Friday, December 26, 2008

USCIRF Hearing on Religious Freedom in Bangladesh, December 4, 2008

A Brief Report about the US Commission on International Religious Freedom Hearing on Bangladesh, December 4, 2008.

Fellow activists/advocates/patrons around the globe:

A five member delegation of Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council, USA , which included myself, President Ranabir Barua, Spokesperson Dr. Dwijen Bhattacharjya and two other Directors/Advisors of our committee, that is the Oikya Parisahd, USA affiliated with the central committee or BHBCOP, attended the above public hearing held in Rayburn Congressional House Office Building on December 4, 2008.

As you might know, this was the US Commission on Religious Freedom’s (USCIRF) third public hearing on Bangladesh. And, as can be understood from the language it used in its Press release -- “The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is holding a public hearing to focus attention on Bangladesh’s upcoming national elections. Bangladesh’s last national elections, in October 2001, were followed by numerous reports of violence against members of religious minority communities, particularly Hindus.” --, the main thrust of the hearing was to prevent a repetition of the atrocities of 2001 election period and afterwards.

• The Witnesses or Speakers at the Hearing were: Chair of Bangaldesh Caucus in the US Congress Hon. Congressman Joesph Crowley, the US Ambassador to Dhaka Hon. James F. Moriarty, Mr. Peter Manikas, Regional Director for Asia Programs, National Democratic Institute, Ms. Kimber Shearer, Deputy Director for Asia Programs, International Republican Institute, Distinguished Professor of Politics & Economics at the State University of New York, Dr. Sabyasachi Ghosh Dastidar, Professor Shapan Adnan , National University of Singapore , professor Ali Riaz , Illinois State University and Mr. Asif Saleh , Founder and Executive Director, Drishtipa.

• As you have noticed in the national media, and as would be expected of an Ambassador, Ambassador Moriarty defended Bangladesh Government, praised it, expressed firm hope that the election would be held, reflecting the U.S. policy terming the country as a “moderate Muslim majority country” with the “Bengalis practicing a unique form of religious syncretism.” However, he also said the following at the end of the statement “…Yet there are those who would like to end this tradition of moderation and tolerance – and that is a matter of grave concern.” And, when the commissioners asked him a series of highly pointed questions about the status of the minorities, rise of militant Islam, the role of Jamaat-e- Islami and the security of the minorities in the forthcoming election, he still gave patent answers but through his tone of voice, hesitations, etc. at least acknowledged that those were problems but still, like an ambassador, expressed high optimism about the prospect of a bright democracy in the “Muslim Majority Bangladesh.” He said US interest in Bangladesh revolves around three Ds: democracy, development and the denial of space to terrorism. Responding to the Commissioners’ question ( only the Commissioners and the Executive Director of USCIRF were allowed to ask questions in the Hearing) regarding the issue of Jammat-E- Islam and its role in 1971, trial of the War=2 0Criminals, and the rise of Islamic terrorism he said that “being conservative doesn’t mean being evil.” One of the speakers, though, in his testimony criticized the US policy of supporting Jamaat-E-Islami as being a democratic force. Other speakers also recommended that the war criminals be tried and punished if democracy were to be promoted in Bangladesh.
• Speaking about the indigenous people of CHT, Professor Swapon Adnan said that, “even with democratic governments under political leadership, the CHT is effectively under the control of the military and no major decisions can be implemented without its consent. The local military commanders outrank their counterparts in civil administration..” He did not hide the plight the indigenous peoples but he did not list the incidents of atroci ties.
• Mr. Asif Saleh, Executive Director of Dristipat argued that minority persecution in Bangladesh has happened but that it was never state-sponsored. Strangely, he said, in his next sentence that the “Albatross of the Enemy Property Act hasn’t been shed yet,” which is a glaring example of state-sponsored persecution. However, since the format of the Hearing did not allow the audience to comment or ask questions, there was nothing we could do, except for pointing out to the USCIRF that Mr. Saleh suppressed the truth.
The only Witness/Speaker who spoke about the plight of the minorities in every detail was Professor Dastidar. Citing his own research as well as other’s including Bangladesh Census reports; he began by saying that since the partition, 49 million Hindu minority from Bangladesh has vanished. Using the saying that “Je jay Lnakay She-I hoy Rakkhosh”, he pointed out how the founding father of the nation Sheikh Mujibur Rahman demolished the Ramna Kali Temple for the second time and failed to repeal the Enemy Property Act during his tenure despite his ability to do it with a stroke of his pen. Spelling out the ratio of how much of the enemy property was being held by the members of which political party, Professor Dastidar described the situation as being “anti-Hindu apartheid” citing the case of their denial of access to the positions of power and prestige and the retention of the “anti-Hind/racist” black law, the Enemy Property Act. Elaborating on “apartheid” he pointed out the near-complete absence of the minorities in the political parties, diplomatic service, defense, civil administration etc,. and recommended that minorities be appointed/hired as President, Prime Minister, Chief Justice, Ambassadors, Vice Chancellors, Having done that he made a set of 17 specific recommendations to correct the existing deplorable situation in which the minorities shave to live in Bangladesh, which are brilliant recommendations and will be posted in the USCIRF’s website soon ( We will also post them in our next posting).
The Commissioners and the Executive Director of USCIRF asked every Witness/Speaker a series of Questions to elicit specific recommendations as to how disenfranchisement and persecution of the minorities could be prevented /ended. It was only Professor Dastidar’s speech that already included them. His recommendations include twelve of the demands we have routinely made of the Bangladesh government.
What did our delegates do there?
Anyway, at the hearing we distributed a two-page Appeal (to protect and empower the minorities of Bangladesh in their own interest of retaining the pluralistic nature of Bangladesh’s population) to which we attached our 8-page Fact-Sheet to the attendees, Commissioners & the Executive Directors of the USCIRF.

We also talked to Ambassadors Moriarty for a good ten minutes about the intensity of the atrocities that were inflicted on the minorities around 2001 election and also that, given all the thugs of BNP-Jamaat including Tareq Rahman and SAKA Chowdhury are all free we anticipated the same is likely to happen this time around.
We urged him to act now to prevent the atrocities. We also told him that since he was able to transform Hindu theocratic Nepal into secular state, he should be able to transform theocratic Bangladesh back into the secular state it was in 1971. After the conversation, we handed him a memorandum, a copy of our publication Bangladesh: a portrait of covert genocide, Professor Barkat’s 2008 publication on Enemy/Vested Property Act, our two –page appeal and the Fact Sheet. We also urged him to meet with the BHBCOP leaders and visit our holy places like the Dhakeshwari Temple and Ramna Kali Temple, churches and Buddhist Temples.

We also met with the Bangladeshi Ambassador to the U.S. Humayun Kabir and his five other colleagues, the Witnesses from the NDI and RI and the several American media representatives and gave them our Appeal and Fact Sheet. We requested the ambassador that he forwards the memorandum addressed to the Chief Advisor Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed that we would be sending to him on the Human Rights Day and that he personally advises the government to prevent atrocities against the minorities before, during and after the elections.

Rup Kumar Bhowmick , Director Communications & Publications

No comments: