Is Bangladesh `Emergency' different?
27 December 2007, Thursday
EVEN AS the Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf finds himself compelled to don civvies and withdraw the state of emergency, the dispensation in Dhaka continues to receive accolades for its ’clean-up’, which it believes it has achieved by the simple process of detaining scores of persons and subjecting them to warped trials.
South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre(SAHREDC) Executive Director Ravi Nair wondered that the international response to the Bangladesh crisis have been founded on the patronising belief that the country needs a benevolent regime that must be allowed the time and space to ’reform’ a gravely distorted polity. History shows, however, he warned that there are no benevolent dictators.
As security analyst Ayesha Siddiqa pointed out recently, the military is "not an organisation which can be trusted to remain a junior partner once the civilian policymakers and stakeholders begin to use it to gain power." Bangladesh’s ruling elite, which has sought to use military rule to its own advantage, she adds, would do well to remember that the use of extra-constitutional measures is likely to lead to disenchantment among the common people.
The United States stated that it was "deeply disturbed" and that it did not "support extra-constitutional measures that would take Pakistan away from the path of democracy and civilian rule." The European Union said it regretted the step and condemned "any provisions of the state of emergency that are unconstitutional."
The Commonwealth swiftly warned that it would expel Pakistan if the state of emergency was not repealed, and proceeded to carry out its threat ten days later, terming the situation "a serious violation of the Commonwealth’s fundamental values."
The international consensus was clear: President Musharraf may have been an acceptable, indeed, favoured, figure to lead Pakistan, but his new, blatantly oppressive moves warranted a sharp public critique.
In the Human Rights Feature on "Our Kind of Emergency" released by Ravi Nair on Wednesday, deplored that the international community is seems to be silent on Bangladesh’s ’caretaker’ government thought it was an opportune moment to pronounce on the qualitative distinctions between the emergency in Pakistan and the one at home.
"There is a difference," Bangladesh’s foreign advisor Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury stated. The imposition of emergency in Bangladesh, he said, was "within the country’s constitution." The state of emergency in Bangladesh is governed by the Emergency Powers Ordinance of 2007 which is a supplement of the Emergency Powers Rule 2007.
This state of emergency "shall cease to operate at the expiration of one hundred and twenty days, unless before the expiration of that period it had been approved by a resolution of Parliament."
Bangladesh’s state of emergency should, by this reckoning, have ended in April 2007. With no explanation given for this blatant breach of the constitution, it is submitted that Bangladesh’s Emergency Rule is ultra virus. This is not dissimilar from the emergency in Pakistan.
A team of European Union diplomats in Dhaka recently noted that human rights abuses had decreased and reportedly encouraged the government to continue on this "positive track". This, when the Bangladesh media as well as human rights groups have been expressing concern about the ongoing routine of secret detentions, extrajudicial executions, and deaths by ’crossfire’.
In conjunction with the current restrictions on freedom of the press and criticism, this indicates that human rights abuses are in reality continuing and increasing, but fewer reports are surfacing. In October 2007, Odhikar, a Dhaka-based organisation, stated that there had been 153 extrajudicial executions in the country in the 10 months following the declaration of emergency.
Odhikar observed that the actions of the current government were being "dictated less and less by the law", and called on the government to follow the due process of law in cases against corruption suspects, refraining from selective application of the law, and holding independent judicial inquiries into every incident of extrajudicial killing.
The EU was stridently critical of the political turbulence that came to a head in the last few months of 2006. It has continued to emphasise that a return to that situation would "catastrophic." Thus it was silent on the present prevailing political situation.
The EU is Bangladesh’s biggest trade partner, importing 54 percent of its goods. European Commission aid commitments in Bangladesh are the second largest in Asia after Afghanistan. The EU undoubtedly has an interest in the economic and political stability of Bangladesh.
Ravi Nair lamented that to give a gold star to a military-backed administration that has steadily whittled down fundamental rights and effectively clamped down on political activity speaks volumes about the duplicitous nature of the EU’s support and about the hollowness of its international human rights policy.
Bangladesh thus remains a member of the Commonwealth club which sees no incompatibility between Commonwealth principles and the actions of Bangladesh’s present government.
The day before the declaration of emergency, the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Dhaka had warned of repercussions for the deployment of Bangladeshi troops in peacekeeping missions abroad if there was any move towards military rule. There has been no reported suspension of such deployment following the declaration of emergency.
The UN has also failed to respond to individual cases of human rights violations, not even when it concerns one of its own experts. On 13 July 2007, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) stated that it had sought clarification on the condition of Sigma Huda, UN Special Reporter on trafficking of persons, who had been arrested on charges of corruption.
As with many other high-profile detainees, Ms. Huda’s trial was conducted without due process, eventually culminating in a three-year sentence. She suffers from coronary heart disease, diabetes and chronic renal failure, has not been given adequate medical treatment, and has been denied bail pending disposal of appeals. Her treatment is in gross violation of the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.
Following its July 2007 statement, however, the OHCHR has given no indication that it is monitoring the case. It would only be appropriate for the OHCHR to demand that it be kept informed regularly on the status and treatment of one of its own experts. Ms. Huda is not immune from prosecution and the OHCHR was not required to demand Ms. Huda’s release or for special treatment.
It was, however, required to insist that all due process safeguards be followed in Ms. Huda’s trial as well as in the trials of other detainees. It was also required to strongly urge the Bangladesh government that Ms. Huda be provided adequate medical treatment and be considered for bail in view of her poor health.
These international bodies have now pinned their hopes on a putative Human Rights Commission, and on a reorganised Election Commission, which are suffering from "an irretrievable loss of credibility" and that its actions have reinforced "the public suspicion that the commission may be working as an extension of the military-controlled interim government," Ravi Nair added.