Monday, November 02, 2015

Bangladesh embassy’s street in Paris renamed after slain blogger Avijit Roy


Saleem Samad

In protest of countries where journalists have been the victims of unpunished crimes and to mark International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists on Monday (2 November), media rights defender Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has renamed a street in Paris, France after slain American-Bangladesh blogger Avijit Roy.

In a comment in Facebook last evening Avijit Roy’s wife Rafida Ahmed Bonya also a survivor of brutal attack thanked RSF for this honor and stated that the honor goes to all the writers/bloggers/publishers/journalists hacked, tortured or killed for expressing their free thoughts.

RSF has renamed 12 Parisian streets after journalists who have been murdered, tortured or disappeared in recent times. The renamed streets are those with embassies of countries where journalists have been the victims of unpunished crimes, a statement issued on by Benjamin Ismaïl, Head of Asia Desk, RSF.

The embassy addresses have been changed to draw attention to the failure of these countries to take action and to remind them of their obligation to do whatever is needed to bring those responsible for these crimes to justice.

RSF is using these 12 emblematic cases to highlight the fact that crimes of violence against journalists usually go unpunished because official investigations are inadequate or non-existent and because governments are apathetic. More than 90 percent of crimes against journalist are never solved.

Five new names were added to the list in 2015. They include Tunisian journalists Sofiane Chourabi and Nadhir Ktari, who went missing in Libya in September 2014, and Radio France Internationale journalists Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon, who were murdered in Kidal, in northern Mali, on 2 November 2013.

Six weeks after their murder, the UN General Assembly created International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists and decided that it should me marked on the anniversary of their deaths.

“The cases of impunity that we are presenting are terrible symbols of passivity or deliberate inaction on the part of certain governments,” RSF’s secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.

“This International Day is an occasion for paying homage to the victims and for reminding governments of their obligation to protect journalists and to combat impunity. Those who target journalists will one day be held to account for their actions.”

In order to combat impunity, Reporters Without Borders is calling for the appointment of a special adviser to the UN secretary-general on the safety of journalists.


Saleem Samad, is an Ashoka Fellow (USA) an award winning investigator journalist, micro-blogger and correspondent for international media rights defender Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Tweet: @saleemsamad email: saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Friday, July 31, 2015

Bangladesh and India give enclave residents a state after 70 years

Land swap ends this midnight

Friday, July 10, 2015

Demand for world body to monitor money laundering

Silence over unabated money-laundering, siphoning of tax-dodged money decried

SALEEM SAMAD

Social justice activists jointly decried Bangladesh’s silence over unabated money-laundering, siphoning of tax dodged money, which severely dented social development investment.

There is a demand of the government to punish those Bangladesh nationals who allegedly laundered money and are also involved in tax dodging.

The leader of the alliance Reazul Karim Chowdhury of EquityBD said that tax evasion is predominant among the nationals who have opted for second-home in Malaysia, Dubai, Canada, United States and other destinations.

Under this situation, Chowdhury suggested formation of UN Tax Management Authority or Commission to intervene in money laundering and tax evasion by multi-national companies (MNCs).

The activists deliberately did not mention the nationals who are engaged in money laundering and tax evasion, but have indicated that business entrepreneurs, politicians and even senior bureaucrats either have a second-home or are contemplating to have a second-home soon.

Among the business community, the majority are the importers, who make windfall profits, are unaccounted, and untaxed.

On the other hand, the number of exporter’s choice for second-home is far less than the importers. The exporters, mostly garments and textile exporters apply for immigration to Australia, New Zealand, Canada and United States, which could be deemed as second-home.

The flight of the capital and siphoning of national wealth are only possible when there is lack of vigilance of monitoring of the income of the tax evaders, the social activist remarked.

Tax evasion obviously encourages spatial corruption of bureaucrats and politicians, which is unfortunately never detected and unable to bring them under the tax regime.

The rights groups lauded the Bangladesh Bank’s stringent vigil against money-laundering, but said that the central bank needs to do more to detect flight of capital through informal money-laundering agents, the money-changers.

The NGOs urged the central bank to bring the money-changers, engaged in ‘hundi’ under the scanner to check siphoning of capitals.


They blamed the MNCs for dodging huge taxes on various activities, which has become difficult of the state machineries to realise from the foreign companies.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow (USA) is an award winning investigative reporter and is Diplomatic Correspondent with Daily Observer, Bangladesh. Twitter @saleemsamad

Sunday, March 22, 2015

No End in Sight for Bangladesh Unrest

Photo: A Bangladeshi policeman (L) looks on as government party activists (R) wield sticks against activists of the Bangladesh National Party in Dhaka on Jan. 5.(HASAN RAJA/AFP/Getty Images)

Widespread violence and strikes across Bangladesh will soon enter their third month, extending a stranglehold on the economy that has cost the country billions. The world's second largest ready-made garments exporter, Bangladesh began the year courting investment to diversify its primarily textile-oriented manufacturing base to include low-end electronics and automobile assembly. But opposition political forces led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party began an extended campaign of social unrest following the anniversary of last year's disputed Jan. 5 elections. The military, which has been the historical mediator of Bangladesh's deep political divisions, has repeatedly denied calls from the opposition to intervene and preside over fresh elections. The country faces an extended battle of attrition between the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Awami League government. The unrest challenges the growth the national economy and textile industry have experienced in recent years.

Bangladesh is a poor, developing nation situated at the north of the Bay of Bengal. It is almost entirely surrounded by India and shares a short border with Myanmar. The country sits along the fertile floodplain of the Ganges River Delta, and its geography has greatly affected its economic development. Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries on Earth, but the same swampy, fertile land that supports its growing population has also made infrastructure development notoriously difficult, resulting in one of the most bottlenecked transportation systems in the world.

Since the country gained independence from Pakistan in 1971, Bangladesh's history has been marked by deep political divisions, frequent military coups and decades of instability. This instability has helped keep the country poor and wages low. These circumstances gave rise to a textile manufacturing sector looking to take advantage of Bangladesh's favourable labour costs and geographic position within the broader Indo-Pacific region. But Bangladesh is still a victim of its weak political system and deep social divisions between the nationalist and centre-right and conservative Islamist elements of its society, resulting in the violent social unrest that has gripped the country for much of the current year.

The months leading into 2015 saw the Awami League enter a cautious dialogue with the opposition led by the arch rival Bangladesh National Party. Western capitals — including Washington and several EU members — that had decried the January 2014 elections and the Awami League's violent suppression of rival political demonstrations used their economic support to persuade Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government to seek a compromise. This support is necessary for Bangladesh's economy; the European Union and United States are two of the largest markets for the country's ready-made garment exports. Especially concerning for Dhaka was the lifting of preferential trade conditions as a result of the controversy surrounding the 2014 elections. A primary motivator that influenced Hasina's government to negotiate with the Bangladesh National Party was Washington's decision to rescind Dhaka's Generalized System of Preferences status and EU threats to do the same.

The Awami League's cautious re-engagement with the Bangladesh National Party and the potential for a more politically and socially stable Bangladesh did not just offer benefits for the country's textile and garment industry. New Delhi was one of the few backers of the Awami League government in 2014. The closer ties between India and Bangladesh led to power transmission deals and the settlement of a long-lived maritime boundary dispute — one that expanded Dhaka's claims to a section of the Bay of Bengal, which may hold untapped deposits of natural gas, a significant boon to the electricity-starved economy. Dhaka also began expanding special economic zones along the coastal regions, wooing Chinese and Japanese investors drawn to Bangladesh's low wages in addition to its loose safety and environmental standards.

However, buoyed by rising international interest, Hasina's Awami League offered only token concessions to the opposition, which is led by the Bangladesh National Party's Begum Khaleda Zia. Noting the strong economic drivers behind the Awami League's outreach, the opposition coalition, which includes Islamist organization Jamaat-e-Islami, remained steadfast in its call for fresh elections overseen by a neutral caretaker Cabinet and its demand that Hasina step down as prime minister. The impasse carried over into 2015, with the opposition striking directly at the government's greatest vulnerability: the national economy and Bangladesh's highly vulnerable infrastructure system.

The Economic Impact of Unrest
Bangladesh's opposition parties, led by the right-of-centre Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its traditional Islamist partner Jamaat-e-Islami, launched a series of strikes, blockades and violent clashes coinciding with the first anniversary of the Jan. 5, 2014, national elections. Last year's polls represented a significant shift in Bangladesh's post-independence history. The incumbent centre-left Awami League sidelined the opposition through a series of constitutional changes, which include removing the military's ability to legally intervene in the political system, and by prosecuting Jamaat-e-Islami's leaders. The Bangladesh National Party and its political allies boycotted the elections, allowing the Awami League to claim a landslide victory despite criticism from the international community.

Bangladeshi Unrest and the Textiles Industry
Bangladesh's population of more than 150 million people relies on a congested and limited network of rail, road and ferry ways to move goods and people throughout the country. Groups of protesters burning tires and piles of trash have formed blockades across the country, effectively halting the movement of goods and people, often for days at a time. The economic impact can be seen everywhere. Crops have rotted in the field, garment factories have closed because of lost contracts and unemployment is rising as workers return from the cities to rural villages unable to find work. Domestic estimates place the economic cost of the unrest of the past three months at nearly $10 billion, a staggering sum given that Bangladesh's GDP is $150 billion.

Neither Hasina nor Zia have shown a willingness to negotiate. Traditionally, the military has been the arbiter in Bangladesh's often-chaotic political disputes, but the military leadership wants to avoid getting mired in the conflict for now because it could risk triggering greater unrest and violence. Zia's current strategy is to either force Hasina to capitulate or push the military to act, but the Awami League and the military are not likely to change their positions without a significant increase in violence and unrest.

Moreover, the military might not be the deciding factor in Bangladesh's current episode of unrest. During the past decade, professional organizations representing textile bosses have gained influence. Textiles and ready-made garments represent a significant portion of Bangladesh's economic activity, accounting for more than 60 percent of the country's industrial labor force and more than 80 percent of its annual exports by value. They are Dhaka's primary source of foreign currency revenue, which helps to lessen its negative trade balance. (Bangladesh still imports much of the basic resources needed for its garments trade, such as cotton, yarn and cloth, in addition to foodstuffs and fuel.)

Leaders of the three largest trade associations — the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association and Bangladesh Textile Mills Association — have enjoyed close ties to the Awami League and the Bangladesh National Party governments. Both parties have been careful to cultivate these relationships. But the Awami League now faces rising demands from the associations regarding better tax benefits, looser wage and safety restrictions, and subsidized electricity and fuel to offset losses from unrest. The associations also met with the U.S. ambassador to Bangladesh on March 5 to aid efforts by foreign governments and corporations to appeal to economic partners, rather than political ones, to pressure the government and the opposition to resume peaceful negotiations.

Economic Pressure Unlikely to Force a Deal
Bangladesh's current bout of political instability and violence is likely to continue during the months ahead. Political polarization, especially between the Bangladesh Nationalist Party's camp and the Awami League government, will remain as both sides extend their brinksmanship. Hasina seeks to exhaust opposition supporters, relying on arrests, crackdowns and threats of legal action against Bangladesh National Party and Jamaat-e-Islami leaders. The Bangladesh National Party hopes to make the economic pain unbearable, though it risks alienating the business community and Western governments as well; U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has repeatedly asked the opposition to stop resorting to violence, even as he thanked the current Awami League government for its help in combating terrorism in late February. This is where the Awami League's slight advantage over the opposition become apparent, at least in its own eyes. The ruling government's stronger ties to neighbouring India, better counter-terrorism record and traditionally strong links to labour unions have all contributed to its decision to maintain its absolutist stance.

Recent statistics from the Bangladeshi government's Export Promotion Bureau show that garment exports are still rising, with year-on-year growth of 7.8 percent in January and 6 percent in February. While industry associations have tracked a nearly 50 percent decline in short-term orders from international companies — to the benefit of competing industries in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos — Bangladesh's textile and ready-made garment industries have shown a remarkable resilience, even despite the political uncertainties of the past two years. The military remains cautious about triggering a widespread backlash against a coup and agitating rising Islamist tendencies. But with the economy still growing and support declining with every Bangladesh National Party call for strikes and shutdowns, there is not enough incentive for the military to get involved in a difficult and chaotic political competition it has not been able to resolve in the past 40 years. With the military repeatedly announcing that it has no plans to end the current impasse and the Awami League choosing to consolidate its power at the cost of delaying investment and economic revitalization, Bangladesh sees no quick or easy exit from instability.

First published in STRATFOR Global Intelligence, March 20, 2015

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Mamata visit usher hope of strengthening Indo-Bangladesh relations


SALEEM SAMAD

All set for Mamata Banerjee’s visit to Bangladesh, which usher hopes of taking the India-Bangladesh relations at new height, when her party is sailing through troubled waters.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata is arriving on an official visit to Dhaka during the observance of Ekushey February and opening of the International Mother Language Institute building at Kakrail on Basha Dibash (February 21).

Banerjee’s visit has acquired major significance especially against the backdrop of her resistance to sign the treaties back in 2011, when then Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh had to back off at the last minute due to her position.

Though her government has softened its stand against the LBA, not much progress has been made in the water sharing agreement, which has become a major point of conflict between the two neighbouring countries.

The All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader would be welcomed with open arms, but the Foreign Office was uncomfortable after media reports of arrival of controversial legislator Ahmed Hassan Imran.

A top Foreign Office official confirmed that the government has received the final and full list of entourage of Mamata Banerjee’s visit to Dhaka on February 19. The list does not have Imran’s name.

Diplomats in Bangladesh have been saying that it would not be right if Imran visited their country. The government have expressed reservations about Imran coming to Bangladesh, says the official.

Imran is a TMC lawmaker who was appointed to the Rajya Sabha. His appointment last year had created uproar as it came just after Indian security agencies dossier had flagged him for being sympathetic of the dreaded Jamaat-e-Islami and also blamed to destabilise the Awami League government.

During her visit to the Bangladesh capital, Mamata is expected to meet President Mohammad Abdul Hamid and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and discuss key treaties like the Teesta water sharing agreement and the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) between the two neighbouring countries.

During his lasts visit to Kolkata Bangladesh Finance Minister A.M. Abdul Muhith had hoped that Banerjee would visit the country soon.

However, Dhaka and New Delhi are both anxious for a positive response during her visit, during which both the countries hope to solve the difference in the two treaties that have soured their relationship in the recent past.

Meanwhile, Mamata seem in trouble and she remarked on Monday that her party is strong and united, amidst reports of TMC general secretary Mukul Roy forming a new political outfit.

Later Mukul Roy was left in the cold by Banerjee in an organisational shake-up that took place.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's party lawmaker has dared her to punish him for writing to the central government directly about corruption in his constituency.

The legislator has been in the spotlight for alleging that "extortionists in the Trinamool are not allowing good people to work."

On the other hand, Mamata’s Bangladesh visit has caught the ire of controversial writer Taslima Nasreen, who has alleged that she was shielding Muslim radicals in her state.

Saleem Samad, is an Ashoka Fellow for journalism and an award winning investigative reporter. He has worked as news reporter for Time magazine and presently is news correspondent for The Daily Observer, Paris based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and regular contributor for prestigious international magazine India Today.
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