The Young Psychopaths
Bangladesh Society for the Enforcement of Human Rights (BSEHR) is a national NGO; Sigma Huda is the general secretary; Nazmul Huda, her husband, is a member. Sigma Huda is also the UN's Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, and has delivered speeches at several UN conventions, and elsewhere, on abuses against women and violation of human rights in general.
On 10th July, a kidnapped teenage girl called Ruma (15) was found murdered on an embankment in Keraniganj in Dhaka. The police allege that Ruma had been gang raped by a local Juba Dal leader and his friends in 2004, and a case had been filed against them. Ruma was supposed to appear in court to testify on July 22, 2007.
What is the Jubo Dal? The Jubo Dal is the youth wing of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP); and the Jatiyatabadi Chatra Dal (JCD) is the corresponding student wing of the party.
The Awami League also has such organizations: the Bangladesh Chatra League (BCL) is the student wing, and the Jubo League (JL) is the youth wing.
Without these organizations, democracy in Bangladesh would be impossible because these boys are the private armies of the parties, unleashed when one party tries to remain permanently in power. The boys, therefore, have to have certain qualities without which they could not render their services to the parties: qualities such as insensitivity to others' suffering, a love of risk and disdain for law and order, the ability and willingness to kill without a qualm in short, they must be psychopaths.
Whether psychopaths gravitate towards the political parties, or the parties turn boys into psychopaths remains a moot question. The author conducted several interviews of student politicians, one of which is available online at http://ritro.com/sections/worldaffairs/story.bv?storyid=3664. However, he has not been able to answer the question definitively, but evidence would suggest the latter possibility: that the parties' youth and student wings are schools in psychopathy.
When the boys rape or gang rape, and when they extort money from businessmen, they are allowed to do so with impunity. But one must spare more than a dollop of sympathy for these youngsters: before the military takeover in January, 2007, the boys were dying at the rate of 50 per year, according to the author's researches. And they killed each other, usually within the same party, over the sharing of the spoils.
The UNICEF web site says: "The Convention on the Rights of the Child is the first legally binding international instrument to incorporate the full range of human rights-civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights. In 1989, world leaders decided that children needed a special convention just for them because people under 18 years old often need special care and protection that adults do not. The leaders also wanted to make sure that the world recognized that children have human rights too.
"The Convention sets out these rights in 54 articles and two Optional Protocols. It spells out the basic human rights that children everywhere have: the right to survival; to develop to the fullest; to protection from harmful influences, abuse and exploitation; and to participate fully in family, cultural and social life. (http://www.unicef.org/crc )"
The reader will notice that all the highlighted rights have been violated in the case of the student politicians of Bangladesh. For student activists begin their violent careers well before they are eighteen. A typical news item might relate that a fifteen-year-old student, Redwan Ahmed, had been killed by members of his own student wing, the Jatiyatabadi Chatra Dal (JCD) in Sylhet on April 19th (Bangladesh Observer, 20 April 2006, p 6). And the Daily Star chronicled how fifteen students were murdered at Tejgaon Polytechnic Institute between 1985 and 2000, that is, in as many years (April 3rd 2000, p 1). Students graduate from the institute at the age of eighteen.
Similarly, UNESCO has failed to live up to its commitment "to the long-term and continuing process of developing a culture of non-violence and cooperative learning in schools and other educational institutions as an important contribution to a global movement for a culture of peace. (click here
The gratitude of genuine students for the military ban on student politics since January has been obvious from numerous letters to the editor. Here are a few samples from the Daily Star:
"Armed clashes, harassment of general students, unscheduled closure of the seats of learning--all these became common phenomena of our public universities. Needless to say, it is the general students that suffered because of the activities of a handful of so-called student leaders....Finally, we appreciate the government move regarding the ban on student politics (25th May)."
"I want to convey my heartiest congratulations to the interim govt. for taking the initiative to ban students' and teachers' politics on the campus (18th May)."
We began this article with the general secretary of BSEHR and UN Rapporteur, Sigma Huda. The lady would appear not to have raised any fuss over the students' extramural activities: the rapes and murders, for instance, which it was clearly her duty, indeed her office, to bring under the glare of publicity. And why did she stay silent year after year?
It was observed that Nazmul Huda is her husband. Now, Nazmul Huda has been a member of the BNP, that is to say, he has been a politician; not only that, he has been a very successful politician: he was minister for information and communication in the two governments formed by his party since 1990.
Cheri Blair, Laura Bush: Human Rights Advocates?
Now, why is a minister's wife a UN Rapporteur on Human Rights and Violence Against Women? Surely, her status as a minister's spouse would motivate her not to divulge any information detrimental to her husband's career. Would the UN appoint Cheri Blair or Laura Bush as human rights advocates? Yet, that is exactly what the UN has done by appointing Sigma Huda to that role.
Now we begin to understand why the world knows nothing about the boy psychopaths and their political minders. But there's more.
When the present government prevented Sigma Huda from leaving the country, UN Watch, an international NGO, kicked up a row. It issued a press release on its web site:
" UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer today issued the following statement:
"We welcome High Commissioner Louise Arbour's decision to pursue our call to action. We urge other officials-Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Council President Luis Alfonso De Alba and the leaders of the Council's Asian and Islamic groups-to use their own considerable influence to obtain Ms. Huda's immediate release.
"By preventing her from leaving the country, the government of Bangladesh is in violation of Ms. Huda's internationally-protected right to freedom of movement and expression. Bangladesh has no right to deny a UN expert-or any citizen-her right to leave on the reported basis that "she may give statements detrimental" to it". (http://www.unwatch.org/site/apps/nl/content2.asp?c=bdKKISNqEmG&b=1316871&ct=3948025)'
The author has written to UN Watch, using the generous provisions for communication on their web page, to query why they had been using the services of the wife of a minister and why they were now rooting for her when both husband and wife had been charged with corruption. Now, however, the couple have been jailed, not only for corruption, but also for wait for it extortion. The arrest of Sigma Huda had been stayed by the High Court, but had been cleared by the Supreme Court. Therefore, the actions of UN Watch are tantamount to interfering with the legal system of Bangladesh, where she has been getting every legal remedy available under law, and has the chance to prove her innocence using proper legal remedies.
Needless to add, I have not, to date, received a reply from UN Watch to my queries.
Another source of concern is Amnesty International, especially given the fact that the general secretary of Amnesty is a lady from Bangladesh, Irene Z. Khan, who regularly comes to visit her mother. Why has Amnesty failed or refused to voice any shock or horror at the denial and abuse of the fundamental rights of children and students?
Perhaps the glossing over of facts had something to do with Amnesty International's lack of presence in Bangladesh which has, however, not prevented it from condemning Bangladesh on several occasions. In a report in the Bangladesh Observer (13th September 2003, page 1), it was stated that Amnesty had closed its local branch. The reasons were vague and cryptic and indicated some sort of hanky-panky by local members, who had registered Amnesty Bangladesh as a limited company, when, of course, it is a NGO. "The individual members will be able to participate in AI actions and campaigns, but will not have any entitlement to use the name AI Bangladesh, the letter says. However, the letter mentioned that in due course, it is expected that AI may retain and recruit sufficient membership to rebuild groups and a structure in Bangladesh, but until such time, AI Bangladesh has no status or legal standing and the name must not be used." Confused? So was this writer.
Again, the author wrote to Amnesty International asking why the office had been shut down and all he received was an e-mail from "Franziska Grobke, Unit Assistant, International Mobilization Programme (IMP), Amnesty International, International Secretariat On behalf of : Irene Khan, Secretary General, Amnesty International, International Secretariat."
She wrote: "Thank you for your interest in becoming involved in Amnesty International (AI)!
"AI is currently undergoing a major review of its international membership program for individuals such as yourself who reside in countries where we do not have an established Amnesty International section.
"While this is happening, it would be useful if you could send us your postal address and any other relevant contact details, including which language you would like to receive information in and we will add you to our database for international members. We are grateful for your interest and would like maintain contact with you and continue our communication."
When I repeated that I wanted information on how Amnesty functions in Bangladesh, and why its local chapter had been shut down, it was clear that Ms. Grobke had no desire to "continue our communication". In sum, I never heard from her again.
This recalls to my mind another famous shutdown of a NGO towards the end of the 1990s. The NGO in question was called Gono Shahajjo Sangstha (GSS) and it was the third-biggest NGO in Bangladesh. Again, it closed down under mysterious circumstances. Mosharraf Hossein, an employee of GSS, gave me some inside information at the time: apparently the Executive Director, Mahmud Hassan, had upset the donors for some reason, and then it was brought to light by newspapers that the Director was sexually harassing a widow and yet the Director had been known to be a sexual predator for years, as Dr. David Lewis of the Centre for Civil Society at the London School of Economics later told me. Mosharraf Hossein and other employees won a court case against GSS, which was directed to pay the employees for the days they had worked without pay but the ex-staff have not seen a cent of their money, and the organization just disappeared.
That the Director was a sexual predator was further confirmed to the author by Dr. Mozaffer Ahmed, one of the members of the board of trustees of GSS. Indeed, what appalled the staff was the fact that the trustees men like Dr. Mozaffer Ahmed (who now heads Transparency International, Bangladesh) and Rehman Sobhan (now top person at the Centre for Policy Dialogue, a think tank) were rooting, not for the widow and other victims, but for the top dog! Clearly, the elite in Bangladesh hang together no doubt at the thought of having to hang separately.
Why then was news of his sexual exploitation of female staff leaked to the press just weeks before the NGO shut down, and not earlier? Clearly, it was a smear campaign, not an ethical blip in someone's conscience, and the trustees were willing to exonerate him completely. Did the donors push him? Without doubt. But why?
It Takes More Than Two
TANGOs, as my neologism implies, operate in a murky world, unaccountable to anyone, opaque as prisons and secretive as intelligence services.
Take the corruption at CARITAS, the local branch of the Roman Catholic Church's NGO. Its immaculate reputation sits totally at odds with its maculate workings. When the author was an English teacher at a seminary, one of his students confided to him that he would never work at CARITAS because of the corruption. I took this cum grano at the time, such was, and still is, the reputation of that organization. However, the fact was further confirmed when Mosharraf Hossein (mentioned above) joined CARITAS and regaled the author with descriptions of the rampant corruption there. Incidentally, he was one of the very few Muslims at CARITAS, which prefers to recruit mostly Christians. Whether that is charitable or not is perhaps a question of conscience.
Indeed, setting up an NGO is the road to a quick buck here. For the most important question must surely be: why has there been no outcry against student politics from human rights organizations, NGOs, donors and intellectuals?
Both because the myth that students a glorious, upright group of youths had overthrown the autocratic General Ershad would be irreparably shattered, and the Good versus Evil dichotomy would become unsustainable; and because without student politics, democracy in Bangladesh would collapse. We have considered their primary function: to serve as private armies of the political parties. According to The Daily Star: "Immediately after a party serves out its tenure in government, its rivals invariably go on the offensive to settle 'old' scores. And, as a matter of practice, the battle line is drawn first at different universities and colleges" (July 31st 2001, p.10).
Donors want democracy; they are willing to pump money and prestige into the idea. In fact, the role of donors in promoting NGOs in Africa has been studied by Patrick Chabal and Jean-Pascal Daloz in their book Africa Works: Disorder as Political Instrument (Oxford: James Currey, 1999). The writers speak of an "aid market" that local NGOs know how to exploit.
"The political significance of such a massive proliferation of NGOs in Africa deserves closer attention. Our research suggests that this expansion is less the outcome of the increasing political weight of civil society than the consequence of the very pragmatic realization that resources are now largely channeled through NGOs." (page 22)
The authors also - like myself - attribute the spread of democracy since 1990 to foreign donor pressure, and reject outright the notion of an emerging civil society: "It cannot simply be a coincidence that, now that the West ties aid to democratization under the guise of multi-party elections, multi-party elections are taking place in Africa." (page 118). In a private communication to the author by e-mail in July 2003, Patrick Chabal observed again that the breakdown of the neo-patrimonial state would result in more chaos and violence. He adduced the example of Zimbabwe, which had surprised even him for it appeared more institutionalized.
Therefore, a 'freedom industry' has developed that systematically denies to the international audience what goes on in Bangladesh.
The Freedom Industry
The Legitimacy Nexus(A to C)/ Cash,Career Nexus
(right to left)
(A) Western intellectuals, journalists/ Western universities, think-tanks, media
(B) Local intellectuals/ Western organisations, western governments, NGOs
(C) Local political parties/ Crime
That crime has been the bottom of the pyramid of democracy here has today been made abundantly clear if it was ever in doubt (TIME observed: "...on average a truck on its way from Dhaka to the port city of Chittagong, the country's most important commercial route, is stopped 8-12 times by extortionists. Trucks are frequently hijacked at night, and drivers who attempt to fight off the hijackers are sometimes shot. Bahar [a truckers' union member] says 35 drivers were killed last year by extortionists" (April 12 2004, p. 22)). A recent BBC report notes: "For a glimpse of what this military-backed emergency government is all about you could do worse than wander along to Dhanmondi police station in central Dhaka.
"A peek over the wall reveals that the forecourt has begun to resemble a luxury car showroom, packed with impounded cars belonging to the arrested political elite.
"Their owners, many of whom have accrued enormous wealth during their few short years in power in one of the world's poorest countries, are now awaiting trial (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/6293170.stm)."
Two of them are Sigma and Nazmul Huda, UN Special Rapporteur and member, BSEHR, respectively, protected all these years, it would seem, from public scrutiny by both national and international TANGOs.