivy, she had come to Chashara to tell people that the footpaths would be free for pedestrians to walk on, that the displaced hawkers would be rehabilitated in a proper building, honouring the prime minister's directive. According to news reports, when some of Ivy's supporters tried to evict some hawkers, an altercation erupted. She was then attacked by supporters of the lawmaker.

After the incident a probe committee has been engaged and both the mayor and the lawmaker have been summoned by the PM—no doubt to express her disappointment in two important leaders and favourites from her own party.

But even for the ordinary citizens who have witnessed all kinds of violence in the name of politics over the last few decades, the idea that a mayor—a woman politician who has braved the patriarchal system to attain the trust of the public and the support of the prime minister who happens to be a woman—can be physically attacked and blatantly intimidated by a lawmaker, is shocking. this is a preview of what is to come as we get closer to our national elections, there is little to feel optimistic about.


Aasha Mehreen Amin is Deputy Editor, Editorial and Opinion, The Daily Star.


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Jessore Road: Tree felling halted for 6 months

Jessore Road: Tree felling halted for 6 months

The High Court yesterday halted the felling of century-old trees along the Jessore-Benapole road following protests against a government decision to cut them down.

It directed the authorities concerned of the government to maintain a status quo on the tree felling for six months.

In response to a writ petition, the HC also issued a rule asking the respondents to explain in two weeks why their inaction to protect the trees should not be declared illegal.

a writ petition, the HC also issued a rule asking the respondents to explain in two weeks why their inaction to protect the trees should not be declared illegal.

The court asked them to show causes why they should not be ordered to protect the trees while turning the road into a four-lane one.

Secretaries to the Ministry of Road Transport and Bridges, and the Ministry of Environment and Forest, director general of the Department of Environment, chief engineer of the Roads and Highway Department, deputy commissioner and superintendent of police in Jessore, upazila nirbahi officer of Benapole, and officer-in-charge of Benapole Police Station have been made the respondents to the rule.

The bench of Justice Zubayer Rahman Chowdhury and Justice Md Iqbal Kabir came up with the order and the rule after hearing the writ petition filed by Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh challenging the inaction of the respondents to protect the trees.

Petitioner's counsel Manzill Murshid told The Daily Star that the government cannot cut the trees down now because of the HC order.

However, there is no legal bar for the government to continue the development work of the highway protecting the trees, he added.

During the hearing on the petition, Manzill told the court that the government was duty-bound to protect the environment and the trees as per the constitution and the environment protection law.

However, the government's decision to cut the trees goes against the very constitution and the law, he said.

Last July, the authorities decided to fell around 2,300 trees along the highway, many of which have been standing majestically on both sides of the road throughout well over a century.

The decision was made under a "development project" to widen a 30-kilometre portion of the highway.

However, since then, protests have been brewing all over social media, and many environmental groups have been demonstrating against what they called a “shocking decision”.

Jessore-Benapole highway is actually a 38-kilometre stretch of the 99-kilometre Jessore Road that connects Jessore with India's Dum Dum.

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Fearless cricket Mashrafe's mantra

Fearless cricket Mashrafe's mantra

The hallmark of a professional is his ability to think positively and the words of Bangladesh ODI captain Mashrafe Bin Mortaza yesterday reflected that ideal ahead of today's tri-series clash between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium in Mirpur.

It was evident during the pre-match briefing that Mashrafe and Co. were well aware of the fact that they need to handle their emotions professionally in the face of all the chatter surrounding their former coach, Chandika Hathurusingha.

There is nothing wrong with the players being pumped up to prove their credentials against their recently-departed coach, but what Bangladesh's most successful ODI captain desires from his teammates is 'a brand of cricket which ensures freedom and a fearless approach'.

During a marathon press conference, Mashrafe repeatedly emphasised on the need to properly execute their plans and play disciplined cricket all through the match, just as they had against Zimbabwe in the tri-series opener.

We did everything right in the first match, now how we can execute our plan in the next match is most important. The way Bijoy [Anamul Haque] played the first match on his return to the team after a long break embodied exactly how we want to play; fearless cricket," opined Mashrafe.

Like a true professional, Mashrafe added that the team had put the Chandika issue behind well before the start of the series.

It's new for a team to face its last coach…actually we put behind the issue well before the series. Once he left we forgot his planning. We are coping with a new coach, so there is no scope to think about this issue," said Mashrafe.

The right-arm pacer also did not hesitate in having a slight jab at his former coach, saying: "Everywhere you face challenges. When Hathurusingha was in Bangladesh there was some kind of pressure on him and the challenge for him would have increased after the loss in South Africa. That challenge could have been interesting but he didn't stay, rather he chose Sri Lanka.

However Mashrafe showed his opponents due respect considering that they have players like Angelo Mathews and Thisara Perera, and added that the team had to be mentally prepared to handle any tough situations, such as the one Sri Lanka found themselves in against Zimbabwe.

Mashrafe, who was looking for a combined effort and consistency, has high hopes from his pace bowlers as he believes that their performance matters the most in Bangladesh's wins and informed that it was good news for him that Mustafizur Rahman provided evidence of returning to his old form.

Mashrafe has all but a settled unit, with two stalwarts in Tamim Iqbal and Shakib Al Hasan getting off to a flyer in the new year, but he believes that Shakib's promotion to the number three position created an opportunity for young all-rounders to show their potential at the number eight position by scoring quick-fire runs.

We have a big space at the number seven-eight position after Shakib's promotion in the batting order and one will only be able to cope if he can be consistent at this position," said Mashrafe.

In the end, the Bangladesh captain gave the impression that the Tigers were confident of their plan to beat Chandika's Sri Lanka and just needed to execute accordingly in the middle today.

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ALTERNATIVE IS THERE

ALTERNATIVE IS THERE

Although there is sufficient government land on both sides of Jessore Road, the local authorities seem to be hell-bent on expanding the historical road by felling more than 2,300 trees, several hundred of them nearly two centuries old.

And the justifications the Jessore Roads and Highways Department is offering for cutting these trees are nothing but “lame excuses”, experts and environmentalists have said, warning of an environmental disaster in the region.

On January 6, the RHD in Jessore made the decision to expand the highway to 10. 6 metres from 7. 3 metres now because of the increasing traffic on the road that connects the country's biggest land port in Benapole with India's Petrapole.

Currently, some 500 goods trucks as well as about 10,000 passengers to and from India use this route. The Benapole Port authorities collect about Tk 12 crore in customs duty every day, said port Director Aminul Islam.

Earlier in July last year, the government shelved a similar plan to fell 2,700 trees for widening the same highway following protests by the public and green activists amid media outcry.

The highway is widely known as a part of around 99km long Jessore Road stretching from Jessore in Bangladesh to Dum Dum in Kolkata.

The stretch on the Bangladesh side is 38km long and 24 feet wide, and on both the south and the north sides of the road there is government land that is at least 50 feet wide, according to the District Council that owns the land of the road.

So if they build a two-lane road along the existing one next to the trees, we can save these trees," said Amirul Alam Khan, an environmentalist from Jessore.

It is “outright foolish” to fell hundreds of trees, particularly those that bear memories of the Liberation War, just to widen the road by three meters, he added.

The RHD can easily construct a completely new road along the trees on either side of the road to facilitate the growing trade through the road between Bangladesh and India, said Aminul, also former chairman of Jessore Education Board.

The move to fell the trees sparked protests in Dhaka and elsewhere, with green activists asking the government not to take up any project without considering the ecological balance of the area and historic values of the trees.

In 1840, a Jessore landlord called Kali Poddar Babu took the initiative to build the road so that his mother could travel to take a bath in the Ganges river.

Later, as advised by his mother, a lot of saplings were planted on both sides of the road, then named Kali Poddar road, to make people's journeys pleasant ones, according to "Jessore-Khulnar Itihas" (History of Jessore and Khulna), written by Satish Chandra Mitra.

During the 1971 war, tens of thousands of Bangalees fled to India through this road. Freedom fighters and journalists from around the world also used this road to enter Bangladesh from India and the vice versa.

The name of the road has been immortalised by the American poet Allen Ginsberg, who visited the area in 1971 and wrote the famous poem, "September on Jessore Road" about the plight of millions of scared Bangladeshis heading towards India during the war. He recited the poem on November 20, 1971, at Saint George Church, New York.

At the January 6 meeting at the the Jessore District Commissioner's office, three local lawmakers, district administration officials, R&H officials and the district council chairman were present.

Jahangir Alam, executive engineer of Jessore RHD who was present at the meeting, said they sent a proposal to the roads and bridges ministry for the expansion and reconstruction of the road by felling the trees.

Asked why, he said, "The roots of the trees and the water dripping from the leaves during rain damage the road. So we decided to cut down around 2,300 trees along the road for the sake of development.

It will take at least one year just for the approval of a new project to build another road along the trees. But the existing road needs immediate repair and it cannot wait any longer.

Six firms took part in the tender for the Tk 329-crore project in November last, and the tenders were now being evaluated. The construction is likely to begin next month, he said.

Saifuzzaman Pikul, chairman of Jessore District Council, which has a long-standing dispute with the RHD over the ownership of assets along the road, said he too had no objection if trees needed to be felled for the “sake of development”.

As the trees are century old, sometimes their branches fall off, injuring people, he said, adding, "If the government orders us, we have nothing to do but to cut down the trees.

Dr Mohammad Mahfuzur Rahman, a professor of environmental science and technology at Jessore University of Science and Technology, said there was plenty of scope to build a road leaving the rain trees intact, but the authorities were not considering those options.

They want to cut down the trees," he said, sounding frustrated.

If there is a risk of branches falling, it can be stopped by forest management system, meaning by cutting off the dead or risky branches. And engineers should be able to build roads that will not be affected by the tree roots, he said.

The trees along the highway produce a huge shed, which is nearly one-fourth of that produced by the Sundarbans, he pointed out.

The 61-km stretch of the same road on the Indian side is also called Jessore Road. Running from Kolkata airport to Petrapole border via Barasat, this part too has numerous trees on its both sides.

Last year, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) felled 15 of those trees near Bongaon railway station for construction of some flyovers, triggering a huge public protest.

Green activists cited the example of the 2km stretch from Petrapole to Jayantipur on which the NHAI constructed a two-lane road keeping the trees in the middle.

The issue later went to the Calcutta High Court, which on April 17 last year ordered a stay on felling of the trees. The matter is still pending before the court where the next hearing is due today.

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