South Asia Theater
Garment workers in Bangladesh walked off the job, blocked roads, attacked factories and smashed vehicles April 26, paralyzing at least three industrial areas just outside the capital Dhaka. Some 1,500 workers, many armed with bamboo sticks, marched to the Dhaka headquarters of the main manufacturers association. The uprising began when police fired tear-gas and rubber bullets at anxious relatives as they massed at the site of a collapsed factory where resuce workers were attempting to dig out their loved ones trapped under rubble. About 3,000 people are thought to have been in the Rana Plaza complex in Savar industrial zone on the outskirts of Dhaka, when it collapsed on the morning of April 24 shortly after the workday started. Only some 60 have been found alive; some 1,000 are thought to have escaped unharmed. The complex housed factories that made clothes for retail chains Benetton, Primark, Matalan, Children's Place, Cato Fashions, Mango and others.
In a landmark ruling April 18, India's Supreme Court today rejected an appeal to allow Vedanta Resources to mine the Niyamgiri hills of Orissa state. The court decreed that those most affected by the proposed mine should have a decisive say in whether it goes ahead, recognizing the rights of the Dongria Kondh indigenous people. The decision found that the traditional land rights of the local residents must be "protected and preserved." The project is now suspended until a traditional community assembly, or gram sabha, of the impacted villages can be held to assess the project.
Reuters reports that Muslims are "disappearing" from villages in central Burma, as Buddhist attacks spread from the coastal area where they began last year. A reporter in the village of Sit Kwin (Thayarwady district , Bago division, see map), says the some 100 Muslim residents have all fled, some to displaced persons camps, after a wave of attacks in which their homes, shops and mosques were destroyed, and several killed. Since 42 were killed in violence that erupted March 20 in Meikhtila town (Mandalay division), attacks led by Buddhist militants have spread to at least 10 other towns and villages in central Burma, with the latest only a two-hour drive from the commercial capital, Yangon (Rangoon). (Reuters, March 29)
Human Rights Watch (HRW) on March 28 called on the government of Sri Lanka to begin its investigation into war crimes by examining the role of its own Deputy Minister of Resettlement. HRW alleged that Deputy Minister Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan, known as Colonel Karuna, is a former leader of the the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which is accused of war crimes committed during a 26-year civil war. Ultimately, Karuna and his unit changed sides, joining forces with the Sri Lankan government. In March, Karuna called for an investigation of war crimes by the LTTE. HRW released a statement, saying, "Karuna's call for war crimes investigations should not allow him to airbrush out his own role in atrocities. His LTTE forces were implicated in some of Sri Lanka's most horrific abuses, so the government's long-stalled war crimes investigations might as well begin with him."
Sri Lanka's Marxist party Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) is demanding the government conduct a comprehensive investigation into a mass grave uncovered by a construction project late last year in the Central province town Matale, asserting that the more than 140 sets of human remains date to a wave of bloody repression 25 years ago. In 1988 and '89, when the JVP was outlawed and led an armed insurrection, paramilitary groups and death squads were formed by the army, and some 60,000 were killed in massacres and assassinations. The JVP was allowed to re-enter the political process after 1993 peace accords and now holds seats in parliament, but charges that there has never been an accounting for the bloodletting of the 1980s. (Groundviews, Feb. 24; Sunday Leader, Feb. 10; Colombo Page, Feb. 5, JVP)
The International Crimes Tribunal Bangladesh (ICTB) on Feb. 28 sentenced to death Jamaat-e-Islami party (JI) leader Delwar Hossain Sayeedee. Following the death sentence, violence between police and activists from Sayeedee's party ensued throughout the country resulting in at least 30 deaths while more than 300 were wounded. Sayeedee was found guilty by the court for mass killing, rape, arson, looting and forcing minority Hindus to convert to Islam during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. He is the third senior party official convicted by the international tribunal. Defense counsel stated that he will appeal the sentence. Sayeedee is a former member of Parliament in the National Assembly of Bangladesh and one of the leaders of the JI Bangladesh. He has been charged with 20 crimes contained in the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act of 1973, including genocide, arson, rape and torture.
Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri militant who received the death penalty for participating in the 2001 attack on India's parliament, was executed on Feb. 9. Guru was hanged after India's president, Shri Pranab Mukherjee, turned down his plea for clemency. Following Guru's execution, India's government imposed a curfew in the India-controlled section of Kashmir and deployed hundreds of police in anticipation of protests and potentially violent clashes. A group of 400 protesters gathered in the Kashmiri city of Muzzafarabad vowing to continue Guru's mission. Guru's hanging was only the second execution carried out by India's government since 2004, with the other being Mohammad Ajmal Kasab, a gunman in the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, who was executed in November.
The International Crimes Tribunal Bangladesh (ICTB) on Feb. 5 handed down its second verdict, sentencing Abdul Quader Mollah, leader of the Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), to life in prison. This sentence comes a week after televangelist Abul Kalam Azad, also known as "Bachchu Razakar," was sentenced to death. Both were indicted for crimes committed during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War.