South Asia Citizens Wire - 5 Nov 2012 - No. 2763
1. ICJ report on ’The Crisis of Impunity in Sri Lanka’
2. Sri Lanka: The final nail in the coffin of the judiciary (Kishali Pinto Jayawardene)
3. Rohingyas and Bangladesh (Mo Chaudhury)
4. Pakistan: Drones - theirs and ours (Pervez Hoodbhoy)
5. Taliban: agent or victim? (Afiya Shehrbano Zia)
6. Pakistan: Revisiting the Baloch Resistance Movement with Asad Rahman (Malik Siraj Akbar)
7. India: What Statement Is Being Made By The Award To Naipaul? (Girish Karnad)
8. India’s sexist political habitat (Monobina Gupta)
9. Petition to Catholic Archdiocese of Bombay to encourage the withdrawal of complaints against Rationalist Sanal Edamaruku
10. Nigeria: ’If religion was taken away I’d be happy’ - Interview with Wole Soyinka
1. ICJ REPORT ON ’THE CRISIS OF IMPUNITY IN SRI LANKA’
The Sri Lankan government must immediately cease its assault on the independence of the judiciary, the ICJ said in a new report released today. The 150-page report, Authority without Accountability: The Crisis of Impunity in Sri Lanka, documents how, and why, it has become nearly impossible for people who have suffered serious violations of their human rights to receive justice in Sri Lanka. Recent attacks on judicial officers and judges only highlight the systematic erosion of accountability mechanisms.
2. SRI LANKA: THE FINAL NAIL IN THE COFFIN OF THE JUDICIARY
by Kishali Pinto Jayawardene
For those of us who prefer to take refuge in comfortable illusions that this Presidency only hides a velvet hand in an iron glove (to mischievously twist that proverbial saying around), the motion of impeachment of the Chief Justice of Sri Lanka presented by 117 government MPs to the Speaker this week should dispel all such arrant foolishness. Whether the government goes ahead with the impeachment or not, let it be clearly said that the final nail in the metaphorical coffin of the institution of the judiciary in Sri Lanka is already hammered in.
3. ROHINGYAS AND BANGLADESH
by Mo Chaudhury
(The Daily Star, 5 November 2012)
The bouts of ethnic violence in the Rakhine region of Miyanmar since mid-2012 have once again triggered the attempted exodus of Rohingyas into Bangladesh. The purpose of this commentary is to explore key dimensions of the Rohingya tragedy and potential courses of action from the Bangladesh perspective.
First, the conflicting and growing strategic interests of the global power players in the land and sea area surrounding Myanmar (and Bangladesh) continue to prevent any strong independent action on the part of these players to bring about and enforce a mutually fair redress for the Rohingya trgedy. Such a redress would perhaps involve creating an autonomous Rohingya-majority territory in Myanmar carved out of north-western Rakhine with its political and governance structure similar to the territories of Canada and USA, for instance.
Second, the Government of Miyanmar (GoM) continues to deny citizenship to the Rohingyas claiming that the Rohingya ancestors, originating from areas now part of Bangladesh, unlawfully trespassed into and settled in the Rakhine region. The Government of Bangladesh (GoB), on its part, argues that it is an internal problem of Myanmar, and a more accommodative GoB policy regarding the Rohingyas would simply encourage continued governance failure in Myanmar.
Meantime, the tragedy continues to deepen with all of its manifold implications for Bangladesh, such as economic rehabilitation, cultural assimilation, risk of strengthening of anti-secular extremism, risk of counter violence against the Buddhists in Bangladesh, risk of infiltration of illegal arms and weapons, risk of border tension in case of Rakhine insurgency (of ethnic alliances of separatists) operating from within Bangladesh, risk of strengthening of separatist forces in the southeastern areas of Bangladesh, etcetera. The blame game (as much as the blames may be true) and the associated lack of commitment to the humanity of the Rohingyas do not seem like productive courses of action for Bangladesh.
Third, there is no legislation in Bangladesh specifically targeted at handling refugees or asylum seekers. Instead, the GoB relies on the 1946 Foreigners Act that grants it sweeping power. Further, Bangladesh is not a party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol. This legal void has provided utmost discretion to the GoB in dealing with the Rohingya refugees. For example, Bangladesh is yet to document/register the vast majority (221,000 out of the reported 250,000) of the Rohingyas already in Bangladesh, most of them since 1991-92.
Without any legal status, these Rohingyas do not qualify for any official humanitarian assistance and have been living in sub-human conditions. While respecting the international law of non-refoulement, Bangladesh did not expel the undocumented Rohingyas, but the 2012 actions of repelling the asylum seekers indicate a reluctance to respect this law going forward. Further, in November 2010, the GoB suspended the UNHCR programme for resettlement of Rohingyas abroad and has since rebuffed strong appeals from the UNHCR to revoke the suspension.
Granted that the internal security concerns of Bangladesh may be well-taken, the question is why twenty years (since 1992) is not a long enough period of sub-human living for the undocumented Rohingyas without access to lawful employment, education, health, freedom of movement, justice system and international assistance.
Fourth, the 250,000 Rohingyas in Bangladesh represent a tiny 0.17% of the country's population of 150 million, and only one-eighth of the annual growth (1.37%) of population. Further, if the documented Rohingyas are rehabilitated in low density areas, additional amenities and infrastructure needs will be minimal. With legal status, it is also expected that the economic productivity and consumption of the Rohingyas and the inflow of international assistance for them will rise. Thus, their registration is not likely to result in either a population burden or an economic baggage. Without documentation, however, not only the are economic benefits foregone, the Rohingyas may in fact become increasingly desperate and vulnerable to recruitment by criminals, extremists and political opportunists.
Fifth, there is a risk of ethnic clash and separatist turmoil if the Rohingyas are all rehabilitated in the south-eastern region of Bangladesh. For example, if all 250,000 Rohingyas are relocated to the Bandarban district, they will become a dominant ethnic majority there. Therefore security concerns warrant a spatially diversified rehabilitation, possibly dispersing a significant number of Rohingyas to the northern and western districts and perhaps the off-shore islands of Bangladesh.
Lastly, it is in the long-term interests of Bangladesh to be seen as a nation that genuinely cares about the sufferings of fellow human beings. Unbalanced concerns about internal security and geopolitics should not cloud the recollection of traumatic ethnic and political persecution of the Bangladeshis themselves in the not so distant past, nor should it be lost that a sufficiently large segment of the world was always there for Bangladesh whenever it needed economic and humanitarian assistance, especially at times of severe natural calamities. The care and assistance needed by the Rohingyas surely pales in contrast.
While mindless compassion can be reckless, so can be heartless pragmatism. Hence, it is a reasonable balance between the two that Bangladesh needs regarding the Rohingyas. Clearly the transition from defending minorities within own borders to accommodating minorities across the borders is fraught with unpleasant challenges, but continued deferral of taking up the challenges is not a sustainable choice either.
Such a recognition could perhaps start with: (a) unequivocal condemnation of the acts of violence in Rakhine as unacceptable by the GoB, civil society and other collective forums, (b) registration of the undocumented Rohingyas in Bangladesh, (c) cooperation with relief organisations to channel humanitarian aid to the Rohingyas in Bangladesh, (d) articulation and enactment of a comprehensive refugee policy, and (e) leadership by the GoB in orchestrating a multilateral alliance to address the Rohingya tragedy. In other words, a combination of unequivocal moral support, refuge and relief efforts within an internationally accepted legal framework, and mobilisation of interested powerful partners are called for.
The writer is Professor, Practice in Finance, McGill University, Montreal, Canada.
4. PAKISTAN: DRONES: THEIRS AND OURS
by Pervez Hoodbhoy
Vocal as they are about being bombed from the sky, most Pakistanis – including many on the Left – suddenly lose their voice when it comes to the human (Muslim) drone
5. TALIBAN: AGENT OR VICTIM?
by Afiya Shehrbano Zia
In their attempt to assassinate girl-activist, Malala Yousufzai, has the Taliban inadvertently rescued the narrative of violence against women? Over the last three decades, Pakistan has been at the receiving end of donor-assisted campaigns and gender-empowerment awareness programmes on violence. These projects were sub-contracted to NGOs that had been set up by feminists who themselves, in the 1980s, had been involved in direct action activism on cases of violence. With the sponsorship of international development assistance, “women’s NGOs” have steadily embraced the concept and become advocates of linking VAW to neo-liberal development agendas. This has re-directed analysis and activism from its primary focus on survivors and perpetrators of violence. Instead, increasing attention and funding has led to a change that is more in tune with the UN and donor-preferred approach known as ‘Gender-Based Violence’ (GBV).
6. PAKISTAN: REVISITING THE BALOCH RESISTANCE MOVEMENT WITH ASAD RAHMAN
interview by Malik Siraj Akbar
. . . exceptionally striking chapter of the Baloch movement was written in the early 1970s when a group of five scions of Pakistani non-Baloch elite joined Balochistan’s guerilla war against the Pakistan army’s occupation of the Baloch land. Popularly known as the London Group, the members of this study circle left the comforts of wealthy life, education in London and joined the Balochs in their battle against the Pakistan army in the Marri hills. In their early twenties, these comrades adopted Balochi names, learned the language, explored the terrain, faced hunger and fought on the frontline in their commitment for the Balochs.
7. INDIA: WHAT STATEMENT IS BEING MADE BY THE AWARD TO NAIPAUL?
by Girish Karnad
India’s celebrated playwright Girish Karnad made spirited secular critique of Nobel laureate V S Naipaul being awarded the Landmark and Literature Alive’s Lifetime Achievement Award on October 31 
8. INDIA’S SEXIST POLITICAL HABITAT
by Monobina Gupta
Put forth sometimes as nuggets of profound wisdom, at others as political weaponry, these anti-women diatribes have become ’legitimate and respectable’ conversation at the high table. Often they have passed unnoticed, but during unpredictable and fractious times as these, the terrible utterances are ratcheted up and dissected the way they deserve to be. We, however, can only be thankful for that much-needed critical attention, however brief its span.
9. PETITION TO CATHOLIC ARCHDIOCESE OF BOMBAY TO ENCOURAGE THE WITHDRAWAL OF COMPLAINTS AGAINST RATIONALIST SANAL EDAMARUKU
Please join the Rationalist Association (UK) in condemning the misuse of Indian law by several Catholic organisations to silence a campaigner against superstition. In March 2012, following his exposure of a supposed miracle at a Catholic Church in Mumbai as nothing more than the result of a leak, a complaint was lodged against Sanal Edamaruku by local Catholic organisations with the Mumbai police, who are now able to arrest him. He has been denied ’anticipatory’ bail which means if arrested he faces a long term in prison merely for explaining the science behind an apparent mystery.
10. NIGERIA: ’IF RELIGION WAS TAKEN AWAY I’D BE HAPPY’ - INTERVIEW WITH WOLE SOYINKA
Source : Pambazuka News, 2012-10-24, Issue 603
The Nigerian militant group Boko Haram has reached a state of total contempt even for universal norms. That means it is a war to the end. Yet there is too much pussyfooting and false intellectualisation of what is going on. President Jonathan should declare war on the group.
PETER GODWIN: Professor Soyinka, you’re not an ivory-tower kind of writer. You are not a stranger to danger, and in fact you’ve been imprisoned on at least two occasions, once in solitary confinement. Can you tell me what that was like?
WOLE SOYINKA: Writing in certain environments carries with it an occupational risk. When I was imprisoned, without trial, it was as a result of a position I took as a citizen. Of course I used my weapon, which was writing, to express my disapproval of the [Biafran] civil war into which we were about to enter. These were people who’d been abused, who’d undergone genocide, and who felt completely rejected by the rest of the community, and therefore decided to break away and form a nation of its own. Unfortunately, the nature of my imprisonment meant that I couldn’t practise my trade because I was in solitary confinement for 22 months out of the 27, and I was deprived of writing material. So I had to somehow break through the barriers, smuggle in toilet paper, cigarette paper, scribble a few poems, pass messages outside. I was able to undertake exercises to make sure that I emerged from prison intact mentally.
PETER GODWIN: There have been high hopes for some African leaders after they were elected – Meles in Ethiopia, or Museveni in Uganda, or Kagame in Rwanda – but who then went on to show a more authoritarian bent. Are you an Afro-optimist or an Afro-pessimist?
WOLE SOYINKA: I’m an Afro-realist. I take what comes, and I do my best to affect what is unacceptable in society. I’ve remarked how similar in many ways Mexico is to Nigeria, and to a number of places: we have the same condition of unstructured, unpredictable violence, both from the state and from what I call the quasi-state. Whether the quasi-state is formed, as its basis, of theocratic tendencies, or secular ideological rigidity, you always have forces, even outside the state, competing for the domination of people. That’s what’s happening on the African continent today. That’s what’s been happening in the Arab states and what led eventually to the Arab Spring. Gradually people come to the recognition after decades of supine submission that they are not whole as human beings.
PETER GODWIN: Your parents were Christians, Anglicans, I understand. How has your own religious belief evolved?
WOLE SOYINKA: I consider myself very fortunate. I was raised in a Christian environment in Abeokuta, but another side of me was very much enmeshed in African values. I gravitated towards what I saw was a cohesive system of a certain relationship of human beings to environment, a respect for humanity in general. I came through a traditional system, where children not only had rights, but had responsibility. In the European world today, especially in America, it seems to be forbidden for children to have responsibilities…
I gravitated towards a deeper knowledge of the orisha, which represents the Yoruba pantheon, very similar in many ways to the Greek pantheon. You have reprobate deities, beneficent deities. I found that more honest than a kind of unicellular deity of either Christianity or Islam.
I don’t know if you’ve been following the news, but just a few days ago some of these Islamic fundamentalists butchered close to 50 students of a technical college. I cannot imagine the religion I was brought up in having such complete contempt for human lives. And yet these are supposed to be the world religions. So that’s why I consider myself rather fortunate that I’ve been able to see what other religions had to offer.
PETER GODWIN: How should Nigeria deal with the Boko Haram, the Islamic militants in the north of the country?
WOLE SOYINKA: All religions accept that there is something called criminality. And criminality cannot be excused by religious fervour. Let me repeat something I first said at the meeting organised by Unesco a few weeks ago, which was prompted by the recent film insulting the religion of Islam and depicting the Prophet Mohammed in a very crass way.
The first thing to say is that we do not welcome any attempt to ravage religious sensibilities. That can be taken for granted. But you cannot hold the world to ransom simply because some idiot chose to insult a religion in some far off place which most of the world has never even heard of. This for me is a kind of fundamentalist tyranny that should be totally unacceptable. So a group calls itself the Boko Haram, literally: “Book is taboo”, the book is anathema, the book is a product of Western civilisation, therefore it must be rejected.
You go from the rejection of books to the rejection of institutions which utilise the book, and that means virtually all institutions. You attack universities, you kill professors, then you butcher students, you close down primary schools, you try and create a religious Maginot Line through which nothing should penetrate. That’s not religion; that’s lunacy. My Christian family lived just next door to Muslims. We celebrated Ramadan with Muslims; they celebrated Christmas with Christians. This is how I grew up. And now this virus is spreading all around the world, leading to the massacre of 50 students. This is not taking arms against the state, this is taking up arms against humanity.
PETER GODWIN: Is freedom of expression something you see as a universal right rather than as some Western construct?
WOLE SOYINKA: There are many cultures on the African continent where days are set aside, days of irreverence where you can say anything you want about an all-powerful monarch or chief. It’s a safety valve. It’s a recognition of freedom of expression, which perhaps has not been exercised, and bottled up grievances; this is the day when you express your grievances in society. So there is no society, really, which does not boast some form or measure of freedom of expression. Now, it’s true that freedom of expression carries with it an immense responsibility. Well that is why laws of libel exist – that when you carry things too far, you can be hauled up before the community, and judged to see whether you are right to call somebody a thief, or a hypocrite, and damage his reputation. But unless you establish that principle of freedom of expression, we might all just go around with a padlock on our lips.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: I read somewhere my freedom ends where your freedom begins. In Europe there have been cartoonists who have mocked the Prophet. Should they limit their freedom of speech?
WOLE SOYINKA: Religion is also freedom of expression. People want to express themselves spiritually. And they also exercise the right to try and persuade others into their own system of belief. Those nations that say it’s a crime to preach your religion are making a terrible mistake. All they’re doing is driving underground other forms of spiritual intuitions and practices.
If religion was to be taken away from the world completely, including the one I grew up with, I’d be one of the happiest people in the world. My only fear is that maybe something more terrible would be invented to replace it, so we’d better just get along with what there is right now and keep it under control.
The unrest which is taking place as a result of Boko Haram, in my view, has attained critical mass. When a movement reaches that state of total contempt even for universal norms, it is sending a message to the rest of the world, and to the rest of that nation, that this is a war to the end. The president of Nigeria is making a mistake in not telling the nation that it should place itself on a war footing. There’s too much pussyfooting, there’s too much false intellectualisation of what is going on, such as this is the result of corruption, this is the result of poverty, this is the result of marginalisation. Yes, of course, all these negativities have to do with what is happening right now. But when the people themselves come out and say we will not even talk to the president unless he converts to Islam, they are already stating their terms of conflict.
*This is an edited transcript of Wole Soyinka’s event at Hay Xalapa. It was first published by The Telegraph.
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