Travels from Bangladesh

December 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nargis Rahman, TMO

Questions arise on International Crimes Tribunal



The main path to my husband’s village, in Sylhet, Bangladesh.     

  Photo by Nargis Rahman

Bangladesh, a country of 156 million people nudged between India and Burma, is known for its floods and poverty and to those who call this place home, a political tug-of-war.

Odhikar, a Bangladesh human rights organization, reported 14,000 people were injured and 220 were killed in political violence last year in the Annual Human Rights Report 2010.

Bangladesh is a parliamentary democracy. Zubarul Chowdhury Khokon, the 13th district congressional chairman for Bangladeshi American Democratic Caucus (BADC) in Michigan said, although the government is elected, “Democracy is in a very vulnerable position.”

The country has faced outcry from human rights organizations Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch against Bangladesh’s police brutality on protesters and the arrest of leaders from parties opposing the ruling party, National Awami League, on war crime charges.

Peaceful protestors, mainly organized by the largest opposing party, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), have been met by police and the Rapid Action Battalion; a state security force comprised of the country’s enforcements agencies to tackle terrorism.

Hafiz Raihan Uddin, Assistant Imam of Masjid Al-Falah in Detroit, said people have the right to disagree, but they should not be beaten by police or jailed and tortured without a fair trial, under Bangladesh’s Constitutional freedom of speech right. There is, “Extreme human rights violation happening,” said Uddin. “I have the right to freedom of speech…If you don’t like it, that doesn’t mean not to give me the opportunity to say what I have to say and to hurt me.”

RAB, known as “death squad,” by human rights organizations has killed over 1,000 people since its creation in 2004. Abbas Faiz, Amnesty International researcher in Bangladesh said, “The RAB has a history of using excessive, sometimes even lethal, force.”

Human Rights Watch, an international non-profit non-government organization (NGO), asked the US and UK to withdraw support from RAB; known for its beatings, taking people from their homes in the middle of the night, filing reports which are not given fair trails in court, and “crossfire” deaths.

Khokon said, everyone has a right to justice, “Even the biggest criminal in Bangladesh.”

Earlier this year the RAB director general told The Guardian, a UK-based newspaper, the group killed 622 people in the March 2010 crossfires. Awami League said they would eliminate the agency during 2009 election bids.


Protests have emerged in the past two months due to a drop in stock market prices and  the arrests of political party leaders in Jamaat-e-Islami and BNP. Last week BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia led two protests (15,000 and 10,000 people) to call for earlier elections to throw out the current government, according to the Associated Press.

The U.S. Department of State’s website,, said protests ranging from one to 27-days, and Parliamentary walk-outs by opposing parties have been going back-and-forth in Bangladesh’s political history.

Police beat protestors. Some are arrested.

•    September 22, 2011 Bangladesh media NTV News, a privately-owned satellite channel, and The Daily Star, a Bangladeshi daily newspaper, reported a police officer held a protestor to the ground with his boot, during an 11-hour hortal, or strike.

•    September 19, 2011 Two Jamaat-e-Islami leaders and 25 people were detained for a riot which started in Dhaka and spread to other cities according to Reuters. Half of those arrests were in Dhaka, according to Jamaat-e-Islami. The protests were in response to the detainment of leaders in the party who have been in jail awaiting formal war crime charges. Rioters clashed with police who tried to obstruct the rallies, said The Daily Star. The party denies the leaders’ alleged crimes of siding with Pakistan during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War.

•    November 30, 2010  Amnesty International reported, “Members of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and other police personnel attacked peaceful demonstrators with batons in over a dozen raids,” including at least one organized protest by BNP. Peaceful protestors were beat by police on their hands, head, and legs, documented by Amnesty International. The groups Bangladesh Researcher Abbas Faiz said, “The Bangladeshi government should immediately investigate these attacks by security forces on peaceful demonstrators and ensure that any people hurt receive justice and appropriate compensation.”

•    February 2010 In a public statement Amnesty International said 300 members of Jamaat-e-Islami’s student wing Shibbir were arrested from dorms or near campus in cities Rajshahi, Dhaka and Chittagong for protesting. “It is not known if any of them have been charged with a recognizable criminal offence.” 

Round-up of political opponents

•    August 11, 2011 Bangladesh Supreme Court Lawyer MU Ahmed, a BNP supporter, was arrested at his home by 20 plain-clothed policemen who did not identify themselves, sometime between 2:30-3:30 a.m. Ahmed was taken for “assaulting police and obstructing them from discharging duties on the SC premises on August 2 and 4,” reported The Daily Star. In a briefing, police said they held him for 30-40 minutes at the branch, while an anonymous officer who was a part of the raid said Ahmed was held for three hours. Ahmed died on August 26, after having a massive heart attack during the interrogation (The Daily Star).

•    December 2010 BNP Minister of Parliament Salauddin Quader Chowdhury was picked up by police in connection with a private car set ablaze in June 2010 in Bangladesh, leading to one death. There are allegations of, “Bangladeshi security forces have tortured Salauddin Quader Chowdhury during interrogations…applying electrodes to his genitals, beating him, slitting his stomach with razors and twisting his toenails and fingernails with pliers,” reported Amnesty International. Charges were changed to crimes against humanity in the Liberation War of 1971, which he denies. He was 63 during his torture.

•    June 27, 2010 Former Mayor of Dhaka, Mirza Abbas, a BNP member, was arrested along with family members and supporters attacked by RAB following allegations of violence during a textile strike. RAB claimed people threw bricks, not visible in the video obtained by Amnesty International.

•    July 6, 2011 YouTube footage from NTV International News Division in Bangladesh showed BNP parliament member Zoynul Abedin Farok chased by police during a hortal. Police beat him with sticks until his clothes came off and he passed out in Dhaka. Police tried to pull him into a vehicle, but left him behind. An officer interviewed in the video said Farok resisted arrest and was not beaten. CNN reported he was wounded and hospitalized.

Journalists picked up by RAB, police, an institution which rates the freedom of press in countries around the world, rated Bangladesh as a partly free press with partial civil liberties in 2010. Khokon said journalists are the constructive criticism needed by (democratic) government.“It’s healthy for a party.”

Odhikar reported attacks on journalists: 2 killed, 52 injured, 35 threatened, 29 assaulted, 15 attacked, in the Human Rights Monitoring Report from January 1- June 30, 2010.

•    October 22, 2009 M.F. Masum of the daily newspaper New Age was arrested and blindfolded by RAB-10 members. He was hit from behind, beat on his feet, and other body parts with iron rods and a blade. RAB officers accused him of being an “assistant” of his homeowner, Mohammad Salauddin in South Jatrabari, Dhaka, who was arrested for narcotics trade (Odhikar). The lieutenant responsible for his torture was withdrawn from RAB-10 (The Daily Star).

•    June 1, 2010 Editor of Amar Desh, a Bangla daily newspaper, Mahmudur Rahman was arrested by armed police in a suit against him by the former Publisher Hasmat Ali, who was suing Rahman for publishing under his name. Prior to the arrest Rahman filed paperwork to change the publisher’s name in the newspaper, a request shot-down by officials.

•    Facebook access was blocked between May 29 – June 5, 2010, by the government after Mahbub Alam Rodin posted cartoons of politicians Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Begum and Begum Khaleda Zia. He was later arrested. The government faced negative feedback and regained the social network access.

Tribunals Act: charges, trails of war crimes do not meet international standards

The 1973 International Crimes Tribunal was adopted in March 2010 by the Bangladesh Parliament to try those who sided with Pakistan during the Liberation War. The original Tribunal was formed to try 195 Pakistani Prisoners of War, who were later freed.

The current adoption has been used to charge political leaders with war crimes including genocide, rape, and crimes against humanity – nearly 40 years ago. Five Jamaat-e-Islami and two Bangladesh Nationalist Party leaders have been arrested.

Human rights groups, the Supreme Court Bar Association, the International Centre for Transitional Justice, and the International Bar Association have criticized the act for not meeting international standards for war crime trials.

In January, US Ambassador to Dhaka John Moriarty told The Daily Star standards are met, but more time should be allowed for defense, which allows a trial to start three weeks after formal charges are made against the accused. Jamaat-e-Islami leader Moulana Delwar Hossain Sayeedi was the first charged in early October for alleged looting, rape, and arson during the Liberation, said The Guardian. Sayeedi has denied allegations.

The Tribunals act has started a ripple effect in the US with protests in New York and small rallies in Michigan.

BADC members were recommended not to take a party stand. In an email memo Chairman Nazmul Shahin of BADC, a political wing of the Michigan Democratic Party, said to members…the party, “Shall stay neutral as an organization on political issues in the country of origin rather focus on political process, elections, and the Democratic Party activities in the USA and in Michigan,” however individuals are allowed to stand for their beliefs on the War Crimes Tribunal.

Bringing it home: local reaction

Khokon said he believes Bangladeshi people will rise up beyond the alleged human rights violations. “[Problems] should be resolved by the people [who] should raise their voice,” he said.

Uddin said people can ask US officials and humanitarian groups to put pressure on the Bangladeshi government to stop human rights violations.

Dr. Zaikirul Haque, who is on the sub-committee of Bangladesh-US relations committee of the Michigan Democratic Caucus said interaction between the countries is a “win-win” situation.

The U.S. Department of State Report says there is a good relation between the countries. The US gave $163 Million in aid in 2009, totaling over $5 Billion dollars for food and other services to the country. Bangladesh had $4.3 Billion exports in 2010 according to the US Embassy of Bangladesh exports report.


“Arrest Bush” — Amnesty International Asks Canada

October 24, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Michel Comte

October 13, 2011 “AFP” – Amnesty International called on Canadian authorities Wednesday to arrest and prosecute George W. Bush, saying the former US president authorized “torture” when he directed the US-led war on terror.

Bush is expected to attend an economic summit in Surrey in Canada’s westernmost British Columbia province on October 20.

In a memorandum submitted last month to Canada’s attorney general but only now released to the media, the London-based group charged that Bush has legal responsibility for a series of human rights violations.

“Canada is required by its international obligations to arrest and prosecute former president Bush given his responsibility for crimes under international law including torture,” Amnesty’s Susan Lee said in a statement.

“As the US authorities have, so far, failed to bring former president Bush to justice, the international community must step in. A failure by Canada to take action during his visit would violate the UN Convention Against Torture and demonstrate contempt for fundamental human rights,” Lee said.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney blasted Amnesty for “cherry picking cases to publicize, based on ideology.”

“This kind of stunt helps explain why so many respected human rights advocates have abandoned Amnesty International,” he said.

Kenney said it will be up to Canadian border officials to decide independently whether to allow Bush into the country.

Bush canceled a visit to Switzerland in February, after facing similar public calls for his arrest.

Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International’s Canadian branch, told a press conference the rights group will pursue its case against the former US president with the governments of other countries he might visit.

“Torturers must face justice and their crimes are so egregious that the responsibility for ensuring justice is shared by all nations,” Neve said.

“Friend or foe, extraordinary or very ordinary times, most or least powerful nation, faced with concerns about terrorism or any other threat, torture must be stopped.

“Bringing to justice the people responsible for torture is central to that goal. It is the law… And no one, including the man who served as president of the world’s most powerful nation for eight years can be allowed to stand above that law.”

Amnesty, backed by the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, claims Bush authorized the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” and “waterboarding” on detainees held in secret by the Central Intelligence Agency between 2002 and 2009.

The detention program included “torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment (such as being forced to stay for hours in painful positions and sleep deprivation), and enforced disappearances,” it alleged.

Amnesty’s case, outlined in its 1,000-page memorandum, relies on the public record, US documents obtained through access to information requests, Bush’s own memoir and a Red Cross report critical of the US’s war on terror policies.

Amnesty cites several instances of alleged torture of detainees at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, naval facility, in Afghanistan and in Iraq, by the US military.

The cases include that of Zayn al Abidin Muhammed Husayn (known as Abu Zubaydah) and 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, both arrested in Pakistan. The two men were waterboarded 266 times between them from 2002 to 2003, according to the CIA inspector general, cited by Amnesty.


Syrian Forces Round Up Dozens in Hama

July 7, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Dominic Evans

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Syrian forces rounded up dozens of people around Hama on Wednesday, a day after shooting dead 22 people, activists said, and Amnesty International said Syria may have committed crimes against humanity in an earlier crackdown.

Tanks were still stationed outside Hama, which has seen some of the biggest protests against President Bashar al-Assad and was the site of a bloody crackdown against Islamist insurgents nearly 30 years ago.

But some of the tanks were redeployed away from the city and a resident said security forces were concentrated around the headquarters of the ruling Baath Party, the police headquarters and a state security compound. Most arrests took place in the outskirts of the city.

Ammar Qurabi, Cairo-based head of the Syrian National Human Rights Organization, said the death toll from Tuesday, when gunmen loyal to Assad swept through the city, had risen to 22.
He said hundreds of people had been arrested.

Rami Adbelrahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 23 people had died in Hama in the last 24 hours, and that an opposition figure in the city had reported water and electricity supplies were cut to the city on Wednesday morning.

State news agency SANA said one policeman had been killed in a clash with armed groups who opened fire on security forces and threw petrol and nail bombs at them. It made no mention of civilian deaths but said some “armed men” were injured.

Syria has prevented most independent media from operating inside the country, making it difficult to verify accounts from activists and authorities.

Hama was emptied of security forces for nearly a month after at least 60 protesters were shot dead on June 3, but the security vacuum emboldened demonstrators and on Friday activists said at least 150,000 people rallied to demand Assad’s downfall.

The next day Assad sacked the provincial governor and sent tanks and troops to surround the city, signaling a military assault similar to those carried out in other protest centers.
In a report released on Wednesday, Amnesty International said the crackdown two months ago against one of those protest centers — the town of Tel Kelakh near the border with Lebanon — may have constituted a crime against humanity.

Urging the United Nations to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court, it said nine people died in custody after being captured during the operation in the town, close to the Lebanese border.

“Crimes Against Humanity”

Describing a “devastating security operation”, it said scores of men were rounded up, and most of them were tortured.

Some detainees told Amnesty they were beaten and tied by the wrists to a bar high enough off the ground to force them to stand on the tip of their toes for long periods — known as the shabah, meaning ghost, position.

A 22-year-old man told Amnesty he was tied up in the shabah position had electric shocks applied to his body and testicles during five days of detention in the provincial capital Homs.

“Amnesty International considers that crimes committed in Tel Kelakh amount to crimes against humanity as they appear to be part of a widespread, as well as systematic, attack against the civilian population,” it said.

Syrian activists say security forces have killed more than 1,300 civilians since the unrest erupted 14 weeks ago. Authorities say 500 soldiers and police have been killed by armed gangs who they also blame for most of the civilian deaths.

Assad has responded to the protests with a mixture of repression and concessions, promising a political dialogue with the opposition. Preliminary talks on the dialogue are due to be held on Sunday.

But opposition figures refuse to sit down and talk while the killings and arrests continue, and diplomats say events in Hama will be a litmus test for whether Assad chooses to focus on a political or a military solution to the unrest.

Some residents sought to halt any military advance earlier this week by blocking roads between neighborhoods with rubbish containers, burning tyres, wood and metal.

The New York-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said it had been told by an official at Hama’s Hourani hospital that security forces surrounded the hospital on Tuesday, although they did not enter it, as it received the bodies of four people and treated 60 others with gunshot wounds.

“Security forces have responded to protest with the brutality that’s become familiar over the past several months.” said Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW’s Middle East director.

Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad, who ruled Syria for 30 years until his death in 2000, sent troops into Hama in 1982 to crush an Islamist-led uprising in the city where the armed wing of the Muslim Brotherhood made its last stand.

That attack killed many thousands, possibly up to 30,000, and one slogan shouted by Hama protesters in recent weeks was “Damn your soul, Hafez”.


Amnesty: Iran Steps Up Public Executions

April 28, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

LONDON (Reuters) – Iran has sharply stepped up its use of public executions, hanging 13 men this year, nearly as many as in all of 2010, in an attempt to intimidate its citizens, Amnesty International said on Wednesday.

Eight of the hangings have taken place since mid-April, including two juveniles convicted for a rape and murder committed when they were 17, the human rights group said.

“It is deeply disturbing that despite a moratorium on public executions ordered in 2008, the Iranian authorities are once again seeking to intimidate people by such spectacles which not only dehumanize the victim, but brutalize those who witness it,” said Amnesty official Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

Iran executed at least 252 people last year, 14 in public, Amnesty said.

Human rights groups often criticize Iran, saying the Islamic republic has one of the highest execution rates in the world.

Murder, adultery, rape, armed robbery, drug trafficking and apostasy — the renouncing of Islam — are all punishable by death under Iran’s Islamic law practiced since the 1979 revolution.

(Reporting by Tim Castle; Editing by Maria Golovnina)