By Ahmad Shihab 5 November 2021
Ambassador Peter Haas
The Coalition for Human Rights and Democracy in Bangladesh (CHRD Bangladesh) has the honor to extend its hearty greetings on your appointment as the next US Ambassador to Bangladesh. You come with an excellent background and great accomplishments. The expectation of the CHRD Bangladesh and that of Bangladeshi people are, therefore, extremely high.
CHRD Bangladesh is a US-registered non-profit organization, born immediately following the inauguration of the new Democratic Administration in Washington early this year. Its scholarly membership spans globally.
Greatly encouraged by the repeated assertions by President Joe Biden that his pursuit of foreign policy would be human rights, democracy, election security and anti-authoritarianism, among others, the CHRD Bangladesh sought urgent help from the US Government to reinstate these values in Bangladesh. Needless to mention that these fundamental democratic and human values have been ruthlessly trampled in the country since the installation of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed 13 years ago. Worst of all, Bangladesh has not seen a credible election since 2001. Rights organizations within and outside the country, including many in the US, have been strongly voicing their concerns and condemnations. Even the US Annual Country Reports on Bangladesh reflected them. The beleaguered nation and its suffering people look forward to being bailed out of the impasse.
Sir, the CHRD Bangladesh greatly appreciates your valuable statements at the Senate Confirmation Hearing on October 27, 2021. Citing the importance of democracy, stability and prosperity for Bangladesh, you said that it would be your sincere endeavor “to bolster full democratic participation” in the next national elections”, as well as to “protect and defend the human rights.” These are few of the basic areas in which the people of Bangladesh have been totally denied under the present regime.
It may not be out of place to mention here that Ambassador Dan Mozena, one of your distinguished predecessors, sincerely tried to convince the Bangladesh authority, as well as its sponsor India, to ensure a fair, participatory and credible election in 2014. So tried Ambassadors Nisha Desai Biswal of the State Department and Fernando Taranco of the UN. Unfortunately, their efforts were not only dismissed by the Bangladesh Prime Minister but they also had to digest insulting and insinuating comments from her senior officials. Ambassador William Milam, another predecessor, termed the farcical election of December 2018 as “stolen.” This election was otherwise dubbed as “Midnight Election” because most of the ballot boxes were filled by ruling party (Awami League) operatives for their chosen candidates the night before under official supervision. (No wonder the Ruling Coalition came out with an unthinkable 98% victory!). As the Bangladesh government refused to take necessary steps to make the elections fair, participatory and credible, foreign countries, including the US, refused to send Observers to the country to date.
We believe, under the administration of President Joe Biden, the State Department can play an assertive role to help Bangladesh return to the path of democracy, human rights, freedom and rule of law. We are confident that you are the right choice for the task and will live up to your expressed commitment. Meanwhile, kindly allow us review a few burning issues that plague Bangladesh today.
Rule by Fascism
After installation, Sheikh Hasina, backed by her sponsor India, became an oppressive dictator of the worst type. Her fascist administration committed a number of major massacres, such as the brutal killing of dozens of senior army officers in February 2009, hundreds of opposition members belonging to Jamaat-e-Islam and Hefazat in 2013. In addition, it routinely conducted indiscriminate killings, abductions, massive imprisonment, torture, extortions and reckless corruption. In 2020, Transparency International ranked Bangladesh as one of the worst corrupt countries in the world. The Reporters Sans Frontier recently named Sheikh Hasina one of the 37 world leaders who buried press freedom in their countries.
Sheikh Hasina was installed as Prime Minister through an Indo-US arrangement, apparently to combat a mistaken or overblown notion of Islamic fundamentalism in Bangladesh. (This was apparently admitted by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as per article From Wikileaks to Hillaryleak | The Opinion Pages (bdnews24.com). India acquired itself a right to deal with Bangladesh. It received an additional fillip following the US-India strategic collaboration to check Chinese expansion in South Asia. On the other hand, in exchange for staying in authority, the unmandated Prime Minister has been obliging all the one-sided demands of India, even at the cost of Bangladesh’s national interests, sovereignty and security. For instance, the offer of free passage or “corridor” through Bangladesh–by road, rail, air and sea– to reach India’s inaccessible northeastern states puts serious strains on Bangladesh’s already fragile infrastructures, in addition to creating a dangerous security situation for the country. In fact, Bangladesh is being treated as a vassal state by its big neighbor. The general public is totally opposed to New Delhi’s hegemony in the country. The CHRD Bangladesh, however, believes that Bangladesh can have a mutually beneficial relationship with India.
People Seek Freedom from Bondage
The people of Bangladesh want to be freed from the ongoing fascism, as well as from the suffocating situation created by various draconian oppressive acts and rules against their freedom of expression, the abuse of human rights and the total absence of democratic practices. The Coalition believes the United States, as the leader and supporter of democracy and human rights, has a responsibility to help fix them in Bangladesh.
The CHRD Bangladesh had already approached the US administration citing the tragic situation Bangladesh has been passing through under the fascist practices of the present regime of Sheikh Hasina and sought urgent intervention to bail the nation and its suffering people out of this crisis. The Coalition sincerely believes that Your Excellency can play an important role in fulfilling that task. The group is always available for any assistance that your excellency may kindly desire.
Please accept, Excellency, the assurance of our highest consideration.
The Coalition of Human Rights and Democracy in Bangladesh.