EU, US decline to send election observers to Bangladesh

Updated 03 January 2014
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EU, US decline to send election observers to Bangladesh

DHAKA: The European Union has refused to send election observers to Bangladesh, as have the United States and the Commonwealth, a grouping of 53 mainly former British colonies.
“We’re disappointed that the major political parties have not yet reached a consensus on a way to hold free, fair, and credible elections,” Marie Harf, a US State Department spokeswoman told a briefing in Washington.
Meanwhile, sources said that the two candidates vying to represent the Lalbagh constituency, among the minority of seats to be contested by more than one candidate in polls, are both in the ruling Awami League, which is poised to steamroll to victory as the main opposition party sits out the vote.
The Bangladesh National Party (BNP) is boycotting in protest at Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s move to scrap the tradition of letting a caretaker government oversee elections. The impasse undermines the legitimacy of the poll and is fueling worries of economic gridlock and further violence in the impoverised South Asian country of 160 million.
“The acrimony between two of our main leaders has brought this country to where it is now and not just crippled our economy and growth, but also our democratic system,” said Badiul Alam Majumdar, secretary of Citizens for Good Governance, a non-governmental organization.
Either Hasina or BNP chief Begum Khaleda Zia has been prime minister for all but two of the past 22 years and there is deep enmity between them.
Pre-election violence that killed more than 100 people, mostly in rural areas, had eased in recent days, although two people were burnt to death early on Friday when opposition activists hurled petrol bombs at a truck in northern Dinajpur, according to police. Five polling centers were set on fire in southeastern Feni, Khaleda’s hometown.
Meanwhile, verdicts in the International Crimes Tribunal investigating atrocities committed during the 1971 war of independence from Pakistan have elicited a violent reaction from activists affiliated with the Jamaat-e-Islami party, an ally of the BNP.
Last month, the first execution resulting from the tribunal was followed by deadly violence against Awami League members.
Hasina has spoken of holding talks following Sunday’s polls with the opposition on the conduct of future elections.
If successful, these could eventually result in another election. The BNP demands that the current electoral process be halted.
Many opposition leaders are in jail or in hiding. Khaleda is under what appears to be house arrest.
“Even if the BNP wanted to sit down to a dialogue, the atmosphere does not exist,” Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury, a BNP vice chairman who was detained for several hours following a recent visit to Khaleda’s home, told Reuters on Friday.
The Awami League argues that the interim government system has failed in the past.
“The election will be held under a strong and independent Election Commission, not under any unelected people,” Hasina said in a televised speech on Thursday night.
A poll published in Friday’s Dhaka Tribune found support to be evenly split between the two parties, with the BNP backed by 37 percent of respondents and the Awami League 36 percent.
While the military could step in to take power in the event of a breakdown of law and order — which it did in 2007 — it is widely seen as reluctant to do so.
“Sheikh Hasina’s main challenge is to convince the world these elections are credible and because that is not possible she will need a well-planned exit strategy to eventually conduct fair elections,” said Iftekhar Zaman, executive director of global anti-corruption body Transparency International in Bangladesh.


UN gives Myanmar aid cut warning over Rohingya camp closures

Updated 18 June 2019
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UN gives Myanmar aid cut warning over Rohingya camp closures

  • Myanmar has closed several camps holding around 9,000 Rohingya
  • They have not been allowed to return to their former homes and remain dependent on handouts

YANGON: The UN has warned it will pare back aid to thousands of Rohingya Muslims left destitute as Myanmar’s government closes camps in Rakhine state, over fears its continued support “risks entrenching segregation.”
Aid agencies are facing an increasingly sharp dilemma in the region as they balance relief for desperate communities with leverage over the government.
The majority of Myanmar’s Rohingya were driven into Bangladesh by a 2017 army crackdown, but around 400,000 remain inside conflict-battered Rakhine.
Those include nearly 130,000 held since 2012 in squalid camps, currently supported by UN agencies and humanitarian groups.
As part of its strategy to address the crisis, Myanmar has closed several camps holding around 9,000 Rohingya.
But they have not been allowed to return to their former homes and remain dependent on handouts. Instead, they are being settled in new accommodation close to the former camps.
That has sparked fears aid agencies are effectively being used to prop-up a policy that fails to address the fundamental needs of the Rohingya, including housing, work, food and security.
The camp closure plan “risks entrenching segregation,” UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar Knut Ostby wrote to the government in a leaked letter, dated 6 June and seen by AFP.
The letter, also written on behalf of aid groups, warned support “beyond life-saving assistance” at the closed sites would in future be linked to “tangible” progress made on “the fundamental issue of freedom of movement.”
“Life-saving” support includes food, health and water, but site planning, shelter construction and education facilities could be phased out, aid agency sources told AFP.
The UN has faced criticism for a slow response to violence against the Rohingya, which escalated after 2012 riots between Muslim Rohingyas and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists.
A UN report released Monday admitted “systemic failures” in its handling of the build-up to the Rohingya crisis.
Limited access to Rakhine’s camps makes independent reporting on conditions difficult.
But AFP has reviewed recent interviews conducted in five camps by an NGO requesting anonymity to protect its work.
“If I build a house, it can be seized arbitrarily,” one Rohingya man said.
“I have no right to the land and I can also be arrested at any time.”
An aid worker called the remaining 23 sites in Rakhine little more than “concentration camps.”
On condition of anonymity, she spoke of the “complicity” humanitarian staff feel for perpetuating the segregation.
Amnesty International has described Rakhine as an “apartheid state.”
All aid must be “heavily conditioned,” researcher Laura Haigh said, warning donors that building infrastructure could make them complicit in crimes against humanity.
The government defended the camp closures, telling AFP it would continue working with the UN and NGOs on the issue.
Any former camp resident holding a National Verification Card (NVC) will be able to “move freely within their township” and access “education, health facilities and livelihood activities,” the social welfare ministry said.
Most Rohingya refuse to apply for the card believing they should already be treated as full citizens.
Those interviewed said the few to have caved had no more rights than anyone else.
They were also forced to designate themselves as “Bengali,” a term implying they are from Bangladesh.
“They are just trying to dominate us and make us illegal through different ways,” one Rohingya man said.