In the packed house gathering, prior to official start of the program, Senator Specter was apprised by Mr. Sitangshu Guha, Rup Bhowmick, Nabendu Dutta, Dr Dwijen Bhattacharjya, Bidyut Das and Pradip Das about the ongoing genocide against the religious and tribal minorities of Bangladesh spearheaded by the coalition government of Islamic fundamentalist political parties. He was also given a copy of the book, entitled "Bangladesh: A Portrait of Covert Genocide", published by Bangladesh Hindu, Buddhist, & Christian Unity Council, USA. The book contains hundreds of pages of documentary evidence of heart wrenching atrocities unleashed on the minorities, accounts of persecution reported in the local and international media, and responses by the international political bodies, and human rights and donor organizations, among which is a letter written to U.S. Secretary of State Mr. Colin Powel by Senator Specter. The Senator looked into the book with utmost curiosity and inquired about many areas of human rights violations in Bangladesh.
The event was moderated by Mr. Dilip Nath and chaired by Mr. Subir Barua. A youngster, named Kuhuki Das, greeted the Senator and his entourage with flowers. After Mr. Pradip Das led the Pledge of Allegiance, Dr. Dwijen Bhattacharjya, took the podium and delivered the official position speech (Please find attached) of the Bangladeshi-American Hindu, Buddhist, Christian Community. The position paper vividly pointed out how 30 millions of minorities, the total combined population of Namibia, Albania, Bahrain, Iceland, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Namibia, Oman, Panama, Costa Rica and Malta have vanished from Bangladesh, a country smaller than the size of the State of the Wisconsin. The position paper also read, "Successive governments led by the Islamic nationalists/extremists and secularists alike have confiscated 2.5 million acres of Hindus' prime land by using a law called the Enemy Property Act ("enemy" meaning Hindus who have been forced to leave the country for India in search of a life of safety and human dignity)." Providing statistics of minority representation in various sectors, he pointed out that the minorities of Bangladesh live in an apartheid like situation . He apprised the Senator of how the Bangladesh government alienated upwards of 15 millions of minorities, roughly 10% of the country's population by doctoring the constitution and declaring Islam as the State religion. Fighting tears welling up in his eyes, Dr. Bhattacharjya detailed how the cadres of the ruling "Islamic hardliners" have continually gang-raped mother and daughter together and 200 women in one night a single spot.
As he was describing the recently perpetrated harrowing murder-gang rape incident of the Chakraborty family in Bagerhat the Senator left his chair, came to the podium and assured the audience that he was fully aware of vicious campaign against minorities in Bangladesh.. He related accounts of persecution of his own ancestors with the conditions of minorities in Bangladesh. The Senator, after learning about specific atrocities that are detailed in the book, suggested that the Bangladeshi government officials can be tried in the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands for crimes against humanity.
The position paper ended with three suggestions leading to a permanent solution to the problem of "ethnic cleansing" that the religious and ethnic minorities are faced with.
The Senator also declared that he would write to the International Criminal Court himself and ask them to sufficiently investigate and address the alleged atrocities against minorities, as he also promised to bring the issue to the highest level of the U.S. Government including Secretary of State Colin Powell and President Bush.
After the speech, Senator Specter took questions from the audience. Answering the audiences' queries, the Senator repeated remarked that the International Criminal Court would be a proper recourse against the perpetrator of crimes against humanity. He said that the Bangladesh government may have granted indemnity to its murderous killers but that would not protect her in the International Criminal court (ICC). Upon looking at the materials included in Bangladesh: A Portrait of Genocide , and once specifically refereeing to the name of Slovoden Miosovich, he repeatedly said that on the basis of those evidence, the ruling government can be successfully sued in the ICC.
When his attention was begged to give his opinion as to why the U.S. Department of Justice listed Bangladesh in it's Call-in Registration program, the Senator replied that the U.S. Government is carefully observing the situation in Bangladesh. After a follow up question posed by Mr. Pradip Das, relating to Bangladesh government's accusation of minorities and opposition parties for having the U.S. include Bangladesh in the Registration Program, the Senator quipped that "tyrants never admit to their wrong doings and they always place blames on the opposition, in this case, the Bangladeshi minorities", adding that they, "the minorities, should not expect anything better from that government."
The Senator opined to the audience that based on the facts he has learnt about the persecution of minorities in Bangladesh, a formal hearing is warranted at the U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom, which he helped to create. He assured the community that he would ask the commissioners to take up the issue and arrange a hearing. In response to Mr. Sitangshu Guha's request to send a congressional investigative team to Bangladesh, Senator Specter said that it was a possibility and he would help to make that happen. He expressed tremendous disapproval about the indemnity given to the military for the death of 47 civilians while in their custody and reiterated that that act alone is enough for prosecution in the ICC. Mr. Rup Kumar Bhowmick, solicited the Senator's opinion about the doctoring of the constitution and rendering the minorities the second class citizen's status, the Senator answered, equating Bangladesh with former Soviet Communists, that citizens' rights were never honored there. The gathering was very cordial, and informal.
Prior to the event he posed for picture with everyone in attendance. The Senator also pledged his availability to meet with the members of the Bangladeshi-American Hindu, Buddhist, & Christian Community at a later date in his office in Pennsylvania or Washington, DC.
Dr. Dhananjoy Saha, who was instrumental in arranging the meeting with the Senator, spoke briefly about the senator's accomplishments and recognized the members of the community in his speech. Mr. Benjamin Michael, a Republican and a prospective U.S. Senate Candidate from New York in the 2004 race, also spoke at the event. Mr. Michael expressed his solidarity with the minority community of Bangladesh and asked their participation in his anticipated bid for the U.S. Senate Seat from New York. The meeting was concluded with vote of thanks delivered by Mr. Subir Barua. A large number of progressive Muslims also attended the meeting.
March 16, 2002
Honorable Senator Arlen Specter:
On behalf of the religious and ethnic minorities of Bangladesh we extend our warm welcome to you this morning. We feel highly privileged to have you among our midst. Thank you for kindly coming to this very modest community reception we have organized to honor you.
We are extremely grateful to you for the concern, sympathy, and support you have shown for the oppressed minorities everywhere through your historic act of introducing the Freedom from Religious Persecution Act of 1998, and being instrumental in creating the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. Among your many accomplishments as a senator, this is of course the one we are most appreciative of, because many of us here today had to leave our ancestral homeland, Bangladesh, after being relentlessly persecuted by the Islamic nationalists and extremists, simply because we were non-Muslims.
We express our heartfelt gratitude to you particularly, for writing to Secretary of State Mr. Colin Powell apprising him of the plights of the dwindling religious minorities of Bangladesh and for urging him to take the issue seriously.
Honorable senator, today we wish to share our concern with you again in a little more detail. Ever since the ruling "Islamic hardliners" (The Guardian, Oct. 2, '01) assumed power in October 2001 with an absolute majority in the parliament, their armed cadres have conducted deliberate, systematic, unprovoked, and savage attacks on the Hindus, Buddhists, and Christians. Atrocities have typically included brutal torture and ghastly murders of intellectuals, priests, and monks; gang rape of women forcing the helpless sons, brothers, husbands or fathers to watch in horror; forcible conversion to Islam; imposition of exorbitant infidel security tax; desecration and razing of temples, pagodas, and churches; destruction of deities; looting, razing, and burning down of dwelling houses and businesses. As you can see from the several BBC reports included in our publications Bangladesh: a portrait of genocide, devastated by such degradation, and relentless atrocities, and unable to pay exorbitant infidel security tax, tens of thousands of minorities have been forced to leave the country en masse, in yet another wave of exodus.
Please consider the following. The minorities represented approximately 30% of the population in 1941, but, after losing nearly 30 million people in a continuous exodus, they today represent 10% of the country's total population of 140 million. Successive governments, Islamic nationalists/extremists and secularists alike, have confiscated 2.5 million acres of their prime land, in a state smaller than the State of Wisconsin.
Honorable senator, a loss of 30 million people means disappearance of half a dozen countries like Albania, Bahrain, Iceland, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Namibia, Oman, Panama, and Costa Rica or Malta being wiped out from the face of the earth. In Bangladesh, the minorities live in apartheid like situation. According to article entitled "Unnatural Disasters" (Cultural Survival. Winter 1992), in 1992 the minorities represented 0% in the Foreign Service, Home Ministry, Judiciary, Ministry of Defense, Customs and Excise, and Cabinet Secretaries. Then, I can list half a dozen such important departments where minority representation is .5 % or 1 % although they are a highly educated section of the society. The situation has only worsened in the more recent years, despite the fact that the moderate Muslim Prime minister Sheikh Hasina led government did hire minorities, and even appointed a Hindu educationist as President of a university, during its tenure that lasted from 1996 to mid-2001 (He was of course removed by the currently ruling racist, fascist, Islamic supremacist government, immediately after assuming power in October 2001).
This colossal human tragedy, which has been euphemistically referred to as "minority persecution" by many, is in fact a clear case of genocide, according to Article 3/Resolution 260 (III) A., adopted on December 9, 1948 in the United Nations General Assembly Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. We believe the documentation we have provided will convince you that what the minorities of Bangladesh are undergoing is indeed genocide.
The violent campaign of "Ethnic cleansing" of the minorities that extremely seriously began in October 2001, has raged endlessly. As you can see form the documentation included in our publication Bangladesh: a portrait of covert genocide, 98.6% of the rape victims are minorities (The Daily Janakantha report of February 17, 2002); mothers are raped by the cadres of the ruling Islamic nationalist party of BNP in front of their sons (The Daily Jankantha report of the same date); in one incident, nearly 200 Hindu women were gang-raped by the Muslims in Chor Fashion, Bhola (The Daily Star report of November 16, 200). Such harrowing tales of atrocities that the fascists are inflicting upon the minorities are numerous.
This vicious campaign never ceased. This past week in Bagerhat, for example, the cadres of the ruling parties raided a Hindu family where they hacked to death 44 years old Tapan Chakraborty, gang-raped his wife and mother-in-law and his elder brother's wife for two hours. Tapan Chakraborty's wife had a caesarian delivery only 10 days before, yet they raped her even after the stitches ruptured and she began to bleed profusely. To the minorities of Bangladesh, this is of course yet another incident, a routine affair. The cadres of the ruling party told them they did it because they did not vote for them. As always, after all these, before leaving the site the rapist-murderers of the ruling party robbed the family of their assets and then ordered them to immediately pay $2000.00 in what they call infidel protection tax. As you can see from our documentation, they did the same, for example, in Mireshwarai, (The Daily Star report November 7 2001): after murdering Sunil Sadhu the care taker of a temple and gang-raping women the terrorists threatened to drive them out of the country unless they paid infidel security tax.
Honorable senator, the Chakraborty family is a relatively better-educated, politically conscious family whom the neighbors look up to as their protectors. The purpose of killing such community leaders or Principal Gopal Krishna Muhuri or Monk Gnan Jyoti Mahastahbir, the stories of whose brutal murder have been detailed in our recent publication Bangladesh: A Portrati of Covert Genocide, or gang-raping two hundred minority women in a single spot in one night or raping mother and minor daughter together forcing the father to watch it, can only be motivated by their goal of cleansing the country of its minority, like they have done in other countries, e.g., Afghanistan and Pakistan, in recent times.
Like the campaign of "ethnic cleansing" of the minorities, Islamic extremism is also surging like a raging bull, in Bangladesh. It is not only exterminating the minorities from Bangladesh but also is decimating the political opposition, i.e. the moderate Muslims. We have done our best to alert the community of civilized nations to the rapidly increasing danger posed by radical Islamic forces of Bangladesh to the community of civilized nations.
In April 2002, The Wall Street Journal and the Far Eastern Economic Review warned the world that Bangladesh had become a "cocoon of terror.;" Indian media reported that there were 99 jihadi training centers inside Bangladesh. On May 21, 2002, the US Department of State declared Harkat-ul-Jihad-i- Banglaesh (HUJI-B) to be a terrorist organization. Jane's Intellignence Review/Bertil Lintner of the Far Eastern Economic Review and the Wall Street Journal reported that Bangladeshi Islamic extremist Fazlur Rahman was one of the signatories on the Declaration of War against America in 1998 along with Bin Laden, Ayman al Zwahiri, and other associates. It has also been reported (ibid) that Bangladeshi army intelligence agency, DGFI, facilitated the shiploads of al Qaeda fighters to settled in Bangladesh after the fall of Kandahar, Afghanistan. In one of his interviews with CNN, the American Taliban John Walker Lindh reported that one of the three brigades of ANSARS that fought for the Taliban government of Mullah Omar consisted of Bengali speaking jihadis (the two others being Bin Laden led Arabic speakers and the Urdu speaking Pakistanis). Moreover, the world has witnessed that that cultural events, church, movie theatres are being bombed by the extremists. Yet the government is in a state of denial.
However, these ominous developments might convince the civilized world to act soon to stem this ominous tide of Islamic radicalism in Bangladesh, thus Prime Minister Khaleda Zia may not be able to get away with her crime of harboring Islamic terrorists in her government and support them by taking recourse to chicanery and duplicity much longer. Chances are there that the international community will now force Prime Minister Khaleda Zia to shun relationship with the extremists, as they have Pakistani President Parvez Musharraf. This might put temporary damper on the surge of the Islamic extremists, but that will not solve the problem of the on-going state sponsored campaign of cleansing Bangladesh of its minorities -
Minority genocide will not cease even if the government changed. As we have seen, the secularists or moderate Muslims have also confiscated property of the minority Hindus by using the infamous Enemy Property Act ('enemy' = Hindus who were forced to leave for India for safety and dignity) and looked the other way when they have been tortured, and forced to leave the country for safety en masse. They have always appeased the fundamentalists and at the expense of the minorities. They did not even attempt to repeal the 5th and 8th amendments of the constitutions, through which Islam was made the state religion, thus rendering the minorities as second-class citizens. Therefore, the minorities will remain third class citizens forever, and hence this very serious problem must be dealt with separately.
How can it be achieved? Honorable Senator, despite continuous pressure exerted by the foreign governments, donor organizations and human rights groups, the Islamic hard-line government of Bangladesh has not relented on its persecution of minorities. Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia, has consistently denied that minorities are being persecuted. By using sophisticated propaganda machinery, both home and abroad, she has tried to cover them up. and minority genocide has continued unabated. Amnesty International produced five reports about the on-going campaign of violence against the minorities, the European Union, several European ambassadors based in Dhaka, and the Secretary General of Amnesty International Dr. Irene Khan all have urged Prime Minister Khaleda Zia to stop what they of course call "minority persecution." But she never heeded them.
It may be noted that in 1992, as the Prime Minister of the country, the leader of the Islamic nationalists and protector of the extremists Begum Khaleda Zia even used her armed forces massacre tribal minorities, much like this year she used them to torture and kill her political opponents and incarcerate the journalists who have opposed her. On April 10, 1992, the Muslim settlers together with her armed forces surrounded the tribal village of Logang, "systematically murdered" 130 residents of the village, and then burned it down to the ground. Appalled by her complicity in that colossal crime against humanity, 17 US congressmen wrote a letter to her on November 13, 1992. In the letter, mentioning that Logang massacre was "part of a larger pattern in your country of mistreatment of religious minorities," they urged her to rectify her mistreatment of the minorities. But, she did not heed them.
Flouting the appeal and using the Babri Mosque incident in India, a month later -- in December - -, she encouraged her party activists and Islamic extremists to conduct a violent campaign of atrocities against Hindus, in which 15 people were murdered, 2600 raped, 3,600 temples razed, and 200,000 rendered homeless. During the pogrom, she went on TV to deplore the Babri incident in India, but failed to order the Islamic terrorists to stop the violence against the minorities. She never even mentioned the atrocities being conducted in her own country.
Renowned lawyer Dr. Kamal Hossain brought a lawsuit to the Supreme Court on behalf of Ain-O-Shalish-Kendra (ASK) (Law and Mediation Center) against the Begum Zia regime (Writ Petition # 6556/2001, under Article 102 of the Constitution of Bangladesh), charging that minority women and children were raped by the agents of the ruling parties. Based on the so-called government's own investigation, the case was dismissed.
In the past seventeen months, just as in 1992, US lawmakers, the European Union, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and European ambassadors to Bangladesh have repeatedly urged Begum Zia to stop the genocide. But she is still in denial. As can be seen from the documentation (e.g New York Times, March 12, 2003) , noted journalist and filmmaker Shariar Kabir was incarcerated twice by the fascist government because he attempted to document minority persecution. This fascist government used the army to kill people in custody and then grant them indemnity by using her ominous absolute majority in the parliament. The BNP did the same thing in the past, too; they had granted indemnity to the self-proclaimed killers of the founding father of the nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, too.
While visiting Bangladesh last year, the Secretary General of Amnesty International personally urged Prime Minister Khaleda Zia to investigate the allegations of "minority persecution", and to please her she had promised to form a commission to do so. But during her recent visit, when she asked the government what had been done about it, her deputies unapologetically responded with: "Nothing" ( The Daily Prothom Alo report, January 13, 2003. Please find in your folder).
Evidently, then, it would be patently useless to make the same demands as we did in the past, or making appeals to her. Therefore, today we urge you to exercise the influence of your office to speak to Prime Minister Begum Zia in the language she understands best. We are not sure what language would the Islamic fascists of Bangladesh will understand; it is for you, your colleagues in the US Senate and your counterparts in the civilized nations to decide.
Honorable Senator, we urge you to help us find a permanent solution to the problem of minority cleansing in Bangladesh, the way the community of civilized nations has found that for the Bosnian Muslims, the Srilankan Tamils, or East Timorese Christians. As the first step toward that highly desirable solution, we urge you to:
Help us get a hearing on the issue in a joint session of the US Congress and Senate;
Help us get a hearing before the commissioners of the Religious Commission;
Introduce a bill to the U.S. Congress condemning the attacks on minorities in Bangladesh and asking Bangladesh grant the minorities local/regional autonomy like China and Scandinavian countries have to their minorities.
In the interim, we urge you to exert pressure on Begum Zia to comply with all the UN charters on human rights, to which Bangladesh is a signatory, by attaching necessary strings to all US aid to Bangladesh, much of which is being for training Islamic jihadis in the 64000 madrassahs that exist in the country.
Honorable Senator, we firmly believe that you have the political clout and moral conviction necessary for finding a permanent solution to the problem, thus saving the remaining 14 million religious and ethnic minorities of Bangladesh from being eliminated. B
We thank you for listening and look forward to your continued help.
Members of the Bangladeshi-American Religious & Tribal Minority Community
Tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut
New York, March 16, 2003