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Damocles’ sword over the head of Bangladesh

Policemen walk past burning rickshaws set ablaze by Islamist protestors during clashes with police in Narayanganj on May 6
Sadeq Khan

 
The incumbent Hasina regime has over the last four and a half years successfully thrown Bangladesh into an abyss of shattered image, crippled economy, rancorous politics, impugned constitution, corrupted judiciary, fruitless diplomacy, tyrannical potentate, rubber-stamp parliament, pervasive criminality, frozen public administration, police-state terror, low-key insurgency, and on top, a sharply divided social infrastructure. Right at the outset the first year of its tenure, began, by ‘political’ mishandling of a rebellion of BDR (paramilitary border security outfit) personnel leading to the tragic massacre of 57 accomplished army officers, with highly demoralising effect on the defence establishment and the national psyche.
Full Story

Policemen walk past burning rickshaws set ablaze by Islamist protestors during clashes with police in Narayanganj on May 6
Sadeq Khan

 
The incumbent Hasina regime has over the last four and a half years successfully thrown Bangladesh into an abyss of shattered image, crippled economy, rancorous politics, impugned constitution, corrupted judiciary, fruitless diplomacy, tyrannical potentate, rubber-stamp parliament, pervasive criminality, frozen public administration, police-state terror, low-key insurgency, and on top, a sharply divided social infrastructure. Right at the outset the first year of its tenure, began, by ‘political’ mishandling of a rebellion of BDR (paramilitary border security outfit) personnel leading to the tragic massacre of 57 accomplished army officers, with highly demoralising effect on the defence establishment and the national psyche.
The regime continued with disastrous effects on the macro-economic infrastructure by a series of scandals like share market bubble that devastated the capital market to a state of continuing morbidity, the Padma Bridge corruption conspiracy that spoiled our development partnership with World Bank led donors, the Hallmark defalcation exposing fraudulent practices that seriously damaged the banking system, and so on. 
The regime also went on to politicise and disturb the discipline of all the state institutions, which have now been robbed of credibility in the eyes of the public across the board. The regime started the last year of its tenure by setting an example of its readiness to abuse the coercive power of the state by police, killing of 170 violent protesters on the streets in a week, end February-early March. 
In April this year, a man-made disaster under misconceived ‘political’ motivation took place by the collapse of a eight-storey building housing five garment factories with several thousand workers at work, rescue work of survivors and bodies dead and wounded from under the ruins of which are still continuing, accounting for some nine hundred dead so far and hundreds dismembered in hospital. Then at dead of night on May 5, after a day of massive protests against government indulgence of anti-Islamic calumny, organised by Islamic scholars and their following from all over the country gathered at a government-appointed spot in the business district of Motijheel in the capital, the regime ordered a crackdown on sleepy sit-in protesters that has allegedly led to a real large-scale massacre, followed by violence and unrest paralysing the entire country. 
On the 4th of May, The Economist on London reported on the garments factory-building disaster as follows: 
“It was South Asia’s worst industrial accident since the Bhopal disaster of 1984, when a gas leak killed at least 3,800 people. In a few terrifying moments on April 24th a building that included a shopping centre and five garment factories collapsed in Savar, an industrial corner near Dhaka, the capital. 
“The building was called Rana Plaza after its owner, Sohel Rana, a strongman of the youth wing of the ruling Awami League. He fled but was arrested four days later in Benapole, on the border with India, and has been charged with criminal negligence. Planning approval had been given for only five of the building’s eight storeys. Clothing and documents in the rubble suggest that buyers included European and North American brands such as Primark, Joe Fresh, Kik and Benetton.
“The rescue operation was a fiasco, with the area not even cordoned off. Tens of thousands of bystanders besieged the site, some entering the wreckage. Soldiers and firemen were present, but it was mostly left to locals to drag out survivors and corpses. At one point bystanders pelted volunteers with stones for making such slow progress, prompting police to use tear gas. Every day the stench of decomposing bodies grew.
“Foreign governments and the United Nations had offered help almost immediately. But Bangladesh’s rulers refused, prickly with national pride. The resulting lack of sniffer dogs or machinery may have cost lives. Worse, the calamity had been predicted. Cracks appeared in Rana Plaza the day before its collapse. Both the police and the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), a powerful lobby, told the owner his building was unsafe but he ignored them and the factories stayed open. Workers said they had been pressed to show up.
“The industry is tied to the corrupt political system: at least 25 MPs have investments in the garment business. 
“If it fails to put its own house in order, why should anyone else?”
Indeed, the resultant commotion in the European and US retail markets of Bangladesh readymade garments is likely to lead to significant loss of clientele and has already drawn serious warnings of possible cancellation or reduction of GSP facilities of Bangladesh in those markets. But Sheikh Hasina is unperturbed. 
 
CNN interview
A CNN telecast interviewing Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on the subject was shown on the screen of the network as follows: 
“Yes, there are some problems," the Prime Minister said, but added that a committee has been formed to ensure the safety of buildings and workers.
(Interviewer) Christiane Amanpour, Emmy-winning news correspondent for CNN, pointed out that local officials predicted that the building could collapse after cracks appeared on its walls on April 23, and they urged workers not to re-enter it.
“You are very correct,” Hasina said. “Unfortunately, in the morning, the owners of the factories put pressure to labour to enter.”
She blamed the owners of the five factories as well as Sohel Rana, the building's owner, and disputed the suggestion that their political connections could protect them. (In fact, Sohel Rana is a ruling party activist who was also planning to organise a pro-government political demonstration by the mobilised female garment workers in his building late in the day of the accident). 
But the collapse of the building is only the latest in a string of fatal incidents that have beset the industry in recent years. A fire five months ago at a garment maker in another suburb of Dhaka killed at least 112 people.
 
Death of Aminul Islam
Hasina expressed little concern that international companies would stop doing business in Bangladesh as a result of the disaster. Investors have tapped into the Bangladeshi market not just because of its high-quality workers, she said. “They get cheap labour,” she said. “That's why they come here.” (More than a year back, Aminul Islam, a labour rights activist who also promoted labour-management cooperation, was killed). Hasina denied that the killing last year of a labour leader signified that her government was hostile towards unions. Aminul Islam's body, bearing signs of torture, was found four days after he disappeared in April 2012.
“Nobody knew that he was a labour leader," she said. It was only after his body was found, she said, "that we came to know that he was a labour leader and he was assassinated.” (The case is unresolved and government security personnel are suspected of the killing).
The interview carried out via satellite by ace international correspondent and analyst Christiane Amanpour in New York and the Prime Minister in Dhaka. 
CNN was unable to gain visas from the Bangladeshi government that would allow the network to send reporters to cover the country first-hand. But the prime minister disputed that assertion. “It is not true,” Hasina said. “We never stop any media to come to Bangladesh.” Asked about restrictions on coverage imposed by the visa office, she said, “Every country has these rules and regulations.”
The threat to $20 billion garment industry hangs like a Damocles’s sword, nevertheless. 
On May 6, The Asian Human Rights Commission of Hong Kong issued a statement on the alleged massacre of Islamist protesters as follows: 
“News reports from Bangladesh allege that a series of attacks on demonstrators have taken place, at around 3am today, May 6, 2013. The extent of the injuries and death is difficult to be ascertained at the moment. The Daily Star, a Bangladeshi newspaper, gave the figure of deaths as 5. However, several internet reports have mentioned that the number of deaths could be as high as 2,500 or more. Pictures of dead bodies have also been distributed over the internet. Major news channels in Bangladesh have been silenced. Two private television channels that were showing live pictures of the attacks upon the demonstrators were immediately closed down. The authorities have, later in the morning, imposed Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898, (a provision similar to declaring internal emergency) in the city of Dhaka, under which more than four persons are not allowed to converge in public places and the declaration absolutely prohibits public protest. Worse, the executive authorities could use deadly force against civilians under this provision. All forms of public gatherings, rallies and protests have been prohibited until the midnight today, May 6.
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has learned that the security forces, including the Border Guards Bangladesh, the Rapid Action Battalion and the Police, started a massive crackdown on the demonstrators of the Hefazat-E-Islam early morning on Monday. According to unverified information the AHRC has received, a huge number of lives have already been lost. Numerous victims have been shot at close range by the state agencies. It appears that the international community stationed in Dhaka is fully aware of the brutal crackdown and the wanton extrajudicial execution happening within Dhaka and in the outskirts of the city.
“The AHRC does not agree with any of the demands made by the Hefazat-E-Islam. Our concern, however, is for the right of everyone to participate in protests. At all times the sacredness of the right to life must be respected.
The violence that is going on in Bangladesh must stop now. The international community has a moral as well as a legal obligation to intervene, which could save lives and could prevent the situation from deteriorating further. The United Nations must take all necessary actions, most importantly through the office of the Secretary General to bring an immediate end to the bloody impasse that has befallen upon the country.”
On May 7, BD Alert Network circulated a commentary on the same subject as follows: 
“3,150 people killed in 10 days. (The culmination) happened like a nightmare. Between 500 and 2,500 protestors have been killed. The paramilitary forces, 10,000 Bangladeshi police officers and the notorious Rapid Action Battalion invaded the camps of hundreds of thousands of protestors while they were settling down for the night. The protest during the day numbered over 1.5 million. 
Government forces fired live bullets in the dark of night, into crowds of religious scholars and students numbering 500,000 and were seen piling dead bodies into trucks. Before the forces moved in, two pro opposition TV stations were shut down, electricity was centrally switched off and the media was expelled as the midnight massacre was carried out. Hospitals and Madrassa have been raided continuously to hunt down protestors. Thousands of bullet ridden students are unable to afford treatment.
This slaughter comes 10 days after the April 24 garment factory collapse in Bangladesh, which has now exceeded a death toll of 650. The factory was illegally built by a crony of the ruling party, the Awami League. As reported by the BBC, The Bangladesh government refused international expertise and equipment, which greatly increased the death toll.
Bangladesh Prime Minister’s response to the building collapse? ‘Accidents happen.’
For the past three months, Bangladesh has been in the grip of protests, police killings and turmoil. The government has been condemned by International Human Rights organizations for showing absolutely no regard for human life, the protection of human rights or the rule of law. It is actively participating in state-sponsored terrorism.”
Despite such damning condemnation, the incumbent leaders are desperately sticking to their strategy of wiping out opposition, silencing critics, and confounding domestic public and foreign governments by misinformation. In their delusion of power, they are perhaps forgetting that it may be necessary for them to divine a safe exit plan, if they fail to resolve the stalemate over transition of power amongst other looming crises.

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HEFAJAT VOWS REVENGE; LAWSUIT UNDERWAY

Motijheel massacre spawns unintended consequences

 M. Shahidul Islam in Toronto

 
The tears are yet to dry from the eyes of millions at home and abroad mourning the fateful Savar tragedy when another major tragedy has struck the nation. 
Unlike the over 1,000 feared deaths --- 819 bodies recovered till Wednesday --- from the rubble of the Rana Plaza complex in Savar that collapsed on April 24 due to an alleged government-sponsored call to poor workers to work inside a wobbly edifice, the ‘Motijheel massacre’ took place under the direct command of the the government’s high command.
Full Story

 M. Shahidul Islam in Toronto

 
The tears are yet to dry from the eyes of millions at home and abroad mourning the fateful Savar tragedy when another major tragedy has struck the nation. 
Unlike the over 1,000 feared deaths --- 819 bodies recovered till Wednesday --- from the rubble of the Rana Plaza complex in Savar that collapsed on April 24 due to an alleged government-sponsored call to poor workers to work inside a wobbly edifice, the ‘Motijheel massacre’ took place under the direct command of the the government’s high command.
The alleged midnight massacre around the Shapla Chattar during the pre-dawn hours of May 6 has given birth to a number of new scenarios and consequences. Hefajat leaders are preparing a lawsuit in the International Criminal Court (ICC) against the Prime Minister and her cohorts while threat of revenge has been uttered by responsible leaders of Hefajat-i-Islam Bangladesh (HIB) from within.
 
HRW pre-warning
Human rights watchers across the world have already begun to conclude that an unprecedented atrocities by over 10,000 strong police and paramilitary forces has caused over 2,000 deaths and injured another 2500 Hefajat activists who were either on sleep, or on prayers following an exhausting day of protests on May 5 when reportedly over 3 millions of HIB followers gathered in Dhaka to attend their pre-scheduled congregation. For weeks before what now seems to have turned into the most horrific incident of mayhem in Bangladesh’s history since the March 25, 1971 crackdown on unarmed civilians by the Pakistan Army, speculations were rife about what was about to befall the nation. 
Depending on reports of various diplomatic missions in Bangladesh that armed ruling party thugs would descend on Dhaka that day in great number to create mayhem, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned on May 3, “With new protests planned in the coming days, the Bangladeshi government should ensure that the security forces immediately end their practice of using excessive force against protesters. The government should appoint an independent commission to investigate the deaths of dozens of protesters, including children, since began in February, and, prosecute anyone responsible for unlawful killings and use of force.”
The HRW pre-warning was based on intelligence reports from some diplomatic missions that the government had planned a major crackdown on unarmed Hefajat protesters to silence their agitations forever, it was learnt. 
 
Independent report
What exactly happened that night may be a subject of debate and introspection for months and years to come, but the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), an independent rights watchdog, summed up the massacre in its initial report on May 6 that reads: 
“News reports from Bangladesh allege that a series of attacks on demonstrators have taken place, at around 3am today, May 6, 2013. The extent of the injuries and death is difficult to be ascertained at the moment. The Daily Star, a Bangladeshi newspaper, gave the figure of deaths as 5. However, several internet reports have mentioned that the number of deaths could be as high as 2,500 or more. Pictures of dead bodies have also been distributed over the internet. Major news channels in Bangladesh have been silenced. Two private television channels that were showing live pictures of the attacks upon the demonstrators were immediately closed down. All forms of public gatherings, rallies and protests have been prohibited until the midnight of May 6.
It is widely believed that the post- and pre-massacre measures --- such as imposing section 144 and the cutting off electricity supply around Motijheel prior to the massacre --- were designed to perpetrate the killings and transport and hide dead bodies from the spot beyond public or media watch.
 
HIB version
The Holiday had the opportunity to talk to one of the senior HIB leaders on condition that his identity would not be revealed. He has confirmed that the initial estimate by the HIB’s media cell about the number of deaths from the pre-dawn crackdown in Motijheel was about 1,000; a figure officially confirmed by Ahlullah Wassel, chief of the HIB’s media cell. “As reports of more deaths and injuries poured in, the estimated death now stands at 2300 and the number of injured at 2900 (as of midnight, May 7, 2013)”, said the HIB leader.
This correspondent was then referred to what the HIB leader said HIB’s Chief Security Adviser (CSA), and, whose antecedent was revealed as a former officer of the Bangladesh armed forces. Upon contact, the CSA sought an assurance from this correspondence that his phone number would not be revealed and his name would remain anonymous. Agreed, the CSA said his outfit (HIB) has had some prior information about a likely government crackdown, but not to the extent it had happened.
“Our people were first blocked from entering Dhaka in the outskirts and, prior to that, transports were made unavailable in many districts by government-instigated strikes called by transport owners. But half of our estimated three million people were already in Dhaka and its outskirts by May 3. As people started moving towards the venue after Shapla Chottor was allocated in late noon, police blocked their way in eight places in and around Motijheel, pitting our activists to engage in a showdown with the police in which so much of teargas were lobbed that the victims were compelled to create fire on the street to neutralize tear gas impact.”
These are fires being portrayed by the government as the acts of arson and vandalism committed by HIB activists and for which ruling party leader Syed Ashraf declared that, “They (Hefajat) would never be allowed to come to Dhaka. We’ll not allow them to come out of their houses either.”
When response was sought from the CSA about Syed Ashraf’s threats, the CSA said, “Our top leaders have had a policy not to indulge in any violence but that policy has now changed.Asked why, the CSA broke into tears and said, “As a soldier, I will take revenge of my innocent brothers’ deaths, at any cost. We will not respond with bricks and stones anymore.”
 
ICC lawsuit underway
This correspondence was told that the HIB has begun to form committees abroad after this massacre and a competent lawyer has been hired to prepare a lawsuit against Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her accessories (under-command) in the International Criminal Court (ICC) for mass killings and crimes against humanity by relentlessly ordering slaughtering of unarmed HIB and other opposition protesters. 
When contacted, the lawyer too requested anonymity and said he is working on such a lawsuit and specific evidence are being received which seems convincing to him. He said the lawsuit will be initiated pursuant to Article 2 of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG), and, all other relevant laws and treaties that followed since.
He added, “We seem to have a strong case as the definition of genocide is now wide and encompasses murder by a government of people due to their national, ethnic, racial, or religious group membership.”
The lawyer further said, “Since February 28, nearly 3,000 unarmed protesters have been killed by Bangladesh security forces, of which over 100 deaths occurred within 48 hours on March 1-2. Now that thousands more have been slaughtered within two hours on May 6, these crimes fall under the definition of genocide and the Bangladesh government stands accused of violating all the international treaties relating to human rights. It’s time this madness is censored by the global community.”
 
UN and the USA
Meanwhile, the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, has voiced his concern over the ongoing killing of unarmed protesters in Bangladesh and requested the government to sit with religious and political leaders while the US Ambassador to Dhaka, Dan Mozena, has cautioned that all groups and individuals have rights to protest; insinuating that the use of brute force against unarmed protesters constitutes violations of domestic and international laws. 
As the global outcry gets louder, these unintended consequences come at a time when the nation remains ungovernable due to incessant strikes and violent agitations and the government’s undeterred intent to kill as many unarmed people as needed to cling onto power indefinitely. Bangladesh also seems to be having a tryst with the destiny as it struggles to decide whether to live with democracy by accommodating all shades of opinions, or allow a virtual one-party rule to decide the fate of its 165 million people. Time for that decision is now or never.

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Political ramifications of killing Hefajat men

The peaceful gathering at Shapla Chattar showed Hefajat workers were non-violent and it showed their mood.
Faruque Ahmed

 
The killing of Hefajat-e-Islam workers who largely come from the countryside showed how the nation is predominantly becoming divided between the urban elite and the rural poor. It also showed how religion is becoming the property of the rural poor.
Police killed the poor villagers and Jamaat workers in hundreds in April this year when they took to the streets to protest the death penalty to senior Jamaat-e-Islami leader Maulana Delwar Hossain Sayeede. This time people coming mostly from villages have been massacred in the city centre again as they came to press home their religious demands.
The question that may be now increasingly asked is whether the poor and the religious groups, who constitute the vast majority of the people, have any say in the affairs of the nation. The unfolding events thus showed the country’s political divide is only deepening. 
Full Story

The peaceful gathering at Shapla Chattar showed Hefajat workers were non-violent and it showed their mood.
Faruque Ahmed

 
The killing of Hefajat-e-Islam workers who largely come from the countryside showed how the nation is predominantly becoming divided between the urban elite and the rural poor. It also showed how religion is becoming the property of the rural poor.
Police killed the poor villagers and Jamaat workers in hundreds in April this year when they took to the streets to protest the death penalty to senior Jamaat-e-Islami leader Maulana Delwar Hossain Sayeede. This time people coming mostly from villages have been massacred in the city centre again as they came to press home their religious demands.
The question that may be now increasingly asked is whether the poor and the religious groups, who constitute the vast majority of the people, have any say in the affairs of the nation. The unfolding events thus showed the country’s political divide is only deepening. 
The crisis is only widening. The killing of Hefajat workers and chasing their leaders will accelerate polarization at all levels in politics, analysts say. Moreover, they believe it will add one more formidable challenge to the government from the countryside adding to the list of existing opponents of the ruling coalition.
The midnight killing of Hefajat workers at Shapla Chattar remains totally shrouded in mystery. Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) Commissioner Benazir Ahmed claimed that nobody was killed in the late night operation while death tolls from the previous day-long clashes stood at 11. He said, the joint forces carried out the raid to clear the city centre from the unauthorized occupation by the clerics as they had information that the Hefajat workers were planning to “loot the central bank and carry out raid at Bangladesh secretariat” at dawn. 
Benazir even dismissed the use of lethal weapons in the operation while dismissing the social media reporting in facebook, U-tube and such other outlets producing the picture of dumping of bodies. These are mischievously edited and misleading, he said.
But Hefajat leaders said their workers were victims of pre-planned massacre without any warnings and the death tolls from ‘Operation Secured Shapla Chattar’ which was codenamed by the government, stood between two and three thousand. They are collecting information from the grassroots and it may take some time to ascertain the exact death tolls, they said. 
BNP has also lent support to the death figure claimed by Hefajat and said the figure provided by DMP was not credible. More than a thousand people had perished on that fateful night, they said comparing it with the Jalianwalabagh massacre by the colonial British government. 
It may only be compared with March 25 midnight massacre of unarmed people in the city by the Pakistani forces in 1971 in our time, BNP leaders said. 
Hefajat and BNP leaders held the view that victims’ bodies were removed in the darkness of night as the operation was carried out switching off the lights in the streets and clearing the spot from the presence of the members of the print and electronic media. 
Never before in the last 42 years history of Bangladesh, such political killings occurred they said adding voice with rights groups at home and abroad including the Amnesty International for an international probe into it the killing. 
Media reports, however, vary with the highest number of casualties at 44 covering from the daylong clashes on May 5 through the night. Hefajat said their workers were always unarmed and came under police firing and attacks from the ruling party goons at Gulistan, Purana Paltan and Baitul Mukarram area, where Awami League, BSD, JSD, Communist Party and Workers Party offices are located and they enforced a ban on the movement of Hefajat men. 
The peaceful gathering at Shapla Chattar showed Hefajat workers were non-violent and it showed their mood. News reports in some dailies meanwhile said ruling party goons  carried out destruction of properties and torched small shops including bookstores which were selling the holy Quran. 
Mainstream reporting however blamed the Hefajat workers for the violence, but Hefajat dismissed these reports in print and electronic media as the work of the government friendly press. The vandalism was pre-planned and the permission to hold the rally was also fishy, the Islamist group said. 
The government wanted them to step into a trap luring them to Shapla Chattar and they did what they had exactly planned, critics said suggesting that the massacre may become a boomerang to the government soon. 
Some sources even suggested that the government has let the Gonojagoran workers take a chance on Hefajat men who have vowed to destroy them. As analysis is pouring in, questions are also looming large as to what benefits the government may derive from the killing.  
Many people wonder why all sensational events are happening during the tenure of this government. Not only the Shapla Chattar killing, the BDR revolt in February 2009 also left 57 army officers killed almost destroying the foundation of the country’s defence. Then came the recent collapse of Rana Plaza at Savar which has so far left some 950 garment workers killed while more than 450 are still missing. 
The collapse of the building and the magnitude of the devastation showed in parallel the decay of the system of governance and the prevalence of vandalism, killing and repression at all levels of society. Otherwise, Rana Plaza could not have been built by a ruling party goon and so many people would not have been killed with as many missing and injured. 
Swindling of thousands of crore taka from state-owned commercial banks took place under this government. The Hallmark scandal is only the tips of the iceberg. Earlier the stock market was robbed by people close to the government and names of the culprits were not punished. The Destiny scandal and Padma Bridge scandal are some other big scams, but the hand of the law remained ineffective to deal with the criminals. 
Meanwhile, the country’s political situation is only worsening. It witnesses two days’ hartal enforced by BNP-led 18-party alliance. Yet another hartal is fixed by Hefajat to protest the killing of its workers for Sunday next, the opening day of the business week. Earlier BNP has served a 48-hour ultimatum to accept the non-party government during election, which the government immediately turned down.
The country is heading towards more violence and where the end of it lies, nobody knows.

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Looking beyond the Rana Plaza tragedy

Shahabuddin Ahmad

 
‘Every cloud has a silver lining’, a saying derived from the English poet, Milton’s ‘Comus’, seems one appropriate for the people of Bangladesh to reflect on in the wake of the devastating tragedy in Savar, which has, once again, focussed international attention on the country. But where is it possible to detect such a silver lining under such circumstances?
Inevitably, the, ’blame game’ will play out, and the demands for revenge and restitution become more strident, whilst the world turns its attention elsewhere.
Sensible consideration of this fact, despite the horror of its genesis, represents a potential opportunity, not only for the social and economic development much needed, but especially, perhaps, for the members of BGMEA to redeem their increasingly tarnished reputation.
Full Story

Shahabuddin Ahmad

 
‘Every cloud has a silver lining’, a saying derived from the English poet, Milton’s ‘Comus’, seems one appropriate for the people of Bangladesh to reflect on in the wake of the devastating tragedy in Savar, which has, once again, focussed international attention on the country. But where is it possible to detect such a silver lining under such circumstances?
Inevitably, the, ’blame game’ will play out, and the demands for revenge and restitution become more strident, whilst the world turns its attention elsewhere.
Sensible consideration of this fact, despite the horror of its genesis, represents a potential opportunity, not only for the social and economic development much needed, but especially, perhaps, for the members of BGMEA to redeem their increasingly tarnished reputation.
Garment manufacturing and export is part of a three thousand year tradition in these lands of the Ganges and Brahmaputra delta, and there can be little doubt that lives were continuously lost in the practice of the international centre of trade that archaeological evidence, such as the finds at Wari Bateshwar and Mahasthangarh, support. And the circumstantial evidence of the enormous wealth generated includes the philosophical heritage, including Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and even Islam, with hundreds of ancient sites, many of them the largest such in the world, offers further support.
That, at least, whilst in no way diminishing the scale of human tragedy involved at Savar, could contextualise it. There can be little doubt that the urgency of the potential for rapid wealth creation, which throughout the ages no doubt enriched, mostly, the few, corners were cut throughout those centuries.
But whatever the cause of this immediate tragedy, and it is possible that an independent enquiry which, at least, it is to be hoped that international retailers will interest themselves in, the international horror offers up a unique opportunity for all those who may be inclined to share in the guilt, from garment manufacturers, through public authorities, to garment retailers, and even shoppers across the developed world, to do something to help to assuage any residual sense of guilt, before it is forgotten.
As we all know, Bangladesh lags far behind its neighbours in the development of inbound tourism, the one form of foreign currency earning that brings people to the country. There are, of course, many identified causes of this, from inhospitable and unhelpful embassy visa officers, through lack of airline competition and inadequate development of hospitality facilities and training of staff, to poor presentation of the rich archaeological heritage that we know underpins high value international tourism, together with the facilities for shopping and eating out which are also indispensible, and which Bangladesh is already well equipped to provide.
What is needed at this particular moment in time is some articulate spokespeople for Bangladesh to go onto the attack on a world that is determinedly unaware of the reality of what Bangladesh has to offer alongside disasters, and contextualise this appalling tragedy, and how shoppers can make amends.
What is also needed is informed investment in the development to overcome the shortcomings in tourist services delivery, and the training required to develop the international standards required to service tourists from that vital, socially and environmentally aware group, who happen generally, to be the best educated, and most affluent.
Above all, and there seems no reason at all why BGMEA members should not go short of the odd BMW to finance it, a Communications Strategy, to contextualise, and lay the foundations that could justify investment in what could, certainly, be the ‘next big thing’ for the economy in the development of the kind of high quality tourism that India, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bhutan, and, increasingly, Myanmar are so good at.
It is clear that many businessmen in Bangladesh have little idea how to undertake such sophisticated work, and most academics are richer in the theory than the practice. But, whilst the thoughts of the world linger in Bangladesh, this could be another unique window for Bangladesh to look beyond the tragedy, and recover some initiative, in continuing its ancient tradition of travel and trade, and the creation of much needed, higher value jobs, especially for younger people.
No doubt, if history is anything to go by, there will be other such tragedies, and if predictions about vulnerability to earthquakes are anything to go by, they may be even more devastating, but now is the time to plan to move forward, rather than indulge in an orgy of blame.
Short of natural disasters (tsumi, earthquake, tornados) tourism inventories of Bangladesh can take safer outfits and are promising. Bangladesh had the potential in the past and will continue to have it for now and for future.
Email: ttw1@hotmail.com

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NO EARLY WARNING FOR U.S.

UN warns against escalation after Israeli strikes in Syria

America's main ally in the Middle East, Israel typically does not feel it has to ask for a green light from Washington for such attacks.
Al Ahram

 
The United States was not given any warning before air strikes in Syria against what Western and Israeli officials say were weapons headed for Hezbollah militants, a US intelligence official said. A US intelligence official revealed that Washington did not have a prior warning on Israel's air strike against Syria.
Without confirming that Israel was behind the attacks, the intelligence official said that the United States was essentially told of the air raids "after the fact" and was notified as the bombs went off.
Full Story

America's main ally in the Middle East, Israel typically does not feel it has to ask for a green light from Washington for such attacks.
Al Ahram

 
The United States was not given any warning before air strikes in Syria against what Western and Israeli officials say were weapons headed for Hezbollah militants, a US intelligence official said. A US intelligence official revealed that Washington did not have a prior warning on Israel's air strike against Syria.
Without confirming that Israel was behind the attacks, the intelligence official said that the United States was essentially told of the air raids "after the fact" and was notified as the bombs went off.
Israeli jets bombed Syria for the second time in 48 hours. Israel does not confirm such missions explicitly --- a policy it says is intended to avoid provoking reprisals. But an Israeli official acknowledged that the strikes were carried out by its forces.
"It would not be unusual for them to take aggressive steps when there was some chance that some sophisticated weapons system would fall into the hands of people like Hezbollah," the US intelligence official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
While the air raids raised fears that America's main ally in the Middle East could be sucked into the Syrian conflict, Israel typically does not feel it has to ask for a green light from Washington for such attacks.
Officials have indicated in the past that Israel sees a need only to inform the United States once such a mission is under way.
US President Barack Obama said that Israel has the right to guard against the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah, an ally of both Syria and Iran.
Rather than an attempt to tip the scales against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Israel's action is seen more as part of its own conflict with Iran, which it fears is sending missiles to Hezbollah in Lebanon through Syria. Those missiles might hit Tel Aviv if Israel makes good on threats to attack Tehran's nuclear programme.
Another Western intelligence source told Reuters the latest attack, like the previous one, was directed against stores of Fateh-110 missiles in transit from Iran to Hezbollah.
People were woken in the Syrian capital by explosions that shook the ground like an earthquake and sent pillars of flames high into the night sky. Syrian state television said bombing at a military research facility at Jamraya and two other sites caused "many civilian casualties and widespread damage," but it gave no details. The Jamraya compound was also a target for Israel on Jan. 30.
The US intelligence official said additional strikes in the future could not be ruled out.
"Any sophisticated weaponry that finds its way there (Syria)that looks to be destined to fall in the hands of bad actors, I think there is a likelihood that those could be targets as well," the second official said.
 
Added pressure
Obama has repeatedly shied away from deep US involvement in the Syrian conflict, which erupted in 2011 and has killed an estimated 70,000 people and created more than 1.2 million refugees.
Hours after the Israeli attacks, several US lawmakers voiced concern over the mounting uncertainty in the Middle East. Influential Republican lawmaker John McCain said Israel's air strikes on Syria could add pressure on the Obama administration to intervene, but the US government faces tough questions on how it can help without adding to the conflict.
"We need to have a game-changing action, and that is no American boots on the ground, establish a safe zone and to protect it and to supply weapons to the right people in Syria who are fighting, obviously, for the things we believe," McCain said on "Fox News Sunday."
"Every day that goes by, Hezbollah increases their influence and the radical jihadists flow into Syria and the situation becomes more and more tenuous," he said.
US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said last week that Washington was rethinking its opposition to arming the Syrian rebels. He cautioned that giving weapons to the forces fighting Assad was only one option, which carried the risk of arms finding their way into the hands of anti-American extremists among the insurgents.
The United States has said it has "varying degrees of confidence" that chemical weapons have been used in Syria on a limited scale, but is seeking more evidence to determine who used them, how they were used and when.
 
Peace in the region under threat
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said that apparent Israeli air strikes on Syria showed that peace across the whole region was under threat, and reinforced the need to lift an arms embargo on Syrian rebels.
Hague's comments came after a senior Israeli official said that the Jewish state carried out a pre-dawn attack near Damascus on Sunday targeting Iranian missiles destined for Lebanon's Hezbollah.
"We don't have any official confirmation but of course there have been some sources in Israel saying that this has been an Israeli airstrike -- I will wait before commenting in detail on that for official confirmation," Hague told Sky News.
"But what I can say is that these events, and many other events of recent days, do show increasing danger to the peace of that entire region from the Syria crisis just getting worse and worse."
Hague added: "Lebanon is constantly threatened by being destabilised, huge numbers of refugees are crossing the border, Jordan is under incredible strain.
"And Israel has made very clear that it will act if it believes that important weapons systems are being transferred to Hezbollah."
Hague said that "Israel will act to protect its national security, we do have to respect that."
The Israeli strike on Sunday was the second on Syrian soil in three days, following an attack near Damascus airport on Friday which also struck Iranian arms destined for the Lebanese Shiite movement.
Iran condemned the strikes, which witnesses in Damascus said were like an earthquake.
The British foreign minister said the growing threat to peace in the region from the Syria crisis showed the need to increase assistance to the Syrian opposition.
He added that the "longer this goes on the stronger the case becomes for lifting the arms embargoes" against the Syrian opposition.
Britain is pushing the EU to lift an arms embargo on Syria, which comes up for renewal at the end of May.
Hague meanwhile reiterated that there were "credible reports of chemical weapons being used against" the Syrian people, although he was not pressed on whether that had passed the West's "red line" for intervention.

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Legacy of Nafis Sadik, an extraordinary  advocate for women’s rights

Nafis Sadik, renowned women's right advocate, and Cathleen Miller discuss Miller's book about Sadik, "Champion of Choice".

Joan Erakit at United Nations

 
Once dubbed “the most powerful woman in the world” by the London Times, Nafis Sadik learned at an early age that persistence leads to opportunities for change – and backlash from the Pope.
“Champion of Choice”, a book by acclaimed author Cathleen Miller, details the life and times of Sadik, the extraordinary women’s advocate who served as executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) from 1987 to 2000.
A dynamic collaboration between Miller and Sadik, “Champion of Choice” stands as an example of dedication and the power of the human spirit. The journey began 12 years ago in a quest for a story that led Miller all over the world.
Full Story
Nafis Sadik, renowned women's right advocate, and Cathleen Miller discuss Miller's book about Sadik, "Champion of Choice".

Joan Erakit at United Nations

 
Once dubbed “the most powerful woman in the world” by the London Times, Nafis Sadik learned at an early age that persistence leads to opportunities for change – and backlash from the Pope.
“Champion of Choice”, a book by acclaimed author Cathleen Miller, details the life and times of Sadik, the extraordinary women’s advocate who served as executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) from 1987 to 2000.
A dynamic collaboration between Miller and Sadik, “Champion of Choice” stands as an example of dedication and the power of the human spirit. The journey began 12 years ago in a quest for a story that led Miller all over the world.
“The main thing that connected me to her was my tremendous respect for her,” Miller told IPS about her decision to write a book about Sadik. She emphasised the importance of spending time with Sadik’s family, the local communities with whom she had worked and the women whose stories remained poignant contributions to “Champions of Choice”.
“People are not going to open up and tell you their life’s story over the telephone, to a stranger,” said Miller. “It was just about spending time with people and getting them to trust you, getting them to tell you things that were personal and sometimes very painful.”
adik fought tirelessly for women's rights and opened a global conversation on family planning.
On Mar. 20, UNFPA, Friends of UNFPA and the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) hosted a book launch at the Ford Foundation in Manhattan to celebrate both author and subject.
 
The importance of advocacy
Sadik’s work focused heavily on the health of women and girls. She fought tirelessly for women’s rights in sexual and reproductive health and opened up a global conversation on family planning.
As an undersecretary general at the United Nations, Sadik noted that her position gave her “a platform to really say what I always wanted to say about the rights of women, about sexual and reproductive health – including family planning – and how important it was and is for women to be able to exercise those rights”.
Not to be outdone by her male counterparts, Sadik became well known for her outspoken views and disarming clairvoyance. Advocating for her fellow women to advance themselves within the UNFPA, Sadik changed how the organisation was set up.
When she joined, she set up a task force to examine how women could advance in the organisation. “I let it be known in the office that if a position was open for advancement, I would consider both women and men,” Sadik described. “For a while, if they were equal, I would promote the woman.”
dvancing not only UNFPA but also the conversation surrounding global health, Sadik defied stereotypes and set out on a historic mission that fought to give women control over their bodies.
In 1994, Sadik was appointed secretary general of the International Conference on Population Development (ICPD) in Cairo that brought together world leaders, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and activists to discuss population development and human rights. She called her work there “my best achievement”, describing, “what I did was get people to the negotiating table”.
Spearheading an initiative for marriage equality and the empowerment of women, Sadik believed that when a woman has the right to reproductive health and the power to decide what’s best for her and her family, population management and sustaining global development become possible.
“Of course couples should make decisions together, but in the end it should be the woman who should be able to decide about her own life and about her own health and about her own needs,” Sadik said. This, however, “is not the case for the majority of women in the developing countries”.
 
A special narrative
With her many contributions and the occasional controversy – the Vatican opposed Sadik’s stand on sexual and reproductive health – Sadik’s story found its own special voice through Miller.
“This kind of narrative story that’s very much about storytelling – and very intimate – had the power to affect people in a different way than a book that’s historical or policy driven,” Miller told IPS.
Asking tough questions and relying on Sadik to recount stories, Miller wrote from a place of learning. The outcome was an incredible account of advocacy. In a era when the world is driven by instant gratification and immediate results, Sadik remains one of the most dedicated activists for women’s health and rights, an inspiring story and legacy in her own right.
“The main thing I learned from Dr. Sadik is that you have to have courage,” Miller shared. “Not just courage, but the determination to keep after a task or a change for decades.”
— Inter Press Service

 


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