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BANGLADESH: Three persons faced detention in a fabricated case, lodged by illegal-sand-miners, who are being aided by ruling party parliamentarians

October 5, 2012

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION - URGENT APPEALS PROGRAMME

Urgent Appeal Case: AHRC-UAU-033-2012

5 October 2012
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[AHRC-UAC-033-2012 BANGLADESH: Rights activists and inhabitants of Mayadip threatened by illegal sand-miners, who are being supported by the police and civil administration]
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BANGLADESH: Three persons faced detention in a fabricated case, lodged by illegal-sand-miners, who are being aided by ruling party parliamentarians

ISSUES: Right to life; corruption; environmental rights; sand-mining; abuse of police power; fabrication of charges; death threats; discrimination; impunity; rule of law
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received updated information regarding illegal sand mining in the Meghna River adjacent to the Mayadip and Nunertek islands. There has been an investigation conducted by the government of Bangladesh, following intervention by the Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing of the United Nation, which itself followed the previous appeals of the AHRC (For further details, please see: AHRC-UAC-033-2012 and AHRC-HAG-003-2011). Despite conducting the investigation, authorities of Bangladesh have failed to stop the illegal sand mining. On the contrary, influential politicians and parliamentarians of the ruling regime have allegedly been protecting the sand mining companies. And, these companies are constantly harassing activists at Sonargaon in Narayanganj district for resisting the illegal mining of sand from the Meghna Rivera by filing fabricated criminal cases with the help of a compromised police. Three persons, including one of the key activists protesting against the illegal mining, were recently detained in prison in relation to the fabricated cases. Around 8 acres of cultivated land has already eroded into the Meghna River as a result of the illegal sand mining. The subsistence of the whole locality, i.e. the livelihood and shelter of around 9000 people, is under serious threat at the moment. Please intervene immediately so that the authorities of Bangladesh ensure protection to the people, who are under threat of losing everything due to the ongoing illegal sand mining.

UPDATED INFORMATION:

The Asian Human Rights Commission issued the original Urgent Appeal (AHRC-UAC-033-2012) regarding illegal sand-mining and death threats to local rights activists and inhabitants on 24th February, 2012. The UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing intervened in the matter, urging the government of Bangladesh to initiate investigation on 22 March. On 29 March, the Permanent Mission of Bangladesh in Geneva informed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Dhaka about the intervention of the UN mandate holder. On 22 April, the Foreign Ministry forwarded the request to the Cabinet Division of the Government of Bangladesh, which asked the district administration of Narayanganj district on 25 April to conduct an investigation regarding the matter. Accordingly, the district administration of Narayanganj conducted an enquiry within one week of receiving the instruction from the Cabinet Division. However, the authorities have not made the investigation report public and no information has been provided regarding the outcome of the report.

AHRC-UAU-033-2012-01.JPGDuring and around the period of investigation – a few weeks – the miners stopped sand mining. After the investigation had been completed, the sand-mining companies re-started illegal sand mining, which has since continued unabated. The authorities have not prevented the ongoing sand mining in the Meghna River. The Comilla district administration have granted the sand mining companies permission to extract sand, but the administrative authorities do not monitor the sand mining companies or control the mining within or beyond the jurisdiction of the relevant district administration.

On 5 May, the inhabitants of Mayadip and Nunertek islands observed that the sand miners resumed their illegal sand mining in the Meghna River, adjacent to the Mayadip island. They informed the administration of Sonargaon upazilla (sub-district) and Narayanganj district. Upon receiving information from the inhabitants, the Assistant Commissioner (AC) Land of Sonargaon upazilla, Mr. K M Al-Amin, who is an ex-officio executive magistrate, went to the scene on the same afternoon, accompanied by a team of police from the Sonargaon police station. He declared the scene as a 'Mobile Court' and ordered the police to arrest four persons, namely Mr. Nizam Uddin, Makibur Islam, Shafique Mia and Abdur Razzak, for illegal sand mining at the Meghna River adjacent to the Mayadip and Nunertek islands. The AC Land also fined the company of the arrested men with BDT 200,000.00 (Two Hundred Thousand), instantly.

However, as illegal sand mining continued despite the arrest of four persons, the inhabitants protested. On 6 June, two organizations – Save the Environment Movement (widely known as POBA in Bangladesh) and Subronogram Foundation – jointly organized a 'human chain' in front of the Narayanganj Press Club protesting the illegal sand mining. Several local and national civil society organizations participated in the human chain and expressed solidarity to the inhabitants of Mayadip and Nunertek islands. The speakers and inhabitants directly accused the influential political leaders of the ruling party – Bangladesh Awami League – including several parliamentarians of the incumbent regime as the masterminds and key beneficiaries of illegal sand mining in the Meghna River. They demanded prompt legal action against the perpetrators while submitting separate memorandum to the Deputy Commissioner (DC), who is the head of the public administration in the district level of Bangladesh, and the Superintendent of Police (SP), the head of the district level police administration.

Both the civil and police administrations have maintained silence on illegal sand mining. Subsequently, the sand miners became encouraged to increase their illegal actions. On 2 July, the inhabitants observed that around 30 dredgers were installed in the Meghna River for extracting sand. A group of inhabitants of the Mayadip and Nunertek islands surrounded two dredgers, namely 'Mitu Loading Dredger' and 'M V Haji Nur' from their area. They also caught six persons, who were directly engaged in operating the dredgers, and handed them over to the Sonargaon police along with the two dredgers. The police brought the two dredgers to the pier of the police station. On the way to the police station the police officers, upon receiving bribes, freed all six perpetrators. On 9 July, the police also freed the two dredgers without filing any criminal case regarding illegal sand mining, which exposed the police's nexus with the perpetrators of sand mining. No case was registered by the police in this regard.

Meanwhile, the sand mining companies claimed that they were given permission by the administration of Comilla district, situated on the other side of the Meghna River, for sand mining. On 4 July, the AC Land of Sonargaon and other staff of the Department of Land of Narayanganj district made a demarcation line in the Meghna River with a warning against the sand miners that mining should not cross the demarcation line, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Narayanganj district. The AC Land asked the miners to keep their activities within the jurisdiction of Comilla district, which permitted the companies to extract sand within its territory. As a matter of fact, the sand miners did not follow the instructions of the AC Land of Sonargaon. The mining continued in the area of Mayadip and Nunertek islands.

In another occasion, on 23 July, the inhabitants attempted to prevent sand mining. The miners caught one of the inhabitants of the islands named Mr. Solaiman and beat him badly. On request of the islanders the Sonargaon police rescued Solaiman from one of the dredgers of the miners. On the following day, 24 July, the inhabitants informed the authorities about the ongoing sand mining and requested the authorities to take action promptly. A team of the Coast Guard then made a raid and seized two dredgers named "M M Saha-3" and "Allahar Daan" from the Mayadip and Nunertek area. The two seized dredgers were anchored at the Coast Guard Station of Narayanganj. On 19 August, the sand mining companies managed to receive bail order from the Courts on behalf of the two dredgers that were taken away from the custody of the Coast Guard.

On 9 August, in the evening, an area of around 25 bighas of land (approximately more than eight acres) of Mayadip island, having paddy cultivation, eroded into the Meghna River as result of extensive sand mining. The inhabitants, who observed the land sliding and the ongoing sand mining next to the riverbank, protested the sand mining. A local leader of the ruling political party (the Bangladesh Awami League), Mr. Osman Gani, led a group of thugs to attack the islanders for protesting against the sand mining. Subsequently, the affected inhabitants came to help their neighbours, who were under the attack of the miners. Both parties clashed, resulting in injuries to five persons amongst the affected inhabitants. The injured men were admitted to the Sonargaon Upazilla Health Complex for treatment, while Mr. Shab Mia, one of injured victims of Mayadip island, filed a complaint with the Sonargaon police on the same day. The complaint was recorded as First Information Report (FIR) number 13 with the police under Sections 143, 447, 323, 324, 379, 427, 506 (II) and 114 of the Penal Code-1860. The Officer-in-Charge (OC) of Sonargaon police station assigned Sub Inspector (SI) Mr. Sheikh Sadik as the Investigation Officer (IO) of the case.

The illegal sand mining around the Mayadip and Nunertek islands continued unabated causing further threat of erosion and landslides. The affected inhabitants continued their protests with demands of saving the islands and their existence in the area. On 6th September, the inhabitants suffered another organized attack by the thugs of the sand miners. A group of around 20 people, carrying both sharp and blunt weapons, landed in the islands in broad day light. The armed men beat the inhabitants indiscriminately, causing serious injuries to six fishermen. Meanwhile, hundreds of islanders surrounded the attackers and caught three perpetrators, namely Monsur Ali, Moynul and Mamun Mridha, while the attackers were fleeing. The islanders also captured a dredger named "Dayal Khaja Baba." The three men and the dredger were handed over to the Sonargaon police, while Mr. Md. Jilani lodged a complaint, with the police on the same day, against around 20 unidentified attackers including the three persons. The complaint was recorded as FIR number 5 under Sections 143, 447, 323, 379, 427 and 506 (II) of the Penal Code (1860). SI Mr. Azmiruzzaman was assigned as the IO of the case. However, the police did not take any convincing action against the sand miners or the perpetrators of the attack.

On 11 September, two groups of thugs of the sand miners from the Narayanganj and Comilla districts joined together and landed in Mayadip island. This time, these two groups attacked the house of Mr. Shirish Ali at Mayadip island. Few people, including Shirish Ali, his mother Mrs. Zobeda Begum, and his wife Mrs. Jharna Akter, were seriously injured while the attackers broke into the house at night. Mrs. Zobeda's left hand was fractured due to the attack. She was admitted to the Sonargaon hospital for treatment. The attackers threatened that anyone who dares to prevent the ongoing sand mining will face dire consequences like the family of Shirish Ali. They fled away when the villagers approached the house of Shirish Ali after the attack. At the time of fleeing, the villagers were able to recognize a number of perpetrators. They are: Mr. Zakir Hossen Zakaria, Hossen Ali, Md. Kashem, Abdul Latif and Md. Alauddin, all of whom are residents of Nunertek island of Sonargaon upazilla of Narayanganj distirct; and Mr. Swapan, Md. Tarikullah, Md. Shafikullah, Md. Sanaullah, Md. Titu and Md. Nizam of Nolchor village of Meghna upazilla of Comilla district. All of these perpetrators are known to be armed cadres of the sand mining companies in the area.

On the following morning, 12 September, the same group of perpetrators attacked the fishermen of Mayadip who were fishing in the Meghna River. The attackers snatched the fishing nets and fish that were already caught and kept in the fishing boats. Four fishermen, namely Mr. Monir Hossain, Iman Ali, Dulal Mia and Anis Mia, who lost their nets and fish, told the Asian Human Rights Commission that the attackers threatened them with death and said that "If you prevent us from sand mining, we will never let you [the fishermen] to fish in the [Meghna] river."

Following the serious threats on the livelihood of the fishermen, and further risk of landslides, the inhabitants accompanied by Mr. Shahed Kayes, who is the chief advisor of the Illegal Sand Extraction Prevention Committee – a watchdog formed by the district administration of Narayanganj – requested the authorities to do something for the sake of the existence of the inhabitants of Mayadip and Nunertek islands.

On 13 September, the AC Land of Sonargaon, Mr. K M Al-Amin, responded to the calls from Mr. Shahed Kayes. The AC Land, accompanied by a number of government officers, police officers and the leaders of the Illegal Sand Extraction Prevention Committee, visited the scene where the sand mining was going on. He arrested three persons, who were involved in sand extraction adjacent to the Mayadip island, and seized a dredger named "Madina Enterprise-2" from the scene. On his way back to Sonargaon town, the sand miners' gang surrounded the speedboat of the AC Land in the middle of the Meghna River. The gang confined the government officials and leaders for two hours there with constant threats of killing and throwing the dead bodies into the river. Another team of the Sonargaon police rescued the AC Land and his team mates from the confinement in the afternoon. However, the gang compelled the police to release the arrested persons and the dredger "Madina Enterprise-2" from the custody of the AC Land at the time of releasing the officials. On the same evening, the AC Land Mr. K M Al-Amin lodged a complaint with the Sonargaon police regarding the incident. The case was registered with the Sonargaon police station as FIR number 15 under Sections 143, 447, 186, 353, 224, 225, 342 and 379 of the Penal Code (1860). The OC of Sonargaon police assigned SI Mr. Imtiaz Ahammed to investigate the case. In the complaint, the AC Land alleges that his team was encircled in the Meghna river by around six engine boats carrying around 50 people, who snatched the arrested captain of a dredger, and forced his speedboat to anchor at Nolshor [under the jurisdiction of Meghna police station in Comilla district]. He also claimed in the complaint that an additional police force from the Sonargaon police rescued his team from the grips of the sand miners.

On one hand, the sand mining companies and their hired thugs attacked the inhabitants of Mayadip and the leaders of civil society organizations for holding protests against illegal sand mining. On the other hand, the thugs of the sand mining companies have fabricated a number of criminal cases against the islanders by maintaining nexus with the police of Narayanganj and Comilla districts that are situated on both the banks of the Meghna River. The sand mining companies have deployed their thugs to spy on the inhabitants of Mayadip and Nunertek islands and the leaders of civil society organizations. The spies have been following the movements of the people concerned about illegal sand mining. The thugs are attacking the islanders and their supporters physically and instantly fabricating criminal cases in Narayanganj and Comilla districts simultaneously.

For example, on 10 September, the perpetrators filed two fabricated cases against the islanders; one with the Chief Judicial Magistrate's Court of Narayanganj, and another with the Meghna police station of Comilla district. In the complaint (No. 295/2012), registered with the Chief Judicial Magistrate's Court of Narayanganj district, sixteen persons were named as accused. A man named Md. Abdul Halim, a resident of Nolchor village under the jurisdiction of Meghna police station of Comilla district, lodged the complaint under Sections 447,385, 325, 323, 379, 307, 427 and 109 of the Penal Code (1860). Ms. Chandni Rupam, Senior Judicial Magistrate of Narayanganj, ordered the Sonargaon police to register the complaint as an FIR.

The complaint, which was registered with the Meghna police station of Comilla district on the same date, recorded as FIR no. 3, was lodged by one Md. Wasim of Sonakanda village of the same jurisdiction. He named 14 persons as accused in his complaint under Sections 143, 447, 385, 323, 325, 307, 379, 427 and 506 of the Penal Code (1860). Strangely, the two different persons, who lodged two complaints in two different districts on the same date accusing almost the same group of people, except two additional names in one of the cases. The allegations and time of occurrences in the two complaints are almost similar while only the places of occurrences were shown differently. The two complaints indicate that the same people cannot commit crimes in two different places at the same time where the distance between Chhoto Deobhog in Sonargaon and Bhasania Nolchor in Meghna is quite far.

On 15 September, two fishermen, Mr. Shah Ali and Mr. Hanifa, went to Chittagong Road, a wholesale business hub in Narayanganj district at the Dhaka-Chittagong Highway toward the direction of Dhaka, which is around 10 kilometers away from the Mayadip island. They went to sell fish to the wholesalers. On their return home, a group of thugs furthering the interests of the sand miners, led by Mr. Ahsanullah of Nolchor village of Meghna police station in Comilla district, caught Shah Ali and Hanifa and beat them. The local wholesale businessmen, who recognized the two fishermen, rescued them from further beating.

The Siddhirganj police received the information of physical attack on the two fishermen from the activists, who constantly fight against illegal sand mining in the area, with request of protecting the fishermen. However, the thugs succeeded in influencing the police, who showed the two fishermen arrested under Section 54 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (1898). They were detained in the Siddhirganj police station on that night. The police produced them before the Chief Judicial Magistrate's Court of Narayanganj on the following day, 16 September. The Court further detained them in Narayanganj prison for three more days by rejecting the petitions for bail submitted by the lawyers. At the time when the police arrested the fishermen the thugs allegedly informed the Siddhirganj police that they (two fishermen) had a robbery case against them in Meghna police station of Comilla district. In fact, according to the records of the Meghna police station there was no case registered with the Meghna police against these two persons. The sand miners registered a fabricated case with the Meghna police on the same date after the two persons had been chased by the spies of the sand miners who also influenced the Siddhirganj police to detain them by paying bribes to the police of both districts.

It should be mentioned that the two fishermen – Shah Ali and Hanifa – played a strong role in helping the Sonargaon police, on 2 July, 2012, seize two dredgers namely 'Mitu Loading Dredger' and 'M V Haji Nur' from the Mayadip and Nunertek island area, while the dredgers were being used to extract sand there. By fabricating cases against these two fishermen, via bribes to the police, the sand miners took revenge upon the islanders. On 28 September, the two fishermen were released from prison after 13 days detention.

On 26 September, the Mayadip islanders, including Mr. Md. Jilani, an elected public representative of Baradi Union Council – a local government unit – and one of the key activists of anti sand mining movement in Sonargaon, appeared before the Chief Judicial Magistrate's Court of Comilla district to seek bail. The Chief Judicial Magistrate granted bail to all the accused except Md. Jilani and ordered that he be detained in prison. On 30 September, another petition seeking Jilani's bail was filed with the Court by Jilani's lawyer. However, the Court did not hear the petition on an excuse that the bail petitions of the same person are not heard within less than a week as per Court custom. It has been alleged that Court was subjected to political pressures from the ruling party's influential leaders. The local human rights defenders learned that Mr. Subid Ali Bhuyan, a parliamentarian of the area, who is a retired Major General of the Bangladesh Army, called the Chief Judicial Magistrate on phone asking the Magistrate not to grant bail to Jilani, who prevents sand mining in Meghna River, where the retired general has his financial and political interests. As a result, Mr. Jilani remained in detention for nine days. His bail petition was heard on 4 October and the bail was granted by the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Comilla. Jilani was released from the Comilla Central Jail on the following day although his bail was granted. Because, the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Comilla had forgotten to sign on the bail bond due to his hasty departure from the office for Dhaka to meet his family prior to the weekend. Later, another staff went half way through Dhaka to get the bail bond signed by the Chief Judicial Magistrate following a telephonic intervention on behalf of the detained person.

Currently, around 9000 inhabitants of Mayadip and Nunertek islands are living in fear of erosion of the whole island, which may occur as a consequence of illegal sand mining, within a year, if the ongoing trend of extraction of sand by around 35 dredgers continues. The fishermen of the islands are being robbed off their belongings; the farmers are losing their cultivated lands due to erosion; the whole neighbourhood is facing physical attacks by the hired thugs of the sand miners. Ultimately, the entire islands are under the threat of erosion due to the ongoing illegal sand mining, which threatens the existence of the whole population of the islands.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

On 24 March 2012, a leading environmental organization in Bangladesh, 'Save the environment movement' (Poribesh Bachao Andolon - POBA), and the social and research based organization 'Subornogram Foundation', jointly organized a press conference at Narayanganj press club against the illegal sand extraction in the Meghna river near Mayadip-Nunertek island. Several leading representatives of the civil society of the country were present there and expressed their support for the ongoing movement in the Mayadip-Nunertek island against the illegal sand grabbers. The chairman of 'Save the environment movement (POBA)' Mr. Abu Naser Khan, ex secretary of BIWTA of the Bangladesh Govt. Mr. Monwar Hossen, general secretary of the Narayanganj district 'Civil Society Committee' (Narayanganj Nagorik Committee) Mr. Abdur Rahman, president of Narayanganj district joint Cultural Forum (Narayanganj Sangskritik Jot) Advocate Pradip Ghosh, vice president of Narayanganj district Lawyers' Association Mr. Zahirul Haque addressed the meeting.

It was mentioned in the press conference that the members and local leaders of the ruling party Awami League are responsible for the illegal sand extraction in the Meghna river near the Mayadip-Nunertek islands. Three parliamentarians of the ruling party namely Mr. Kayser Hasnat of Sonargaon sub-district and Nazrul Islam Babu of Arai hazar sub district of Narayanganj district and Mr. Subid Ali Bhuiyan, a retired major general of Bangladesh Army, of Meghna sud-district of Comilla district are involved in the sand mining.

Two sand extraction companies, M/S Jalal Enterprise, owned by Md. Zakir of Meghna sub district in Comilla district, and M/S Nirman Traders, owned by MR. Gazi Ataur Rahman from Sonargaon in Narayanganj district, are extracting sands illegally near the Mayadip and Nunertek islands.

The AHRC previously issued a Hunger Alert General and an Urgent Appeal Case (For further details, please see: AHRC-HAG-003-2011 and AHRC-UAC-033-2012) regarding the illegal sand-mining and death threats to the local rights activists and inhabitants last year and this year respectively. However, the government has failed to take any effective legal action to protect the community by punishing the perpetrators although there is a law titled "Balumahal and Soil Management Law 2010" in the country.

SUGGESTED ACTION:
Please write to the authorities of Bangladesh and urge them to ensure protection of life of the activists, who have been defending the rights of the inhabitants of the Mayadip and Nunertek islands. The identified perpetrators, and the political masters of the sand-extractors, must be brought to book and prosecuted through the due process of law. The fabricated charges against the rights activists must be dropped immediately. As it is affecting the very survival of thousands of residents, the government must permanently stop sand mining in the Meghna River, adjacent to Mayadip and Nunertek islands, with immediate effect.

The AHRC is writing a separate letter to the UN Special Rapporteurs on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, Adequate Housing, and Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, calling for their intervention into this matter.

To support this appeal, please click here:

SAMPLE LETTER:

Dear ___________,

BANGLADESH: Three persons faced detention in a fabricated case, lodged by illegal-sand-miners, who are being aided by ruling party parliamentarians

Name of victims:
1. Md. Jilani (35), son of Md. Sundar Ali, village Chuadanga, present member of the Nunertek-Mayadip of Baradi union parishad, faced detention for nine days 
2. Mr. Shah Ali, faced detention for 13 days 
3. Mr. Hanifa, faced detention for 13 days
4. Mr. Shirish Ali, received injuries as a result of physical attack by the thugs of sand miners
5. Mrs. Zobeda Begum, received injuries and fractured left leg as a result of physical attack by the thugs of sand miners
6. Mrs. Jharna Akter, received injuries as a result of physical attack by the thugs of sand miners
7. Around 9000 inhabitants of the islands

All are residents of Mayadip and Nunertek islands under the jurisdiction of Sonargaon police station in Narayanganj district 

Alleged perpetrators:
1. Mr. Subid Ali Bhuyan, a parliamentarian of Comilla distirct, who is a retired Major General of the Bangladesh Army
2. Mr. Zakir Hossain, owner of Jalal Enterprise, resident of Sonakanda of Meghna in Comilla – has taken lease of dredging in Meghna River from Comilla district
3. Mr. Gazi Ataur Rahman, lease owner of Nirman Traders, resident of Sonargaon of Narayanganj
4. Mr. Ali Hossain, lease owner of Madina Enterprise-2, village Haria of Sonargaon
5. Dayal Khaza Baba Dredger
6. Mr. Mohammad Nasim, OC of Meghna police station, Comilla
7. Mr. Osman Gani, son of late Amir Ali, president of Bangladesh Awami League of its Ward No. 6 Unit of Baradi Union Parishad, ex member of Baradi union parishad, Nunertek, Baradi, Sonargaon, Narayanganj
8. Mr. Zakir Hossain Zakaria, son of Mr. Sadar Ali, Nunertek, Baradi, Sonargaon, Narayanganj
9. Mr. Abul Kashem, son of late Mr. Arob Ali, Nunertek, Baradi, Sonargaon, Narayanganj
10. Mr. Abdul Latif, son of late Mr. Abdus Samad, Nunertek, Baradi, Sonargaon, Narayanganj
11. Mr. Tara Mia, son of Mr. Abed Ali, Nunertek, Baradi, Sonargaon, Narayanganj
12. Mr. Salahuddin, son of late Mr. Tofazzal, Nunertek, Baradi, Sonargaon, Narayanganj
13. Mr. Monsur Ali, son of Majot Ali, resident of Nunertek, Baradi, Sonargaon, Narayanganj
14. Mr. Moynul, son of Mr. Ibrahim, resident of Nunertek, Baradi, Sonargaon, Narayanganj
15. Mr. Swapan, resident of Nolchor village under the jurisdiction of Meghna police station in Comilla district
16. Md. Tarikullah, resident of Nolchor village under the jurisdiction of Meghna police station in Comilla district
17. Md. Shafikullah, resident of Nolchor village under the jurisdiction of Meghna police station in Comilla district
18. Md. Sanaullah, resident of Nolchor village under the jurisdiction of Meghna police station in Comilla district
19. Md. Nizam of Nolchor village of Meghna upazilla of Comilla district
20. Mamun Mridha, son of Mr. Razzak Mridha, hailed from Patarhat village, under the jurisdiction of Mehendiganj police station in Barisal district

Time of incident: From March to October 2012
Place of incident: Mayadip Island and surrounding areas under the jurisdiction of the Sonargaon police station in Narayanganj district

I am writing to voice deep concern regarding the present threat of erosion of the entire Mayadip and Nunertek islands, where around 9000 poor people live, due to ongoing sand mining with the direct support and influence of powerful politicians linked to the ruling regime of Bangladesh. The rights activists, who have staged protest for the sake of saving the livelihood and shelter the inhabitants of the islands, have been facing constant harassment in fabricated criminal cases in which three persons have already suffered detention, lodged by hired thugs of the sand mining companies, without any appropriate and sustainable remedy. I demand your prompt and effective action, which it is hoped would reflect that the country actually has a government to take care of the well-being of the ordinary poor people.

I have learned from the Asian Human Rights Commission that the AHRC issued Urgent Appeal (AHRC-UAC-033-2012) regarding illegal sand-mining and death threats to the local rights activists and inhabitants on 24 February 2012. The UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing intervened into the matter urging the government of Bangladesh to initiate investigation on 22 March. On 29 March, the Permanent Mission of Bangladesh in Geneva informed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Dhaka about the intervention of the UN mandate holder. On 22 April, the Foreign Ministry forwarded the request to the Cabinet Division of the Government of Bangladesh, which asked the district administration of Narayanganj district on 25 April to conduct an investigation regarding the matter. Accordingly, the district administration of Narayanganj conducted an enquiry within a week since they received instruction from the Cabinet Division. However, the authorities have not published the investigation report, and no information has been provided regarding the outcome of the report.

During the period of investigation, the miners stopped sand mining. Then, after the investigation had been completed, the sand-mining companies re-started their illegal sand mining, which is continues unabated. In reality, the authorities have not prevented illegal sand mining in the Meghna River. The Comilla district administration did grant the sand mining companies to extract sand, however, the administrative authorities do not monitor the sand mining companies or control their mining within or beyond the jurisdiction of the relevant district administration.

On 5 May, the inhabitants of Mayadip and Nunertek islands observed that the sand miners resumed their illegal sand mining in the Meghna River adjacent to the Mayadip island. They informed the administration of Sonargaon upazilla (sub-district) and Narayanganj district. Upon receiving information from the inhabitants the Assistant Commissioner (AC)-Land of Sonargaon upazilla Mr. K M Al-Amin, who is an ex-officio executive magistrate, went to the scene on the same afternoon accompanying a team of police from the Sonargaon police station. He declared the scene as a 'Mobile Court' and ordered the police to arrest four persons namely Mr. Nizam Uddin, Makibur Islam, Shafique Mia and Abdur Razzak for illegal sand mining at the Meghna River adjacent to the Mayadip and Nunertek islands. The AC Land also fined the company of the arrested men with BDT 200,000.00 (Two Hundred Thousand), instantly.

As illegal sand mining continued despite the arrest of four persons the inhabitants protested against the illegal acts of sand mining. On 6 June, two organizations – Save the Environment Movement (widely known as POBA in Bangladesh) and Subronogram Foundation – jointly organized a 'human chain' in front of the Narayanganj Press Club protesting the sand mining. Several local and national civil society organizations participated in the human chain and expressed solidarity with the inhabitants of Mayadip and Nunertek islands. The speakers and inhabitants directly accused the influential political leaders of the ruling party – Bangladesh Awami League – including several parliamentarians of the incumbent regime as the mastermind and key beneficiaries of the illegal sand mining in the Meghna River. They demanded prompt legal action against the perpetrators while submitted separate memorandum to the Deputy Commissioner (DC), who is the head of the public administration in the district level of Bangladesh, and the Superintendent of Police (SP), the head of the district level police administration, from the human chain.

Both the civil and police administrations maintained silence about the illegal sand mining. Subsequently, the sand miners became encouraged enough to increase their illegal actions. On 2 July, the inhabitants observed that around 30 dredgers were installed in the Meghna River for extracting sand. A group of inhabitants of the Mayadip and Nunertek islands surrounded two dredgers -'Mitu Loading Dredger' and 'M V Haji Nur' - from their area. They also caught six persons, who were directly engaged in operating the dredgers, and handed them over to the Sonargaon police along with the two dredgers. The police brought the two dredgers to the pier of the police station. On the way to the police station the police officers freed all six perpetrators, upon receiving bribes. On 9 July, the police also freed the two dredgers without filing any criminal case regarding the illegal sand mining, which evidently exposed the police's nexus with the perpetrators of sand mining. No case was registered by the police in this regard.

Meanwhile, the sand mining companies claimed that they were given permission by the administration of Comilla district, situated on the other side of the Meghna River, for sand mining. On 4 July, the AC Land of Sonargaon and other staffs of the Department of Land of Narayanganj district made a demarcation line in the Meghna River with a warning against the sand miners that mining should not cross the demarcation line, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Narayanganj district. The AC Land asked the miners to keep their activities within the jurisdiction of Comilla district, which permitted the companies to extract sand within its territory. However, the sand miners did not follow the instructions of the AC Land of Sonargaon. The mining continued in the area of Mayadip and Nunertek islands.

On another occasion, on 23 July, the inhabitants attempted to prevent sand mining. The miners caught one of the inhabitants of the islands named Mr. Solaiman and beat him badly. On request of the islanders the Sonargaon police rescued Solaiman from one of the dredgers of the miners. On the following day, 24 July, the inhabitants informed the authorities about the ongoing sand mining and requested the authorities to take action promptly. Then, a team of the Coast Guard raided the scene and seized two dredgers named "M M Saha-3" and "Allahar Daan" from the Mayadip and Nunertek area. The two seized dredgers were anchored at the Coast Guard Station of Narayanganj. On 19 August, the sand mining companies managed to receive bail order from the Courts on behalf of the two dredgers that were taken away from the custody of the Coast Guard.

On 9 August, in the evening, an area of around 25 bighas of land (approximately more than eight acres) of Mayadip island, having paddy cultivation, eroded into the Meghna River as result of extensive sand mining. The inhabitants, who observed the land sliding and the ongoing sand mining next to the riverbank, protested the sand mining. A local leader of the ruling political party – Bangladesh Awami League – namely Mr. Osman Gani led a group of thugs to attack on the islanders for protesting against the sand mining. Subsequently, the affected inhabitants came to help their neighbours, who were under the attack of the miners. Both parties had a clash between each other resulting injuries to five persons amongst the affected inhabitants. The injured men were admitted to the Sonargaon Upazilla Health Complex for treatment while Mr. Shab Mia, one of injured victims of Mayadip island, filed a complaint with the Sonargaon police on the same day. The complaint was recorded as First Information Report (FIR) number 13 with the police under Sections 143, 447, 323, 324, 379, 427, 506 (II) and 114 of the Penal Code-1860. The Officer-in-Charge (OC) of Sonargaon police station assigned Sub Inspector (SI) Mr. Sheikh Sadik as the Investigation Officer (IO) of the case.

The illegal sand mining around the Mayadip and Nunertek islands has continued unabated, causing further threats of erosion and landslide. The affected inhabitants continued their protests with demands of saving the islands and their existence in the area. On 6th September, the inhabitants suffered another organized attack by thugs of the sand miners. A group of around 20 people, carrying sharp and blunt weapons landed in the islands during broad day light. The armed men beat the inhabitants indiscriminately causing serious injuries to six fishermen. Meanwhile, hundreds of islanders surrounded the attackers and caught three perpetrators namely Monsur Ali, Moynul and Mamun Mridha while the attackers were fleeing. The islanders also captured a dredger named "Dayal Khaja Baba". The three men and the dredger were handed over to the Sonargaon police while Mr. Md. Jilani lodged a complaint with the police on the same day against around 20 unidentified attackers including the three persons. The complaint was recorded as FIR number 5 under Sections 143, 447, 323, 379, 427 and 506 (II) of the Penal Code-1860. SI Mr. Azmiruzzaman was assigned as the IO of the case. However, the police did not take any convincing action against the sand miners or the perpetrators of the attack.

On 11 September, two groups of thugs of the sand miners from the Narayanganj and Comilla districts joined together and landed in Mayadip island. This time, these two groups attacked in the house of Mr. Shirish Ali at Mayadip island. Few people including Shirish Ali, his mother Mrs. Zobeda Begum, and his wife Mrs. Jharna Akter were seriously injured when the attackers broke the house at night. Mrs. Zobeda's left hand was fractured due to the attack. She was admitted to the Sonargaon hospital for treatment. The attackers threatened that anyone who dares to prevent the ongoing sand mining will face dire consequences like the family of Shirish Ali. They fled away when the villagers approached to the house of Shirish Ali after the attack. At the time of fleeing, the villagers were able to recognize a number of perpetrators. They are: Mr. Zakir Hossen Zakaria, Hossen Ali, Md. Kashem, Abdul Latif and Md. Alauddin, all of whom are residents of Nunertek island of Sonargaon upazilla of Narayanganj distirct; and Mr. Swapan, Md. Tarikullah, Md. Shafikullah, Md. Sanaullah, Md. Titu and Md. Nizam of Nolchor village of Meghna upazilla of Comilla district. All of these perpetrators are known to be armed cadres of the sand mining companies in the area.

On the following morning, 12 September, the same group of perpetrators attacked the fishermen of Mayadip who were fishing in the Meghna River. The attackers snatched the fishing nets and fishes that were already caught and kept in the fishing boats. Four fishermen namely Mr. Monir Hossain, Iman Ali, Dulal Mia and Anis Mia, who lost their nets and fishes, told the Asian Human Rights Commission that the attackers threatened them with death and said that "If you prevent us from sand mining, we will never let you [the fishermen] to fish in the [Meghna] river".

Following the serious threats on the livelihood of the fishermen and further risk of landslides the inhabitants accompanied by Mr. Shahed Kayes, who is the chief advisor of the Illegal Sand Extraction Prevention Committee – a watchdog formed by the district administration of Narayanganj, requested the authorities to do something for the sake of the existence of the inhabitants of Mayadip and Nunertek islands.

On 13 September, the AC Land of Sonargaon Mr. K M Al-Amin responded to calls from Mr. Shahed Kayes. The AC Land, accompanied by a number of government officers, police officers and the leaders of the Illegal Sand Extraction Prevention Committee, visited the scene where the sand mining was going on. He arrested three persons, who were involved in sand extraction adjacent to the Mayadip island, and seized a dredger "Madina Enterprise-2" from the scene. On his way return to Sonargaon town the sand miners' gang surrounded the speedboat of the AC Land in the middle of the Meghna River. The gang confined the government officials and leaders for two hours there with constant threats of killing and throwing the dead bodies into the river. Another team of the Sonargaon police rescued the AC Land and his team mates from the confinement in the afternoon. However, the gang compelled the police to release the arrested persons and the dredger "Madina Enterprise-2" from the custody of the AC Land at the time of releasing the officials during the intervention of the Sonargaon police.

On the same evening, the AC Land Mr. K M Al-Amin lodged a complaint with the Sonargaon police regarding the incident. The case was registered with the Sonargaon police station as FIR number 15 under Sections 143, 447, 186, 353, 224, 225, 342 and 379 of the Penal Code (1860). The OC of Sonargaon police assigned SI Mr. Imtiaz Ahammed to investigate the case. In the complaint the AC Land alleges that his team was encircled in the Meghna river by around six engine boats carrying around 50 people, who snatched the arrested captain of a dredger, and forced his speedboat to anchor at Nolshor [under the jurisdiction of Meghna police station in Comilla district]. He also claimed in the complaint that an additional police force from the Sonargaon police rescued his team from the grips of the sand miners.

On one hand, the sand mining companies and their hired thugs attacked the inhabitants of Mayadip and the leaders of civil society organizations for holding protests against illegal sand mining. On the other hand, the thugs of the sand mining companies constantly fabricated a number of criminal cases against the islanders by maintaining nexus with the police of Narayanganj and Comilla districts that are situated on the both banks of the Meghna River. The sand mining companies have deployed their thugs to do spying behind the inhabitants of Mayadip and Nunertek islands and the leaders of civil society organizations. The spies have been following the movements of the people concerned over the illegal sand mining. The thugs are attacking the islanders and their supporters physically and instantly fabricating criminal cases in Narayanganj and Comilla districts simultaneously.

For example, on 10 September the perpetrators filed two fabricated cases against the islanders; one with the Chief Judicial Magistrate's Court of Narayanganj and another with the Meghna police station of Comilla district. In the complaint (No. 295/2012) registered with the Chief Judicial Magistrate's Court of Narayanganj district, sixteen persons named as accused. A man named Md. Abdul Halim, a resident of Nolchor village under the jurisdiction of Meghna police station of Comilla district, lodged the complaint under Sections 447,385, 325, 323, 379, 307, 427 and 109 of the Penal Code (1860). Ms. Chandni Rupam, Senior Judicial Magistrate of Narayanganj, ordered the Sonargaon police to register the complaint as an FIR.

The complaint, which was registered with the Meghna police station of Comilla district on the same date was recorded as FIR no. 3, was lodged by one Md. Wasim of Sonakanda village of the same jurisdiction. He named 14 persons as accused in his complaint under Sections 143, 447, 385, 323, 325, 307, 379, 427 and 506 of the Penal Code (1860). Strangely, the two different persons, who lodged two complaints in two different districts on the same date accusing almost the same group of people, except two additional names in one of the cases. The allegations and time of occurrences in the two complaints are almost similar while only the places of occurrences were shown differently. The two complaints indicate that the same people cannot commit crimes in two different places at the same time where the distance between Chhoto Deobhog in Sonargaon and Bhasania Nolchor in Meghna is quite far.

On 15 September, two fishermen namely Mr. Shah Ali and Mr. Hanifa went to Chittagong Road, a wholesale business hub in Narayanganj district at the Dhaka-Chittagong Highway toward the direction of Dhaka, which is around 10 kilometers away from the Mayadip island. They went to sell fish to the wholesalers. On their return home a group of thugs of the sand miners, led by Mr. Ahsanullah of Nolchor village of Meghna police station in Comilla district, caught Shah Ali and Hanifa and beat them. The local wholesale businessmen, who recognized the two fishermen, rescued them from further beating. The Siddhirganj police received the information of physical attack on the two fishermen from the activists, who constantly fight against illegal sand mining in the area, with request of protecting the fishermen. However, the thugs succeeded in influencing the police, who showed the two fishermen arrested under Section 54 of the Code of Criminal Procedure-1898. They were detained in the Siddhirganj police station on that night. The police produced them before the Chief Judicial Magistrate's Court of Narayanganj on the following day, 16 September. The Court further detained them in Narayanganj prison for three more days by rejecting the petitions for bail submitted by the lawyers. At the time when the police arrested the fishermen the thugs allegedly informed the Siddhirganj police that they (two fishermen) had robbery case against them in Meghna police station of Comilla district. In fact, according to the record of the Meghna police station there was no case registered with the Meghna police against these two persons. The sand miners registered a fabricated case with the Meghna police on the same date after the two persons had been chased by the spies of the sand miners who also influenced the Siddhirganj police to detain them by paying bribes to the police of both districts.

It should be mentioned that the two fishermen – Shah Ali and Hanifa – played a strong role in helping the Sonargaon police on 2 July 2012 to seize two dredgers 'Mitu Loading Dredger' and 'M V Haji Nur' from the Mayadip and Nunertek island area while the dredgers were extracting sand there. By fabricating cases against these two fishermen, through bribing the police, the sand miners took revenge upon the islanders. On 28 September, the two fishermen were released from prison after 13 days detention.

On 26 September, the Mayadip islanders including Mr. Md. Jilani, an elected public representative of Baradi Union Council – a local government unit – and one of the key activists of anti sand mining movement in Sonargaon, appeared before the Chief Judicial Magistrate's Court of Comilla district to seek bail. The Chief Judicial Magistrate granted bail to all the accused except Md. Jilani and ordered to detain him in prison. On 30 September, another petition seeking Jilani's bail was filed with the Court by Jilani's lawyer. However, the Court did not hear the petition on an excuse that the bail petitions of the same person are not heard within less than a week as a custom in the Court. It has been alleged that Court received political pressures from the ruling party's influential leaders. The local human rights defenders learned that Mr. Subid Ali Bhuyan, a parliamentarian of the area, who is a retired Major General of the Bangladesh Army, called the Chief Judicial Magistrate on phone asking the Magistrate not to grant bail to Jilani, who prevents sand mining in Meghna River where the retired general has his financial and political interests. As a result, Mr. Jilani remained in detention for nine days. His bail petition was heard on 4 October and the bail was granted by the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Comilla. Jilani was released from the Comilla Central Jail on the following day although his bail was granted. Because, the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Comilla had forgotten to sign on the bail bond due to his hasty departure from the office for Dhaka to meet his family prior to the weekend. Later, another staff went half way through Dhaka to get the bail bond signed by the Chief Judicial Magistrate following a telephonic intervention on behalf of the detained person.

Currently, around 9000 inhabitants of Mayadip and Nunertek islands are in serious fear of erosion of the whole island, which may occur as a consequence of illegal sand mining, within a year, if the ongoing trend of extraction of sand by around 35 dredgers continues. The fishermen of the islands are being robbed off their belongings; the farmers are losing their cultivating lands due to erosion; the whole neighbourhood is facing physical attacks by the hired thugs of the sand miners. Ultimately, the entire islands are under the threat of erosion due to the ongoing illegal sand mining, which threatens the existence of the whole population of the islands.

I am informed that on 24 March, 2012, a leading environmental organization in Bangladesh 'Save the environment movement' (Poribesh Bachao Andolon - POBA) and the social and research based organization 'Subornogram Foundation' jointly organized a press conference at Narayanganj press club against the illegal sand extraction in the Meghna river near Mayadip-Nunertek island. Several leading representatives of the civil society of the country were present there and expressed their support for the ongoing movement in the Mayadip-Nunertek island against the illegal sand grabbers. The chairman of 'Save the environment movement (POBA)' Mr. Abu Naser Khan, ex secretary of BIWTA of the Bangladesh Govt. Mr. Monwar Hossen, general secretary of the Narayanganj district 'Civil Society Committee' (Narayanganj Nagorik Committee) Mr. Abdur Rahman, president of Narayanganj district joint Cultural Forum (Narayanganj Sangskritik Jot) Advocate Pradip Ghosh, vice president of Narayanganj district Lawyers' Association Mr. Zahirul Haque addressed the meeting.

It was mentioned in the press conference that the members and local leaders of the ruling party Awami League are responsible for the illegal sand extraction in the Meghna river near the Mayadip-Nunertek islands. Three parliamentarians of the ruling party namely Mr. Kayser Hasnat of Sonargaon sub-district and Nazrul Islam Babu of Arai hazar sub district of Narayanganj district and Mr. Subid Ali Bhuiyan, a retired major general of Bangladesh Army, of Meghna sud-district of Comilla district are involved in the sand mining.

Two sand extraction companies, M/S Jalal Enterprise owned by Md. Zakir of Meghna sub district in Comilla district and M/S Nirman Traders owned by MR. Gazi Ataur Rahman from Sonargaon in Narayanganj district extracting sands illegally near the Mayadip and Nunertek islands.

I am aware that the AHRC previously issued a Hunger Alert General and an Urgent Appeal Case (For further details, please see: AHRC-HAG-003-2011 and AHRC-UAC-033-2012) regarding the illegal sand-mining and death threats to the local rights activists and inhabitants last year and this year respectively. However, the government has failed to take any effective legal action to protect the community by punishing the perpetrators although there is a law titled "Balumahal and Soil Management Law 2010 in the country.

I urge the authorities of Bangladesh to ensure protection of the life of activists who have been defending the rights of the inhabitants of the Mayadip and Nunertek islands. The identified perpetrators, and the political masters of the sand-extractors, must be brought to book and prosecuted through the due process of law. The fabricated charges against the rights activists must be dropped immediately. The government must permanently stop sand mining in the Meghna River adjacent to Mayadip and Nunertek islands with immediate effect. The identified perpetrators, and the political masters of the sand-extractors, must be brought to book and prosecuted through the due process of law. The fabricated charges against the rights activists must be dropped immediately.

Yours sincerely,

----------------
PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

1. Mrs. Sheikh Hasina
Prime Minister
Government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh
Office of the Prime Minister
Tejgaon, Dhaka
BANGLADESH
Fax: +880 2 811 3244 / 3243 / 1015 / 1490
E-mail: pm@pmo.gov.bd

2. Mr. Md. Muzammel Hossain
Chief Justice
Supreme Court of Bangladesh
Supreme Court Building
Ramna, Dhaka-1000
BANGLADESH
Fax: +880 2 956 5058 /+880 2 7161344
Tel: +880 2 956 2792
E-mail: chief@bdcom.com or supremec@bdcom.com

3. Mr. Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir MP
Minister
Ministry of Home Affairs
Bangladesh Secretariat
Dhaka-1000
BANGLADESH
Tel: +880 2 7169069 (O)
Fax: +880 2 7160405, 880 2 7164788 (O)
E-mail: minister@mha.gov.bd

4. Md. Rezaul Karim Hira
Minister
Ministry of Land
Bangladesh Secretariat
Dhaka-1000
BANGLADESH
Fax: +880 2 7172346
E-mail: minister@minland.gov.bd

5. Mr. Mahbubey Alam
Attorney General of Bangladesh
Office of the Attorney General
Supreme Court Annex Building
Ramna, Dhaka-1000
BANGLADESH
Fax: +880 2 956 1568
Tel: +880 2 956 2868

6. Mr. Muhammad Musharraf Hossain Bhuiyan
Cabinet Secretary
Cabinet Division
Building No. 1, Room No. 301
Bangladesh Secretariat
Dhaka-1000
BANGLADESH
Tel: +880 2 9566558
Fax: +880 2 9566559
E-mail: cab_secy@cabinet.gov.bd

7. Mr. Hassan Mahmud Khandker
Inspector General of Police
Bangladesh Police
Police Headquarters'
Fulbaria, Dhaka-1000
BANGLADESH
Fax: +880 2 956 3362 / 956 3363
E-mail: ig@police.gov.bd

8. Mr. A N Shamsuddin Azad Chowdhury
Divisional Commissioner
Office of the Divisional Commissioner of Dhaka
Government Office Bhaban
Segun Bagicha, Dhaka 1000
BANGLADESH
Tel: +880 2 8315085/ 8315198
Fax: +880 2 9349999
E-mail: divcomdhaka@dcdhaka.gov.bd

9. Mr. Md. Serajul Haq Khan
Divisional Commissioner
Office of the Divisional Commissioner of Chittagong
Chittagong
BANGLADESH
Tel: +880 31 615247
Fax: +880 31 617400/ 614961
E-mail: divcomct@bttb.net.bd

10. Deputy Inspector General of Police
Dhaka Range
Office of the DIG of Dhaka Range
Shegun Bagicha, Ramna, Dhaka-1000
BANGLADESH
Fax: +880 2 8315838/ 9345858
E-mail: digdhaka@police.gov.bd

11. Deputy Inspector General of Police
Chittagong Range
Office of the DIG of Chittagong Range
Zakir Hossain Road
Khulshi, Chittagong
BANGLADESH
Tel: +880 31 650120, 655466 (O)
Fax: +880 31 652111 (O)
E-mail: digchittagong@police.gov.bd

12. Prof. Ghulam Rahman
Chairperson
Anti Corruption Commission
1, Shegunbagicha
Dhaka 1000
BANGLADESH
Tel: +880 2 8333350
Fax: 880 2 8333354
Email: info@acc.org.bd

13. Prof. Mizanur Rahman
Chairman
National Human Rights Commission
Gulfeshan Plaza (11th Floor)
8, Sohid Sangbadik Saleena Parvin Sorok
Mogbazar, Dhaka-1217
BANGLADESH
Tel: +880 2 9335513
Fax: +880 2 8333219
E-mail: nhrc.bd@gmail.com


Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (ua@ahrc.asia)

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Extended Introduction: Urgent Appeals, theory and practice

A need for dialogue

Many people across Asia are frustrated by the widespread lack of respect for human rights in their countries.  Some may be unhappy about the limitations on the freedom of expression or restrictions on privacy, while some are affected by police brutality and military killings.  Many others are frustrated with the absence of rights on labour issues, the environment, gender and the like. 

Yet the expression of this frustration tends to stay firmly in the private sphere.  People complain among friends and family and within their social circles, but often on a low profile basis. This kind of public discourse is not usually an effective measure of the situation in a country because it is so hard to monitor. 

Though the media may cover the issues in a broad manner they rarely broadcast the private fears and anxieties of the average person.  And along with censorship – a common blight in Asia – there is also often a conscious attempt in the media to reflect a positive or at least sober mood at home, where expressions of domestic malcontent are discouraged as unfashionably unpatriotic. Talking about issues like torture is rarely encouraged in the public realm.

There may also be unwritten, possibly unconscious social taboos that stop the public reflection of private grievances.  Where authoritarian control is tight, sophisticated strategies are put into play by equally sophisticated media practices to keep complaints out of the public space, sometimes very subtly.  In other places an inner consensus is influenced by the privileged section of a society, which can control social expression of those less fortunate.  Moral and ethical qualms can also be an obstacle.

In this way, causes for complaint go unaddressed, un-discussed and unresolved and oppression in its many forms, self perpetuates.  For any action to arise out of private frustration, people need ways to get these issues into the public sphere.

Changing society

In the past bridging this gap was a formidable task; it relied on channels of public expression that required money and were therefore controlled by investors.  Printing presses were expensive, which blocked the gate to expression to anyone without money.  Except in times of revolution the media in Asia has tended to serve the well-off and sideline or misrepresent the poor.

Still, thanks to the IT revolution it is now possible to communicate with large audiences at little cost.  In this situation there is a real avenue for taking issues from private to public, regardless of the class or caste of the individual.

Practical action

The AHRC Urgent Appeals system was created to give a voice to those affected by human rights violations, and by doing so, to create a network of support and open avenues for action.  If X’s freedom of expression is denied, if Y is tortured by someone in power or if Z finds his or her labour rights abused, the incident can be swiftly and effectively broadcast and dealt with. The resulting solidarity can lead to action, resolution and change. And as more people understand their rights and follow suit, as the human rights consciousness grows, change happens faster. The Internet has become one of the human rights community’s most powerful tools.   

At the core of the Urgent Appeals Program is the recording of human rights violations at a grass roots level with objectivity, sympathy and competence. Our information is firstly gathered on the ground, close to the victim of the violation, and is then broadcast by a team of advocates, who can apply decades of experience in the field and a working knowledge of the international human rights arena. The flow of information – due to domestic restrictions – often goes from the source and out to the international community via our program, which then builds a pressure for action that steadily makes its way back to the source through his or her own government.   However these cases in bulk create a narrative – and this is most important aspect of our program. As noted by Sri Lankan human rights lawyer and director of the Asian Human Rights Commission, Basil Fernando:

"The urgent appeal introduces narrative as the driving force for social change. This idea was well expressed in the film Amistad, regarding the issue of slavery. The old man in the film, former president and lawyer, states that to resolve this historical problem it is very essential to know the narrative of the people. It was on this basis that a court case is conducted later. The AHRC establishes the narrative of human rights violations through the urgent appeals. If the narrative is right, the organisation will be doing all right."

Patterns start to emerge as violations are documented across the continent, allowing us to take a more authoritative, systemic response, and to pinpoint the systems within each country that are breaking down. This way we are able to discover and explain why and how violations take place, and how they can most effectively be addressed. On this path, larger audiences have opened up to us and become involved: international NGOs and think tanks, national human rights commissions and United Nations bodies.  The program and its coordinators have become a well-used tool for the international media and for human rights education programs. All this helps pave the way for radical reforms to improve, protect and to promote human rights in the region.