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The Vested Property Law

The Vested Property Law

Dr. Richard L. Benkin writes from USA

When the military-backed interim government took power in January of this year, it arrived with a distinct advantage over its predecessors.  Those very predecessors had brought Bangladesh to such a sorry state in so many ways, that the new leaders could address any number of issues to win glowing support from the rest of the world.

Let us remember the unique situation that transpired just prior to its assumption of power.  First, the BNP transparently rigged the impending elections.  I mean, what were they thinking?  How could anyone expect that the opposition, the entire diplomatic community, and most importantly the people of Bangladesh would not notice?  It revealed a level of corruption so deep that cheating was considered acceptable enough to be done in the open, and a supreme arrogance for BNP leaders to believe they could have gotten away with it!  Second, the Awami League (AL) only made matters worse.  Its rants against BNP mendacity found the entire world on its side, but instead of proving itself to be in a class above the BNP, it showed itself to be no better.  I arrived in Dhaka three days before the 1/11 changes to find AL leader, Sheikh Hasina, on television and in the press, calling for violence in the street to “shut down” the nation.  Instead of capitalizing on her support and going to various embassies in a statesman-like way, she acted like a demagogue that would bring the country to greater misery that it already was.  The general impression around the world had been that both the BNP and AL would bring the country to ruin if it meant scoring points against the other; that their leaders cared less about the national interests than they did about their own petty feuds.  The AL’s actions confirmed that impression and so no one saw either party as a palatable alternative.  Thus, we had the unheard of situation in which every single western democracy was urging that elections not be held.

The military was greeted both domestically and internationally as the best option available.  Everyone everywhere knew that Bangladesh was in bad shape.  Its major political parties had brought democracy to a crashing halt even before elections were cancelled.  Leaders of both parties were notoriously corrupt—so corrupt that if they did not bankrupt the country to line their own pockets, it would have been laughable.  Islamist radicals had established themselves in the nation’s institutions.  The national economy was in shambles.  Journalists who exposed the state of affairs were attacked with impunity.  Women and minorities were treated abominably in many situations.  Private individuals and groups carried out most of it, but one form of ethnic cleansing proceeded as part of Bangladesh’s legal structure:  the Vested Property Law.

Western audiences are incredulous when told about the Vested Property Law and how it is implemented.  People simply cannot believe that such a thing would be tolerated, let alone institutionalized.  Oh, perhaps such thing is possible in a totalitarian state like Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia.  Perhaps a place like Iran or Syria would allow it.  Even China would be constrained to hide such a practice in a tangle of laws, if indeed it had such a practice.  But Bangladesh seems fine with it.  When audiences then hear figures about the law’s unequal application to eliminate religious minorities, especially Hindus, people’s reactions change from incredulity to anger.  People see the Vested Property Law for what it is:  ethnic cleansing and Bangladesh is guilty of giving it the force of law.  Worse, no government—neither BNP nor AL—has done a thing in their sixteen years of corrupt rule [from 1990-2006] to replace injustice with justice.  They either lack the sense of justice to do it or they benefit from it.

For decades, this practice has transpired with little notice from the major powers, but two things have changed that.  The first is that western nations have taken a greater interest in the international doings since Islamists brought their brand of hatred to western shores.  The second is that the continued persecution of Weekly Blitz editor and publisher, Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, has brought more focus on Bangladesh in particular.  Time and again, Bangladeshi leaders said they would drop the charges they admitted to be false and maintained only to appease radical Islamists.  And time and again, they reneged on those promises.  According to some sources, the Bangladeshi leaders assumed that people would give up their fight.  But they miscalculated, opening the door that exposed other crimes, particularly the Vested Property Law.

The Vested Property Law and the illegal prosecution of Shoaib Choudhury were two of the many items the new Bangladeshi government could have eliminated easily and won high regard internationally for itself and for Bangladesh.  But it has yet to do so.  In maintaining the charges against Shoaib, according to lawmakers in multiple countries, the government affirms the belief that this and every other Bangladeshi government is beholden to Islamist radicals; and they base that conclusion on the Bangladeshis’ own words.  To be sure, the Vested Property Law also furthers jihadist goals by forcing the emigration of persecuted non-Muslims; but there is another, more basic and base, reason.  Beneficiaries of this law cut across all political parties, especially the BNP and AL.  To do away with it is to voluntarily give up power; for it provides a steady stream of illicit goods to the parties who are responsible for stealing from Bangladeshis guilty of no crime.  A party that enforced the hollow 2001 “Vested Properties Return Act,” which no government ever implemented, would harm those corrupt individuals who would have to make that restitution.  Despite all the sound and fury of the ACC, this government, too, places a higher value on power and corruption than it does on justice and Bangladesh’s world standing.  At the end of July, a reliable member of that government told me that it would not address the Vested Property Law during its tenure.
Posted on 26 Sep 2007 by Root


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