Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Sea Limit Row with Myanmar : Bay is ours

International tribunal upholds Bangladesh's economic, territorial rights over 200 nautical miles from coast.


Bangladesh yesterday won a landmark verdict at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, which sustained its claim to 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic and territorial rights in the Bay of Bengal rejecting the claims of Myanmar.

The verdict of the court went absolutely in Bangladesh's favour and even beyond, as it gave more than what Bangladesh had asked for. The judgment is final and cannot be appealed against.

The verdict of the tribunal gave Bangladesh a substantial share of the outer continental shelf beyond 200 miles, which would open ways for offshore oil and gas exploration in the Bay.

The tribunal also awarded Bangladesh a full 12-mile territorial sea around St Martin's Island, overruling Myanmar's argument that the island be cut in half and shared.

“We have got everything, even more than what we wanted. We are happy, we are absolutely delighted,” cheerful Foreign Minister Dipu Moni told The Daily Star over the phone from Hamburg, Germany.

"This is a great day for Bangladesh. All our strategic objectives were achieved," she said, adding that Bangladesh could now proceed with its oil and gas exploration in the area. “In our claims, we wanted around 1 lakh square miles but the tribunal in its verdict gave us 1.11 lakh square miles,” she said.

Yesterday's 151-page judgment was the first by any court or tribunal to delimit the maritime area beyond 200 miles, known as the “outer continental shelf”, and is certain to establish an important precedent. 

“Bangladesh's full access to the high seas out to 200 miles and beyond is now recognised and guaranteed with our undisputed rights to the fish in our waters and the natural resources beneath our seabed,” Minister Dipu Moni said.

The tribunal, based in Hamburg, Germany, was established by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to adjudicate disputes between states concerning issues covered by the convention, including the delimitation of maritime boundaries. 

President of the tribunal Jose Luis Jesus of Cape Verde read out the judgment in the courtroom yesterday around 4:30am Bangladesh time. The 23-member panel of judges of the tribunal delivered its judgment after following a series of procedures and long hearings between September 8 and September 24, 2011, when both the countries presented their arguments.

The verdict, which the judges passed voting 21 to 1, concludes the case initiated by Bangladesh against Myanmar on October 8, 2009, to resolve a longstanding dispute over the maritime boundary.

Sources said Bangladesh lodged cases after India and Myanmar unfairly cut off a significant portion of Bangladesh's maritime area in the Bay.

Bangladesh's objection to Myanmar's claim was lodged with the tribunal and its objection to the Indian claim was filed with the UN's Permanent Court of Arbitration based in The Hague, the Netherlands. The arbitration with India is expected to be settled in 2014.

Bangladesh favours a principle based on "equity" while India and Myanmar favours "equidistance" system to get larger maritime areas.

Under a UN charter, the principle of "equity" takes into account a country's population, economic status and needs, GDP growth, and other issues, while the "equidistance" system marks the boundary through geometric calculations.

According to United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, any such dispute should be resolved on the basis of equity, and in the light of relevant circumstances. This makes Bangladesh's demand for equity-based demarcation justified, experts said.

Foreign Minister Dipu Moni, who was present in the courtroom during the judgment, told The Daily Star immediately afterwards that the people of Bangladesh were deeply connected to and dependent on the Bay of Bengal, both as a source of nutrition and for employment. 

The legal certainty afforded by this verdict would ensure that “we will be able to maximize the benefit of this important resource for the people of Bangladesh while at the same time ensuring long-term sustainability,” she added.

The foreign minister said energy-starved Bangladesh's exploration for petroleum and natural gas in the Bay, which had been delayed by conflicting boundary claims, could now proceed.

The judgment would now allow Conoco Philips Bangladesh to explore oil and gas for Bangladesh in deep-sea areas previously marked disputed. The oil company conditionally signed a production sharing contract last year leaving out the disputed areas.

The company kept a provision saying that it would explore the disputed areas after the issue had been settled. 

“Today's ruling constitutes the equitable solution that Bangladesh has long desired, but was unable to obtain during the 38 years of diplomatic stalemate preceding the lawsuit,” the foreign minister asserted. 

“The bold and visionary decision of the prime minister to seek a binding judicial resolution of this longstanding dispute has been vindicated.

“But it is a victory for both states…because it finally resolves, peacefully and according to international law, a problem that had hampered the economic development of both states for more than three [almost four] decades. We salute Myanmar for its willingness to resolve this matter by legal means and for its acceptance of the tribunal's judgment,” she said.

Myanmar wanted its maritime boundary with Bangladesh cut directly across the Bangladesh coastline, severely truncating Bangladesh's maritime jurisdiction to a narrow wedge of sea not extending beyond 130 miles. 

Myanmar also claimed that the tribunal lacked jurisdiction to award continental shelf rights beyond 200 miles from either state's coast. 

The tribunal rejected both these arguments.

“We are very pleased with the expertise, fairness and efficiency of the ITLOS [the tribunal] and its judges,” said Dipu Moni. “The case was resolved, from beginning to end, in a little over two years. This is unprecedented in judicial efficiency in a maritime boundary case.”

As the agent of Bangladesh in the proceedings the foreign minister presided over an eminent legal team, including deputy agent Rear Admiral (retd) Md Khurshed Alam, attorneys James Crawford, Philippe Sands and Alan Boyle of the United Kingdom, Paul Reichler and Lawrence Martin of the United States, and Payam Akhavan of Canada.

Myanmar was represented by its agent Attorney General Tun Shin. Its counsels included Alain Pellet and Mathias Forteau of France, Sir Michael Wood of the United Kingdom and Coalter Lathrop of the United States.

It may be mentioned that the army-backed caretaker regime invited bids for offshore exploration in February 2008 after dividing its sea territory in the Bay into 28 blocks. 

But both India and Myanmar raised objections in all most all the blocks bordering “their maritime boundaries” that prevented Bangladesh from exploring for oil-gas. Myanmar even claimed rights to part of an area of Bangladesh and at the peak of the dispute in 2008, a war-like situation developed when both countries sent their navy to the disputed area. 

SAUDI DIPLOMAT’S MURDER : Wild speculations in global media

Bangladesh police may not have a clue as to who’d killed a Saudi diplomat in Dhaka on March 6, but much of the Western media suspects the incident as a clandestine cloak and dagger crime linked with the geopolitical turmoil in the Middle East.
The 45 year old Khalaf Mohamamd S. Al Ali, a second secretary at the Royal Saudi Embassy in Dhaka, was shot dead shortly after midnight last Tuesday, only yards away from his Gulshan residence.
Ali, who lived a lonely life at his apartment, is learnt to have ventured out for a stroll in the dead of the night. 

While returning home, he was shot by a gunman from a fast-moving car. The victim succumbed to his death three hours later at a local hospital.

Murder and mayhem rock Bangladesh on and off, and, the law and order situation has deteriorated alarmingly in recent months. High profiled assassinations have also intensified lately. In February, a journalist couple was murdered in their bedrooms but police failed as yet to unearth any motive for that crime. 
It is, however, for the first time a foreign diplomat faced the wrath of Dhaka’s unruly ruffians who are often seen hobnobbing with and protected by influential quarters. 
What has emerged with some degree of certainty is that the assassin is a professional hand with proven marksmanship trademark. The forensic report indicated that a single bullet pierced through the sensitive left part of Ali’s chest and hit his kidney, causing excessive bleeding.
“If the killing is not deemed a street crime, speculation could turn to Iran, which has been blamed for other international attacks as it struggles against Saudi Arabia for dominance in the Middle East,” opined the CBS news. 
Bangladesh being an unlikely venue for waging a geopolitical battle between the West and Iran, the wild speculations in the major media outlets in the West that the crime may be linked with the geopolitical turmoil in the Middle East needs exhaustive probing. For, there is no certainty that it may not be related to the Mid-East politics. 
In 2011, the U.S. government accused Iranian agents of being part of a foiled plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the USA. Early  this year, Israel accused Iran of attacks on its diplomats in India, Thailand and Georgia. The politically motivated cloak and dagger machination being rampant and all pervading, all the clues must be chased and probed. Iran is aggrieved by the Israeli and Western-sponsored murder of a number of its nuclear scientists.
Besides, despite the regime in Tehran trashing all the accusations as baseless, there seems to be an emerging pattern that is becoming harder to overlook.
In May 2011, a flurry of feral speculations mushroomed after the killing of another Saudi diplomat in Karachi, Pakistan. Pakistani police said they suspected that the ‘shooting was motivated by anger over Saudi Arabia’s decision to send troops to Bahrain’ where the majority Shiites strove to usher in an Arab Spring to rid themselves of the dynastic rule by a Sunni minority-led monarchy. In the USA and Canada, a number of media reports reasoned that Saudi Arabia’s recent talk about arming Syrian rebels has irked Tehran, which is allied with the embattled Syrian leader, Bashar Assad. The Dhaka murder could be linked to that broader equation, the reports claimed.
Curiously, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) laced its report with a bilateral component of friction between Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia. The paper said, “In October, relations between Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh were strained after Saudi authorities beheaded eight Bangladeshi workers convicted of robbing and killing an Egyptian man.”  Bangladesh did have reason to be angry by that incident due to the Amnesty International’s strong condemnation of the executions – and the Saudi court proceedings – as falling ‘far short of international standards for fair trial,’ but it’s foolhardy to presume that the regime in Dhaka carries any grudge against Saudi Arabia.
For long a major destination of expatriate Bangladeshi workers, Saudi Arabia employs over 2 million Bangladeshis, mostly in low-paid menial avocations. Besides, the aggrieved families of the executed Bangladeshi workers have no ability to hire professional killers to target a high ranking Saudi diplomat for revenge. The Saudi government had, meanwhile, demanded quick results from the Bangladesh government and requested ‘adequate protection for all the staff working at its embassy in Dhaka,’ reports the Arab News. 
Hard pressed, police did file a case 34 hours after the incident at the Gulshan police station, but ‘no suspect was named’, said Mohammad Zabed Masud, a sub inspector at Gulshan police station.  
Deeply embarrassed, the government of Bangladesh expressed regrets for the incident and promised to bring the killer to justice. State minister for home affairs, Shamsul Hoque Tuku, said, “Police were investigating the murder.” 
Foreign Minister Dipu Moni said, “What has happened is very unfortunate and unexpected in this country.” Moni added, “We have ordered police to conduct a fair investigation so we can take proper actions against the culprits.” 
Saudi Ambassador in Dhaka, Abdullah Al-Busairi, described the incident as a ‘great tragedy’ while Bangladesh Ambassador in Saudi Arabia, Mohammed Shahidul Islam, said it was a heinous crime that sent shock waves throughout the Kingdom as well as Bangladesh. “We have intensified the investigation process in Dhaka and we are fully confident that the people involved in this murder will be brought to book,” Islam assured.
Meanwhile, another confusing shred of speculations linked the killing with the victim’s alleged role in aiding some of the arrested accused of the ongoing war crime trial in Bangladesh. One source said the slain diplomat ‘has aided a team of Al-Jazeera TV crews to have access to and interview one of the main accused of the war crime trial.”
Whatever the motive of the crime may be, relations between the Muslim nations of Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia are unlikely to be impacted negatively by this aberrational incident.( 

BY : M. Shahidul Islam.

Is there a role for Dr. Yunus to end political chaos?

Once again Prof Mohammad Yunus became a global media headline recently following Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s proposal to make Nobel Laureate Prof. Yunus as the President of the World Bank (WB). She made the proposal to a visiting delegation of the European Parliament when it called on her. Asked if he would be interested in the position, Yunus politely declined the offer. 
What became a widely talked about subject is the sudden change of heart of Sheikh Hasina who was known to be hostile towards him as a result of which Yunus was forced to quit the post of the managing director of Grameen Bank which he founded.
People generally believe that a man like Dr Yunus may have a role to play a constructive role in the country’s politics, no matter if he has declined to accept the WB presidency now or in the past when President Bill Clinton had offered him the post, as he disclosed it last week.   

He said he has also declined a proposal of the former Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia to agree to become a candidate for the UN Secretary General in 2005 when the post was open to the Asian countries. Dr Yunus said he has also declined a proposal to become the WB Managing Director. 
But a role for him in the country’s politics may be a different thing and he had in fact set up a political party of his own in 2008 under the caretaker government hoping to bring a change to the country’s political culture and outlook. He had however withdrawn from the move as major political parties took him as a challenge branding him as a nominee of the donors’ community in Bangladesh politics. 
Now everything stands on a new reality. He proved himself to be not interested to serving the Western interest, except where it passes to his own ideals and imagination. As the Yunus issue has come to the fore, through the Prime Minister this time, his admirers believe that he may launch a social movement focused on bringing change to the country’s political future away from corruption and deepening chaos. He may ask support from the mainstream civil society organizations and the youths or take him to the major political parties as a think tank to work as an adviser to minimize their political differences on the way to a national consensus on major contentious issues. 
More precisely, Awami League may remain sceptical to his motive, but BNP and the major opposition may take his services to their advantage to reassess their major political stands on many issuers, especially with the external community and in many ways redefining politics in the domestic front.
BNP and other opposition is drawing increasing public support in recent time resulting largely from the repressive governance of the ruling 14-party coalition as it is perceived to be corrupt and subservient to Delhi compromising vital national interest. The opposition is holding its ‘Dhaka March’ on March 12 in the wake of the ruling party’s erosion to popularity bringing panic to the government on its very survival after this historic event in the capital next week when BNP and allies are planning to gather about 3 million supporters. 
But the question is what more BNP and the allies can give to the nation beyond a change of the regime. Awami League was able to pull down the BNP-led four party government on alleged charges of corruption. Now BNP and allies are working to bring down the Awami League-led government on the same charges of corruption and inefficiency of the government. 
But through this change of regime who are those people now expected to come back to power again. What will happen if the old corrupt and inefficient BNP leaders and their allies are back without a change in the political outlook and vision for a greater future? People are not just ready to see the old political bickering and bloodbath for yet another round of regime change. 
It raises the question what home work BNP and allies are doing to give the nation something new to bring it out of the chaotic situation. It requires a sound pragmatic leader or advisers around the party high command who may have the far-sight and the wisdom and the courage to put the bitter truth to the leadership even going against the mainstream political thinking. 
Former president Ziur Rahman remained unparalleled to the party leadership as no one so far could have out stepped him in vision and skill in running the state which he had pulled out from a totally demoralised and broken political structure in the country. 
Now this is a new situation and the changing reality shows the need for far-sighted leadership or the presence of highly esteemed persons to advise to the existing leadership to bring the nation out of the political cobweb to reunite it again and make sure it is not falling again in the hand of corrupt politicos.
Politics of ‘logi boitha’
Many people apprehend that Bangladesh may be going to the old politics of ‘logi boitha’ (ores and logs) meaning open air political killing which the nation witnessed on October 27, 2006 at Paltan intersection in the city. 
This time as the pre-election political scenario, there is a growing apprehension that the nation may witness similar bloodbath at more places throughout the country. It may lead the nation towards yet another unconstitutional takeover, which many observers believe may be a pro-government move to deny the opposition a chance to fight a free and fair election towards assuming power.    
This is a time for far-reaching political strategy and involvement of far-sighted persons are important in the political process which can effectively negotiate with external powers in the interest of preserving and building a better foundation of democracy in the country.
The major opposition BNP should therefore try to secure closer relation with Dr Yunus, a growing section of people now believe, allowing him an influential role within the party or from outside to give it the critical political inputs which may support better decision making in the first place and protect it from falling into the hand of corrupt elements again if and when it may be able to form a government. 
Prof Yunus has consistently declined to serve global agencies, but since Bangladesh stands closer to his heart and as the lone Nobel Laureate of the nation for working for the poor, he may take it as part of his natural duty to help the nation coming out of the political chaos. If the country exploits his development strategy, it may quickly progress with inflow of FDI and a rebound in domestic sector. A better future demand services from the best sons of the soil, and let us look forward to a good transition to better governance.
BY :   Faruque Ahmed.