Romel Chakma, 20 year-old HSC examinee and student leader of Pahari Chatra Parishad,
was picked up by army personnel on April 5, 2017. Allegedly tortured, he died in hospital two weeks later.
How does one restore dignity to the memory of a youth who was picked up and tortured, who died of torture, whose body was not handed over to family members for cremation, but burnt after pouring petrol and kerosene? Continue reading →
The National Human Rights Commission has written to the defence ministry asking for a Bangladesh Army
explanation for the death of Romel Chakma as a commission investigation has observed that army personnel concerned cannot avoid the responsibility for the death.
Commission chairman Kazi Reazul Hoque told New Age on Friday that a full commission meeting analysed the investigation report and sent a copy of the report to the defence ministry asking for the explanation from the army in the past week.
‘We did not get any version from army, so we wrote a letter to the defence ministry based on the recommendation made by the commission probe committee on the issue,’ he said.
He said the commission found circumstantial evidences against perpetrators and wanted to know the army’s explanation.
Commission officials said that the commission received the copy of a letter of the defence ministry to the army headquarters seeking their explanation.
The three-member probe body headed by commission member Banchita Chakma, also former Rangamati College principal, submitted the report to the commission on June 11.
Banchita Chakma said that they submitted the report without any version from the army.
She said that the witness accounts suggested that the visually challenged ethnic minority youth was in the custody of the army when he died at Chittagong Medical College Hospital on April 20.
Physicians at the hospital in the medical report observed that Romel Chakma died from kidney infection.
Probe committee members said there were two reasons for kidney infections – severe internal injuries caused by either torture or major accident.
‘We believed Romel was tortured,’ said a commission member.
The probe body recorded statements of 15 people including Romel’s family, local police and physicians to examine what happened to the youth but no version from army was available.
The probe concluded that the army in no way could avoid the responsibility for the death of Romel Chakma.
The committee included commission’s deputy director in Rangamati Gazi Md Salahuddin and executive magistrate Tapos Shil from Rangamati district administration.
Committee members said that had approached army zone commander at Nannerchar on May 24 during the inquiry but could got no response.
The field office of army told the probe committee that they would speak if their high ups allowed them to talk.
The probe committee recorded the statement from five police officials who narrated that Romel Chakma was brought to them in a critical condition and that was why the police did not receive him.
The police officials told the committee that Romel did not carry major mark of injuries but he was vomiting and the army personnel carrying him informed police that Romel met an accident.
It takes hardly 10 minutes from the police station to the nearby health complex.
The inquiry found that it took one hour and a half to take Romel Chakma from police station to the health complex. Romel was moved to Chittagong Medical College Hospital where he was admitted under security protection by army personnel.
‘We have collected the documents from police station and the hospital,’ said a probe body member.
Formed on April 24, the three-member probe body met with Romel’s family and local people at his village Purba Hatimara under Burighat union of Nannerchar on May 1.
On April 6, Romel’s father Binoy Kanti Chakma wrote to the commission chairman demanding justice for the ‘inhuman torture’ on his son by army personnel.
In a statement issued on April 24, commission Reazul termed it a serious violation of human rights to kill an innocent person in torture.
HSC examinee Romel, 20, was the general secretary of United Peoples’ Democratic Front-backed Pahari Chhatra Parishad’s Nannerchar upazila unit.
He was allegedly picked up by local army personnel on April 5 and taken to police station in the evening.
The next morning, police and army personnel admitted him to the Chittagong Medical College Hospital, where he died on April 20.
Romel’s father alleged that they were barred from meeting him at the camp as well as at the hospital.
According to media reports, the Inter Services Public Relations alleged that Romel had masterminded the attack in which two buses were robbed and a truck was set on fire in the area on January 23.
Different rights groups, student bodies and UPDF demanded a judicial inquiry into the death terming the detention and torture unjust.
German Foreign Office and Neue Galerie Berlin will present Shahidul Alam at Deutsche Welle’s Global Media Forum and at the Global Forum on Migration and Development in Berlin.
With the book publication and the exhibition “The best years of my life. Bangladeshi Migrants in Malaysia” the international well-known photographer and activist Shahidul Alam will be present on Monday, June 19, 2017 through the Neue Galerie Berlin and with the support of the German Foreign Office on the Global Media Forum of the Deutsche Welle. After the end of the forum in Bonn, the exhibition will be on display at the German Foreign Office in Berlin from Thursday, June 23, 2017, and will be part of the Global Forum on Migration and Development from 28 to 30 June. The Finissage will be published on 30 June 2017 at the Federal Foreign Office with a greeting from the State Secretary Dr. Markus Ederer within the framework of the GFMD. The artist will be present in Bonn and Berlin and will be available for questions and interviews. Further information on the exhibition and the artist in the appendix.
As an additional digital component, the Neue Galerie Berlin, together with the technology partner snap2live, presents the newly developed image recognition app “Neue Galerie Berlin”. All pictures of the Alam exhibition can be scanned with the app (tentatively available on Android). Behind the pictures
In 2016 Tanja von Unger founded the Neue Galerie Berlin (www.neuegalerieberlin.de).
To provide a relevant platform beyond photography the businessmodel
also collaborates with publishing groups and institutions and is known for its groundbreaking presentation of photographers and their works at economic conferences and events such as the Economic Summit of the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Falling Walls Conference, Rheingauer Economic Forum, Global Solutions G 20 Conference of the Dieter von Holtzbrinck publishers.
Snap2Life create apps for companies in the media, publishing, automotive, business, sports and advertising sectors. Most of these apps are equipped with our innovative image recognition functionality, which we also provide as an API for integration into other apps. In a fraction of seconds we connect the offline world with any kind of relevant content from the online world.
The Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum (GMF) is the Place Made for Minds, where decision makers and influencers from all over the world come together. It’s the global platform put on by Deutsche Welle and its partners and the place where you can connect and strengthen relations with over 2,000 inspiring representatives from the fields of journalism, digital media, politics, culture, business, development, academia and civil society. The conference provides a unique opportunity to network, get inspired and collaborate using a wide variety of state-of-the-art formats.
“Towards a Global Social Contract on Migration and Development”
Tenth Global Forum on Migration and Development Summit 28 to 30 June 2017, Berlin
Germany and Morocco have assumed the co-chairmanship of the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) from 1 January 2017 until 31 December 2018. During this two-year period, the focus will be on the contribution of the GFMD to the United Nations’ Global Compact on Migration. The Compact is intended to constitute a strong signal of the international community for an enhanced global migration policy, to be adopted by the community of states in 2018.
Unlike Rana Plaza where the stench of corpses wafted over when we were still half a mile away, there was no such smell at Tampaco.
Unlike Rana Plaza where the workers got a minute or so before the nine-storey building collapsed, at Tampaco it was just a matter of seconds, a firefighter told me. A huge explosion, the whole thing was burnt to a cinder.
Unlike Rana Plaza where news of the collapse led to worker protests in the industrial areas of Dhaka, where thousands of garment workers walked out, set fire to at least two factories, smashed vehicles and demanded death penalty for the building owner Sohel Rana and the owners of the garment factories (five) located in the building, where workers in neighbouring Narayanganj city vandalised five garment factories, where workers clashed with police who fired rubber bullets and tear gas— nothing happened at Tampaco. Daze, shock, horror, grief, of course. But nothing else, no protests. Continue reading →
An apology for mass mailing in this way, but as someone who has seen the Shadow World film (http://shadowworldfilm.com/) and/or knows my work on the global arms trade, I wanted to share these thoughts with you. In terms of the issues I have devoted myself to over the past 17 years, tomorrow’s election in the UK is the most crucial for decades. For the first time in a very long time one of the leadership candidates of the main parties has a history of campaigning for a better regulated, safer, less corrupt arms trade.
The global trade in weapons is not only riddled with corruption, but it’s deadly consequences are if anything getting worse, as we witness in the slaughter of thousands of innocent civilians in Syria and Yemen. In the case of Yemen over 4,000 civilians have been killed, many of them by jets, bombs and missiles sold to Saudi Arabia by the UK government (over £3.3bn worth since March 2015 when the Saudi-led coalition bombings started). British advisers are supposed to be working with the coalition forces on targeting, but according to the UN a third of the targets hit are schools, hospitals, places of worship, residential buildings and agricultural land. Given the huge subsidies for British arms manufacturers (including BAE & Rolls Royce who are amongst the most corrupt companies on the planet) these atrocities are being committed in our name with our tax pounds.
For the military-industrial complex named the United States, Okinawa is a ‘hub’ for conducting strategic operations throughout the Pacific, but for its residents, US military bases seem to be a hub which harbours ‘sexual terrorists.’
As Okinawan resistance to the US bases lengthens, as our knowledge of the workings of the ‘garrisoning of the globe’ (Chalmers Johnson) deepens, it is not surprising that several authors have likened the US military to the ISIS (or ISIL, Islamic State of the Iraq and the Levant).
Matt Pepe writes, ‘One of the strongest condemnations of terrorist groups like ISIS—rightly so—is that they exploit women for sex. Examination of the U.S. military’s history abroad reveals a track record of similar sexual abuse of local women and girls.’ US soldiers had told David Vine, author of Base Nation, that their coworkers had bought women as ‘sex slaves.’
Such information, of course, is hard to come by in the Western mainstream media.
Women’s bodies cemented military alliances
The United States has a global network of 800 military installations around the world; the emergence of the bases were accompanied by the development of ‘commercial sex zones.’ Most of theses bases resemble each other, writes Vine, ‘filled with liquor stores, fast-food outlets, tattoo parlors, bars and clubs, and prostitution in one form or another. The evidence is just outside the gates in places such as Baumholder and Kaiserslautern in Germany, and Kadena and Kin Town in Okinawa.’
When the Second World War came to an end, the behaviour of American troops became a matter of concern. They were behaving ‘as though Koreans were a conquered nation rather than a liberated people.’ Although this eventually led to a ‘hands off Korean women’ policy, it excluded women in brothels, dance halls and those working in the streets. The Japanese had forced hundreds of thousands of women from Korea, China, Okinawa, rural Japan, and other parts of Asia into sexual slavery, known as the ‘comfort stations’ system. After the US occupied present-day South Korea (1945-1948), American military authorities took over some of the ‘comfort stations’ with the assistance of Korean officials (paradoxically, the issue of ‘comfort women’ is still a contentious issue between the Koreans and the Japanese).
According to a 1965 survey, 85% of GIs either had ‘been with’ or had ‘been out with’ a prostitute. Although the formal system of sexual slavery came to an end after the Second World War, Vine cites an American military chaplain who had commented, ‘Many men have their steadies. Some of them own their girls, complete with hooch [small house] and furniture. Before leaving Korea, they sell the package to a man who is just coming in’ (emphasis in original).
After US military bases were installed in South Korea in the 1950s, settlements known as ‘camptowns’ emerged close by; more than 150,000 Korean women, lacking any other economic alternative, took up sex work. Many of them were later subjected to severe social stigmatisation, and forced into destitution. While some would argue that the ‘supply emerged to meet a market demand’, Pepe caustically notes, military bases are not a product of the free market, they are ‘imposed without consent on communities where they dominate the local economies’ thwarting the ‘possibilities of independent development.’
Camptowns and prostitution were foreign currency-earners for Korea’s cash-strapped, war-ravaged economy, writes Vine; government documents reveal South Korean officials strategising on how to ‘encourage GIs to spend their money on women in Korea rather than Japan’ during their official leave, on offering classes in basic English and etiquette to women. Aeran Kim, a former sex worker recalls, ‘They urged us to sell as much as possible to the GI’s, praising us as ‘dollar-earning patriots.’ Our government was one big pimp for the U.S. military.’
Another sex-worker, who refused to be identified, said, ‘Women like me were the biggest sacrifice for my country’s alliance with the Americans. Looking back, I think my body was not mine, but the government’s and the U.S. military’s.’
Okinawa as America’s ‘strategic frontier’
Okinawa Island (part of the larger Ryukyu Islands group) was described by Douglas Mac Arthur, the famous five-star general of the US Army, as the ‘island-bastion’ of America’s ‘strategic frontier‘ on the eastern coast of the Asian continent.
The presence of hundreds of military bases had marked the American occupation of Japan (1945-1952) after its defeat in the Second World War. These were closed down after the normalisation of relations on the condition that their functions would be transferred to Okinawa. Mainland Japan had agreed; since then, Okinawa has borne the brunt of serving American and Japanese strategic interests.
Taipei, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Seoul, Manila, Tokyo—all lie within a 1500 kilometre radius, ‘If there is a trouble spot in the Pacific and the Department of Defense needs to move forces quickly, Okinawa [has] the facilities to support that response’ (globalsecurity.org).
Okinawa, which is only 0.6% of the land mass of Japan, hosts 75% of all US bases in the country. Of the 32 military bases located on the Ryukyu Islands, 20 are on the main island of Okinawa, occupying 20% of the island; there are also 48 restricted air and ocean training sites on the island. Almost half of US forces, nearly 26,000 military personnel, are stationed in Okinawa.
The Kadena Air Base was used for B-29 bombing missions during the Korean War (1950-1953); it was a major staging area throughout the Vietnam War (1955-1975); troops stationed in Okinawa were deployed to the Persian Gulf in the 1990s; weapons used in the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq were stored and transported from Okinawa’s military bases.
One thousand nuclear warheads were deployed in Okinawa; this was acknowledged (and removed) only before the US returned Okinawa to Japan, after a 22-year long US occupation (1950-1972). But since US military presence remained intact, the occupation of Okinawa continues. As Richard Falk puts it, it is a colony in a post-colonial era, subjugated to ‘pursuing the Asian strategic interests of the United States.’
A ‘sordid history’ and ‘deepest regrets’
It was September 4, 1995, about 8:00 pm. A 12-year-old Okinawan schoolgirl was abducted by two Marines (Pfc. Rodrico Harp, 21, and Pfc. Kendrick M. Ledet, 20) and a Navy Seaman (Marcus D. Gill, 22).
According to Harp’s attorney, Mitsonobu Matsunaga, the three men went out to buy sex but decided on rape instead ‘because one of them did not have enough money’ (www.latimes.com, October 28, 1995).
Gill had rented a car, he picked up Harp, Ledet and another servicemen, after having lunch, they drove around all afternoon, but when Gill spoke of rape, the fourth man declined and left the group. Harp and Ledet had nearly $30, but Gill said he was broke, and anyway, paid sex was ‘no fun.’ He proposed rape. He had come prepared with duct tape and condoms.
When the three servicemen saw a Japanese girl wearing a school uniform with a bag of books, they stopped the car, pulled her inside, put her in the back seat, taped her mouth and eyes, and bound her hands and legs. They drove to a secluded field, parked the car, Gill, who was described as a ‘tank’—6 feet tall, weighing 260-270 pounds—got out, and went into the back seat. He ”violently’ beat the struggling schoolgirl, telling her to ‘let me do what I want to do.”
The victim insisted on reporting it to the police, she didn’t want it to happen to another girl. The incident provoked the largest demonstration against US military bases in the history of Okinawa, drawing nearly 100,000 protestors.
The US invoked Article 17 of the SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) regarding jurisdiction over US military personnel, and refused to surrender the three suspects to the Japanese authorities. It led protestors to demand that the two governments revise the security treaty, and the SOFA; some argued for their cancellation.
The commander of US forces in the Pacific Admiral Richard C. Macke told defence writers, ‘For the price they paid to rent the car they could have had a girl.’
More recently, the Associated Press (AP) obtained more than 1,000 internal Department of Defense documents, through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The documents, detailing investigations of sex crimes from 2005 to early 2013, involving U.S. military personnel stationed in Japan, reveal a ‘sordid history.’ ‘[M]ost offendors were not incarcerated, suspects received light punishments after being accused of serious violations, and victims increasingly were wary of cooperating with investigators’ (www.capitolhillblue.com, February 9, 2014).
Light punishments were ‘non-judicial penalties’, ranging from offendors being ‘fined, demoted, restricted to their bases or [being] removed from the military.’ In 30 cases, only a letter of reprimand was issued. In 46 Marine, and 22 Navy, cases, personnel who had initially been accused of a ‘violent sex crime’ were punished for nonviolent or nonsexual offenses, such as, assault, failure to obey, adultery, having sex in barracks and fraternization. In two rape cases, the charges were dropped after the commanders overruled recommendations for courts martial. In sum, allegations were handled chaotically, and judgments were ‘random.’
The documents also show a pattern found in US bases elsewhere, US troops who ‘commit sexual assaults are most likely to abuse their fellow troops.’
US president Barack Obama’s official visit to Japan in May 2016 was overshadowed by the slaying of an Okinawan woman, Rina Shimabukuro, by a former US marine and current civilian worker, Kenneth Franklin Shinzato. Obama offered his ‘sincere condolences and deepest regrets.’
Media reports of the AP investigation led USA’s elected representatives to insist on the need for ‘further changes in the military’s legal system.’ It caused military officials to reiterate that ‘numerous changes [were being made to] military law and policy’ to ensure that allegations would be taken ‘seriously’, that the perpetrators would be ‘punished’.
‘Sensitivity training’ or structural violence?
A women’s movement demanding peace, human rights, and demilitarisation was formed in September 1995 after the rape of the 12-year-old scholgirl. The Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence (OWAAMV) has concentrated on analysing the consequences of ‘long-term active foreign military occupation.’
Kozue Akibayashi and Suzuyo Takazato write, the mainland Japanese media regularly ask OWAAMV, what are the statistics of sexual crimes committed by US soldiers in Okinawa. To which they say, no official statistics of sex crimes by US soldiers are available of the period of US occupation. Social stigma generally prevents victimised women from speaking up, hence, official statistics ‘reflect only the tip of the iceberg.’
The US military’s history of sexual violence in Okinawa has been pieced together by the OWAAMV from hospital records, police reports, newspaper articles and oral histories of victims and survivors. The seventh revision of their ongoing research documents ‘around 300 cases of different sorts of assaults against women and girls, including cases of gang rape, attempted rape, abduction, and murder.’
Their research reveals that preparation for war intensifies gender-based military violence. During World War II and the Korean War, ‘women experienced rampant and indiscriminate military violence’, for instance, a group of 2-6 soldiers would abduct a woman at gun- or knifepoint; they would gangrape her, and often give her to other groups of soldiers for more gangrape; soldiers would not hesitate to kill or severely injure those who tried to help the victims.
During the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s, violence was aimed at women working in the sex industry, rape cases were ‘rampant’, 3-4 women were strangled to death each year.
Military violence against women in various forms increased in intensity when troops stationed in Okinawa were deployed to the Persian Gulf in the 1990s. The September 11 attacks in 2001 also ‘brought direct changes to the military violence against women in Okinawa.’ As did the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, ‘crimes committed by US soldiers have increased or become more brutal.’
Akibayashi and Takazato emphasise, the military is a violence-producing institution, it is inextricably linked to sexual and gender violence. Soldiers, especially marines, are prepared to engage in life and death combat, they are trained ‘to maximize their capacity to attack and destroy an ‘enemy’, a dehumanized other.’ Denigrating women is intrinsic to much military training. ‘Pent-up feelings of frustration, anger, and aggression that soldiers acquire from combat training and experiences are often vented against women in their base locality, a reflection of misogyny and racial discrimination.’
Is a change in military culture possible? Takazato doesn’t think so, ‘Military violence is not random.’ Gwyn Kirk of the International Women’s Network Against Militarism agrees, it is not a workplace issue, nor is it about the abuse of power by higher-ups. ‘Soldiers are trained to kill. This means seeing ‘others’ as foreign or less-than-human, even those from allied nations like Japan.’
Gender, masculinity, national chauvinism and racism intersect, violently so. As Okinawan women say of US trooops abusing their coworkers, ‘If they do this to their own colleagues no wonder they do it to us.’ And therefore, US military women seeking justice for sexual violence committed against them, must remember that they are ‘part of a superpower with 1,000 bases overseas.’ If they seek gains, they must include women who are outside those bases, they too, ‘must be part of this conversation.’
Military violence is structural. Legal reforms, or talk of changing military culture, of imparting gender sensitivity training to troops, will not do.
Another definition of ‘security’
The question is, whose security does the military provide? ‘We have the US-Japan Security Treaty, but it doesn’t protect us. We demand another definition of security,’ says Takazato.
A re-definiton of security involves the dismantling of American military bases, and the end of the US occupation of Okinawa.
For celebrated Bangladeshi photographer, writer and curator Shahidul Alam, a just world is a plural space where many thoughts can coexist. His latest show, Embracing the Other, opens in Dhaka on May 8
“If you’re not making certain people uncomfortable by your presence, you are probably doing something wrong.” Bangladesh’s best-known photographer, writer and curator Shahidul Alam, 61, has lived by that adage, which, by and large, sums up why he does what he does.
For Alam, who has been actively involved in the movement for democracy in Bangladesh for over three decades, photojournalism was a corollary of being an activist on the streets, seeking to see himself on the edge, so as to constantly “feel the heat”, questioning, going beyond the obvious, not settling for safe options.
In Bangladesh, Alam is credited with many ‘firsts’: Among other things, he set up Drik Picture Library, the country’s first picture agency, in 1989; Pathshala, its first photo school in 1998; and the first email network in the country in 1994. He also founded the first photo festival in Asia, Chobi Mela, in 2000. Continue reading →
We had gathered under the aegis of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports, outside the National Press Club in Dhaka, on October 19, 2016. After a brief rally, where speakers described the harm that the Rampal coal power plant would cause the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest straddling both sides of the Bangladesh-India border, we formed a procession, raised slogans and proceeded toward the Indian High Commission in Gulshan to deliver an open letter for the Indian prime minister Narendra Modi.
Since India is the major partner in building the Maitree Super Thermal Power Project, i.e., the Rampal coal power plant, the National Committee’s open letter called on the Indian prime minister to scrap the project.
It’s not only us. Forty-one Indian people’s movements, green and civil rights organisations have called on Narendra Modi to scrap the the project. So has the Unesco and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). A Unesco statement recommended the ‘Rampal power plant project be cancelled and relocated to a more suitable location’ as it could damage the world heritage site, home to 450 Royal Bengal tigers, expose downriver forests to pollution and acid rain, threaten the breeding grounds of Ganges and Irrawaddy river dolphins, far worsen the already liminal ecosystem which is being threatened by rising sea levels (The Guardian, October 18, 2016). Three large French banks, including BNP Paribas, a sponsor of the Paris climate summit in 2015, have refused to invest, while two Norwegian pension funds have withdrawn their investment. Continue reading →
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