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"By the Grace of God" to remain in Bangladesh’s constitution

Oliver Scanlan
8 May 2009

On Thursday, Bangladeshi law minister Shafique Ahmed affirmed that the words "Bismillahir rahmanir rahim" will remain in the preamble to Bangladesh's constitution, even if the Fifth Amendment to the constitution is scrapped. The words, which, translated literally, mean "Resting trust on almighty Allah", were introduced into the constitution in 1975 in the wake of the assassination of Sheikh Mujib Rahman, the country's first president.

The controversial Fifth Amendment to the constitution was passed in 1979 and retroactively legitimised and consolidated a number of martial law declarations, orders and tribunals that were passed in the turbulent period immediately after Sheikh Mujib's death. These measures included the granting of indemnity to the men who murdered him. 

On 29 August 2005, the High Court ruled that the Fifth Amendment was illegal, but the coalition then in power, comprising the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Islamist Jamaat-i-Islami, petitioned the Supreme Court to reject this ruling. On 3 May this year, the Awami League government cancelled this petition, leaving the way open for the original verdict to be upheld.

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party is strongly opposed to this move, and the Supreme Court has granted them a hearing in four weeks to appeal against the decision. If they are unsuccessful, and the 2005 judgement is upheld, then the military governments that ruled Bangladesh from 1975 to 1979 will be declared illegal and all laws passed by them annulled. The governments thus censured will include that of Ziaur Rahman, late husband of the current Chairperson of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party Begum Khaleda Zia.

Allies of the BNP have said that the move will lead to the removal of the phrase "by the grace of Almighty Allah" from the constitution's preamble in an attempt to garner support for their position from Bangladesh's overwhelmingly Muslim population. Moudud Ahmed, who was Minister for Law, Justice and Parliamentary affairs during the last BNP government of 2001 - 2006, has said that the nation will face anarchy if the amendment is annulled.

But Shafique Ahmed was adamant that the phrase will remain and that the abolition of the Fifth Amendment will resurrect the four core values upon which Bangladesh's Liberation War was based: democracy, socialism, secularism and nationalism.

Crisis for the Gorai River

At a meeting on Wednesday attended by the Country Director of the World Bank, the FAO representative and the ambassadors of Germany, Japan and the Netherlands, Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina called for development partners to invest in the revival of Bangladesh's rivers. The meeting was itself focused on the revival of the Gorai river which, due to its vastly reduced flow, now poses a severe ecological risk to the whole of Bangladesh's south-west region.

Seven of the fifteen rivers dependent on the Gorai are "nearly dead", with the increased salinity impacting on fisheries, agriculture and trade across a huge area in the Greater Khulna region. Notably, the world's largest mangrove forest, found in the Sundarbans in the far south west, is now at risk. Calling for the immediate dredging of the river to increase the flow of water to the coastal region, which is already extremely vulnerable to the vicissitudes of climate change, Sheikh Hasina said that rivers all across Bangladesh needed to be revitalised, not merely those in the south.

"Crossfire killings" ruled out

On Tuesday, Local Government Minister Syed Ashraful Islam announced that extra-judicial killings or "crossfire" killings will no longer be carried out by Bangladesh's security forces. Speaking at an event organised by the BGMEA, the Bangladesh Apparel Exporters Union, Ashraful said that in a democratic country, "establishment of the rule of law is a must."

Crossfire killings, which are particularly associated with Bangladesh's elite counter-terrorist unit, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), have been a hallmark of Bangladesh security operations for many years. Despite many Awami League lawmakers' vows to end the practise since the government came to power, it is unclear what concrete steps the government will take to enforce this move. The latest fatality resulting from a "crossfire" occurred on Monday. 

Clocks changed to help solve power shortage

From 16 June, Bangladesh will implement daylight savings time as one measure to halt the ongoing power crisis, it was revealed on Tuesday. Speaking after the inter-ministerial meeting that made the decision, state minister for power Shamsul Haq Tuku said that all key stakeholders, including nineteen different ministries and divisions, had been consulted.

The decision comes in the wake of severe power cuts across the country over the past few months, as Bangladesh continues to grapple with an energy deficit that, according to some estimates, could be as high as 7000 MW. There are reports that corruption within the Dhaka City Corporation has compounded the problem. Although in recent days, the situation in Dhaka has improved, in the country's most marginalised areas, such as the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) reports of twelve hour power cuts are still common.

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