May 5, 2012 at 16:39 o\clock

Clinton in troubled Bangladesh to press stability

Friends of Bangladesh DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) May 5, 2012: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is in Bangladesh to press tolerance, democracy and development in one of the world's most impoverished nations that is now in the throes political turmoil.

Clinton arrived Saturday in the capital of Dhaka, which has been increasingly tense in recent weeks with general strikes protesting the disappearance of an opposition leader and a crackdown on dissent. Homemade bombs have exploded around the city as the strikes have paralyzed the country, prompting the police to arrest dozens of opposition activists.

However, Clinton's visit - the first by a secretary of state to the country since 2003 - is expected to bring a brief respite as the opposition has suspended protests for the occasion in a goodwill gesture that reflects the importance Bangladeshis place on relations with the United States, one of their largest trading partners.

In talks with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, opposition leader Khaleda Zia and civic leaders, Clinton will stress the importance of inclusive democracy and unity to improve living conditions in the country of 160 million that the U.S. sees as a potentially important voice for moderation among Muslim majority nations.

American officials say the trip is aimed at taking U.S.-Bangladesh ties to a new level by creating a strategic dialogue and encouraging further cooperation on counterterrorism, health, environmental and educational issues. They believe Bangladeshis will be pleased with the message.

But dozens of students paraded through the campus of Dhaka University on Saturday to protest Clinton's visit, saying the U.S. cannot be a friend of Bangladesh and chanting, "Go, go Hillary."

At least 22 people, mostly politicians, have disappeared this year, according to a local human-rights group, Ain-o-Salish Kendra. Another Dhaka-based group, Odhikar, says more than 50 people have disappeared since 2010. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch blamed security agencies for the disappearances.

The anger over what the opposition says is political repression erupted into the streets after an opposition party leader, Elias Ali, went missing along with his driver April 17 from a street in Dhaka. His car was found later abandoned.

The opposition blamed the government and launched five days of general strikes over the past two weeks in protest. The government accused the opposition of hiding Ali to give it an excuse to create anarchy in the streets. He has still not been found.

Foreign Minister Dipu Moni said Bangladesh will press the U.S. to eliminate its 15.3 percent tariff on Bangladesh's vital garment industry. Bangladesh exported $5.1 billion worth of goods - mainly garments - to the U.S. last year and imported $676 million worth in return.

Bangladeshi officials believe that dropping the duty will send exports soaring even further and boost the economy.

The countries are also expected to discuss an investment and trade framework agreement that would protect the huge investments of U.S. energy giants like Chevron and ConocoPhillips.

Chevron, one of the biggest foreign investors here, supplies half Bangladesh's natural gas needs, while ConocoPhillips is exploring for gas in the deep waters of the Bay of Bengal.

In Dhaka, Clinton is also expected to raise the issue of Nobel Peace Laureate Muhammad Yunus' ouster from his Grameen Bank, which pioneered providing small loans to the poor. Clinton plans to meet the 71-year-old Yunus, a family friend, who the government forced out last year, saying he was well past the retirement age of 60.

Yunus' allies said the ouster was political and pointed to Hasina's anger at his 2007 effort to form a political party backed by the powerful army when the country was under a state of emergency and Hasina herself was behind bars.

Bangladesh is also seeking the repatriation of Rashed Chowdhury, who is facing a death sentence for his role in the 1975 assassination of independence leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Hasina's father, during a military coup. The government says he lives in the United States, and the two nations have no extradition treaty.

May 1, 2012 at 15:28 o\clock

Bangladesh - Alarming Rise in "Disappearances"

by: bangladesh   Keywords: Human, Rights

Human Rights in Bangladesh New York April, 27, 2012 The Bangladesh government should immediately order an independent and impartial investigation into the growing number of cases where opposition members and political activists have vanished without trace, Human Rights Watch said today. The most recent episode, on April 17, 2012, involved Elias Ali, secretary of the Sylhet Division of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).

Ali’s case is part of an alarming rise in such incidents, including those of opposition members and political activists. Human Rights Watch recently expressed concern over the April 4 abduction and subsequent death of Aminul Islam, a prominent labor rights activist. Ain-O-Sailash Kendra, a leading human rights group in Bangladesh, has documented the disappearance of least 22 people in 2012 alone. According to Odhikar, another Dhaka-based human rights group, more than 50 people have disappeared since 2010.

“The rise in disappearances, particularly of opposition members and activists, requires a credible and independent investigation,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government has taken no serious steps to ensure such an investigation of these disappearances nor to prevent them in the first place.”

Ali and his driver, Ansar Ali, have both vanished. The police found Ali’s abandoned car and mobile phone in a parking lot near his house in Banani in central Dhaka at around midnight on April 17. There has been no sign of Ali or his driver since.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina called on the police to investigate Ali’s disappearance, but also said that she believed Ali and his driver were “hiding” at his party’s orders to create a situation that would allow the opposition to blame the government.

Human Rights Watch has long documented abductions and killings by Bangladeshi security forces, especially the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB). In its World Report 2012, Human Rights Watch noted that although the number of RAB killings had dropped following domestic and international criticism, there had been a sharp increase in enforced disappearances, with persons disappearing after last being seen in the custody of security agencies leading to concerns that security agencies have replaced one form of abuse with another. Bangladeshi authorities routinely refuse to confirm the detention or fate of those persons who disappear after being seen in their custody.

Under international law, an enforced disappearance is any form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the state or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support, or acquiescence of the state, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person.

Home Minister Sahara Khatun, speaking in January, dismissed Human Rights Watch’s allegations of possible security force involvement in abuses and laid the entire blame for disappearances on criminal elements.

“The government of Sheikh Hasina has made repeated promises to end abuses and ensure justice and accountability,” Adams said. “But in spite of these public pledges, the government consistently dismisses or ignores evidence of abuses by the security forces. This is why an independent investigation into all cases of disappearances is urgently required.”

Human Rights Watch further expressed concern about apparent excessive use of force by the security forces against protesters throughout Bangladesh during a general strike called by the BNP to protest Ali’s disappearance. Since April 21, two protesters, Monwar Miya and another who is yet to be identified, have been killed in clashes between protesters and security forces. Reportedly, thousands more protesters have been injured and about one thousand have been arrested. Human Rights Watch called on the government to ensure a full and effective investigation into the two deaths, and ensure security forces only use the minimum necessary force to deal with violent crimes, as set out in the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.

“While the police are allowed to stop protesters from committing acts of criminal violence, they must not use excessive force to quell the protests,” Adams said.