Thursday, July 03, 2008

Is Beijing’s Authoritarian Capitalism Face of the Future?

Ishita Dey

Slavoj Zivek in the Article ‘Who are the good guys?” in International Herald Tribune ( May 31-1 June 2008 ) reflects on the relations between China and Tibet. As China gears up for the Olympic Games 2008 the traditional torch relay in various parts of the world was subject to much protest because of the various human rights violation in Tibet by the People’s Republic of China. While the protesters against the Beijing Olympics feel that one world can have many dreams as opposed to “one world one dream” but Zivek raises a question about what definition of Tibetan dream are the protesters manufacturing. While much has been said and written about the plight of the Tibetans and we have raised our voices against the atrocities in Tibet; we cannot ignore certain facts that we need to ponder on as Zivek (ibid) points out. Some of the questions he raises are: Firstly, the history between China acting as the “protective overlord” to Tibet goes back as long as the “anti communist Kuomintang” who also “insisted on Chinese Sovereignty over Tibet”. Secondly, since the early 1950s there has been systematic and substantial involvement in stirring up anti-Chinese troubles in Tibet. Thirdly, the recent TV footages of angry Tibetan protesters burning, looting and killing Chinese immigrants and their stores should be treated on the same lines as we measure other violent protests. The protest movement is no more peaceful protest. Thirdly, we need to acknowledge that the Chinese have invested heavily in the region. Some parts of Tibet are better off than China’s own underdeveloped Western rural provinces. Lastly over the last years there has been a change in the Chinese strategy towards Tibet. “The Chinese rely more on ethnic and economic colonization, rapidly transforming Lhasa into a Chinese capitalist Wild West with karaoke bars and Disney like Buddhist theme park’ for Western tourists. Besides all these aspects; the brutal image of the Chinese soldiers and policemen terrorizing has another tale yet to be told. These images speak of a much more American style effective socioeconomic transformation that has gone beyond mcdonaldisation. Mcdonaldisation was one way to create an image of the global world. And post Den Xiaoping China has learnt the lesson and employing so that the Tibetans will be reduced to the status of Native Americans in the United States. Does this inherently imply that political democracy is the natural political accompaniment of capitalism?

To read the full article click on the link in the news section ->

Reconstruction of New Orleans

Debdatta Chowdhury

The news piece ‘Drowning By Numbers, Or The Non-Reproduction Of New Orleans’ by Benedict Seymour (February, 2006) is an on-your-face report on the re-construction of New Orleans sans the black working class. Victimising the black working class through destruction of their housing and social networks, transfer of public assets into private ownership and gentrification of the already gentrified USA, had already set the ground for such blatant violation of human rights and dignity. What is witnessed in the wake of reconstruction post-Katrina, is only a newer version of ‘primitive accumulation’, with the state backing the transfer of property into private hands, creating a new class of proletariat workers divorced from their means of social reproduction. This is accompanied by an attack on the price of the labour-power, thus depriving the workers of their former means of subsistence and raising the real cost of living. Legal obstacles like petty but effective restriction (not allowing them to vote if one has lost his/her ID during the hurricane) or technical omissions, have been put to use to prevent the blacks from reconstructing their lives, post-Katrina. Every effort is being made on the part of the state to prevent the return of the black working class neighbourhoods to their society. Lowering of wages followed the eviction of the black working class from New Orleans that ensured the minimum return of these evicted people to their older settlements. Even if they did, they returned to a much worse situation of low wages, racism and hyper-exploitation. These returnees are used as low wage immigrant labours. Using low-or-no wage immigrant labour ensures absolute surplus value for their capitalist employers. This trend is the latest to be seen in the capitalist modus operandi, but in no way an exceptional scenario. Devalorisation of labour is not a new phenomenon. But earlier it was accompanied by improved standard of living, shorter workday, new infrastructure and institutions for the reproduction of labour-power like housing, hospitals, schools. The devalorisation process in New Orleans in the wake of the disaster was followed by depreciation of labour-power and the non-replacement of the means of social production. This version of primitive accumulation is the bitter culmination of US capital’s long-term strategy of devalorisation. The devastation of New Orleans is clearly a nail in the coffin of the myth of America’s post-industrial renaissance. Truly then, the relief process in New Orleans is being called the ‘second hurricane’

For the detailed report, click on the url to the right:-

The Bombing of IOM Office in East Nepal Sheds New Light on Resettlement of Refugees in a Third Country

Ishita Dey

Right to return has been one of the pertinent questions raised by refugee activists for decades. The recent resettlement programme of Bhutanese refugees to countries such as USA, Canada, Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Australia and New Zealand was the topic of much discussion with some activists arguing that this resettlement programme cannot be the durable solution. The explosion of two crude bombs in the office compounds of the IOM office, Damak, is seen by the Nepalse Police as an act of those who were opposed to the resettlement programme and have termed it as “human trafficking” in the past. Such attacks while reveal that despite 38,500 Bhutanese refugees registering for the resettlement programme there are concerns within the camps that need to be addressed. The Human Rights Organisation of Bhutan has considered this an unfortunate incident. It has urged every Bhutanese to restrain from any such violent activity. Meanwhile HUROB has also appealed that there should be proper dissemination of information, which still lacks and there should not be psychological compulsion or family and relatives follow up and binding. No one has objection to voluntary resettlement as is the individual rights. In its update HUROB appealed to the international community and Bhutan Government and Bhutanese parties to work on a peaceful and responsible path. It has specially urged the Bhutanese Parties, organizations and individual to refrain from all anti-social activities and respect individual rights and maintain refugee camps a peaceful place.


As reported some unidentified group of people hurled two improvised explosive device (IED) socket bombs in the premises of the International Office of the Migration at Damak yesterday at around 7.30pm(IOM) set up in October 2007 to resettle the Bhutanese refugees to USA. Since the US announced to resettle about 60000 Bhutanese refugees and few thousands by other core group countries for Bhutanese refugees as an effort to find comprehensive solution to 17 years old protracted problem, the IOM has been actively working on the process and till date about 1200 Bhutanese refugees have reached to the country of their destination in America, Australia, Norway, Netherlands, Canada and New Zealand. However, there has been from the very beginning, conflict, confusion and controversy over the only resettlement process as majority of the refugees would still like to go back to own home land in Bhutan and have been urging the International community particularly the Core Group for Bhutanese refugees to expedite all three options, repatriation, resettlement and local assimilation as principle of amicable and comprehensive solution justifiable to all the refugees. Despite the incessant concern of the refugees on all options of durable solutions, the core group has so far given importance only on resettlement which in actual repatriation should have been the priority and thus the apathetic stand on repatriation giving respite on the perpetrator, the Bhutan regime has angered most of the Bhutanese refugees, especially the youths. The youths who belong to revolutionary organizations have been vehemently opposing the resettlement process which preceded the repatriation, the first option of the refugees.

The undesirable activities of the revolutionary organizations are becoming gradually nuance in the camps disturbing peace and tranquility. Exactly no one is certain of their motive of action but the trend is unpleasant and there is violation of individual rights and insecurity persists. The attack on IOM yesterday evening is the third time. Before this, twice the IOM vehicle ferrying the refugees were attacked. The incidents are unfortunate and Human Rights Organization of Bhutan (HUROB) is very much concern and wish that every Bhutanese restrain from carrying out such activities.

While denouncing the action of whosoever and whatsoever the motive, HUROB would like to appeal all the concerns to delve deeply into the sentiments of the refugees and try to work out a congenial situation appreciable even by such revolutionary groups and avoid all untoward happenings. Mean while HUROB would like to take the opportunity to express its concern and also not liked by the revolutionary organizations as reported by the camp people and own feeling in the modus operandi of UNHCR and IOM particularly on the motivation of the refugees for resettlement. There should be proper dissemination of information which still lacks and there should not be psychological compulsion or family and relatives follow up and binding. No one has objection to voluntary resettlement as is the individual rights. At the same time the core country for Bhutanese refugees should in equal interest take up the repatriation issue and urge Bhutan government to accept back its people without delay in order to establish permanent peace and stability in the country. Lastly, appeal all the Bhutanese Parties, organizations and individual to refrain from all anti-social activities and respect individual rights and maintain refugee camps a peaceful place.

To read the news article click on the link in the news section ->,international-migration-office-bombed-in-eastern-nepal.html

Amitendu Palit and Subhomoy Bhattacharjee 2007, Special Economic Zones in India – Myths and Realities. Delhi: Anthem South Asian Studies.198pp

Ishita Dey

The book explores as its title suggests some of the myths and realities of the economic prospect of SEZs in India. SEZs as we all know are an improved version of the existing EPZ to generate more export. The authors do not question the “export oriented” development but addresses whether the proposed SEZs would generate export and FDI flows with the existing infrastructure. The book begins with the argument that the creation of new economic spaces is not a new phenomenon. The geographically delimited “enclaves” has existed since the medieval ages. One of the first modern zones came up in Shanon International Airport at Ireland in 1956. Two types of zones dominate the modern economic spaces: - i) Export Processing zones (EPZ)/Free Trade Zones (FTZ) ii) SEZ. In most of the regions across the world there is a preference for EPZ/ FTZ. There are relatively more EPZs/ FTZs in North America (i.e., the U.S.) and Asia (South, East and South East). The authors argue that the developing countries across the world have adopted the policy of creating special economic enclaves. Drawing reference from the World Bank study, the book suggests that till 2007, approximately 3000 zone projects taking place in 120 countries across the world. Most of the developing countries have taken to these economic enclaves which carries the potential of creating more employment opportunities because of the of the fiscal incentives “in the form of low or zero taxes on income and export profits and duty-free imports” are essential to create more job opportunities and improving the quality of existing jobs”. One of the ways to increase the employment opportunity is to utilize the low skilled workforce. There is also a hint that the growth of SEZ will increase more work opportunities in the construction sector.

The book in a nutshell is an overview of the SEZ scenario in India- the trends and prospects. The reality it offers us is based on a comparative understanding of the existing enclaves across the World and with special reference to the Chinese model of SEZ. The study suggests that vision of SEZ as hinted by Late Murasoli Maran, the Union Minister in 2002 was supposed to have a minimum area of 10000 ha. “A Lot has changed since this”. The book precisely documents this shifts and changes in the SEZ policy since 2002 to 2005 when the SEZ act was constituted. This is evident in the chapterisation. The book introduces the backdrop against which the SEZ in India came into existence through an account of the existing economic enclaves across the world, the exports generated in these regions, the viability of the already existing Export Processing Zones in India and the increase in exports in the already functional SEZs in India. The following chapter on “The New SEZs: Where, What and Why?” is particularly interesting because it challenges a general perception that the states are trying to outdo each other to woo developers to invest in their states. Drawing from the total number of approvals granted till 18 June 2008 on the Govt of India’s website on SEZ; it shows that out of the 464 approved SEZs; the majority of SEZ are spread across five states; Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu followed by West Bengal and Gujarat. 353 SEZs belong to these seven states. The book raises a significant question “Will this distinctly unbalanced spatial distribution of SEZs influence the outlook for India’s future regional development?” The study predicts that in the case of China though on one hand, the coastal bias of the SEZ policy proved to be beneficial in terms of accessibility and other benefits there grew an economic chasm between the hinterland and coastal areas. Owing to our already existing regional disparities in other sectors due to disparities in per capita income between the states especially when the five states sharing the highest SEZ fall under higher per capita income category. This in a sense would be “circulation of capital and goods” rather than “distribution of goods and services”.

IT and IT related services dominate the number of industries that are going to come up in the approved areas. The study also predicts that the real estate developers are going to have a high stake in real estate business with all the country’s leading real estate developers filing in SEZ applications. Another viable issue that faces SEZ is whether the industrial units will be the answer to the rising unemployment figures. How effective are the training centres that are being set up in various zones to impart training to landless people ? Will this training be sufficient to create skilled labour force that these industries will require?

The issue of landless and the “right to life” are explored through a critique of the present Land Acquisition Act 1894. The regulatory and unchallenging characteristic of this act has been the subject of criticism and continues to remain even in 21 st century when tracts of land whatever the size may be are being acquired in the name of “public purpose”. The authors highlight that the amendment in 1984 to expand the definition of “public purpose” to acquire land by private developers or any other party. Secondly the seller cannot challenge in a court of law on why the government needed that piece of land, except to the level of compensation which immediately turns our attention to the Rehabilitation and Resettlement policy we have in place.

It is against this backdrop that the study suggests that the SEZs indeed have quite a bumpy road ahead considering the domestic banks are not keen on financing SEZ for fear of building up Non-performing assets. Apart from finding financial guarantors for the projects, the SEZ developers in certain places will have to develop linkage routes. The connectivity factor is going to be crucial in the success story of SEZ. Thus SEZs definitely will not aid industrially backward areas.

Why Bangladesh Needs Refugee Law?

Udatta Bikash

Bangladesh was born experiencing refugeehood. During our liberation war in 1971, an estimated 10 million people (one out of every seven of that time population) took refuge in neighbouring India. Bangladesh has been hosting thousands of Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority group from the northern Rakhine state of Myanmar as refugees for last 17 years.

Following the latest persecution generated by the military ruler in Myanmar during 1991-92, thousands of Rohingyas took refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh and other countries. About 258,000 Rohingyas were registered by the Government of Bangladesh and granted refugee status through an executive order.

In addition to that, thousands of Rohingyas continue to arrive here and mix with local population over the years. Some estimates suggest that there are now about 300,000 nationals of Myanmar (mostly Rohingyas) outside the official camps who are 'illegally' staying in the Cox's Bazaar, Bandarban and Chittagong districts. A section of them is active in all sorts of illegal activities. Apart from that an estimated 300,000 Rohingyas are reportedly now in Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern counties holding Bangladeshi passports.

Bangladesh has been hosting refugees for a long time, however it is not a State party to the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees 1951 or its Protocol of 1967 (However, Bangladesh is member to the Executive Committee of UNHCR- EXCOM). There is also no domestic legal framework to deal with the issue of asylum and refugees.

Although there are few provisions in the Constitution, which could be translated for the protection of refugees, there is a lack of common understanding on those.

In this backdrop, there is a point for Bangladesh for accession to the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees 1951 (the Convention hereafter) and/or adoption of a normative legal framework. Let us examine both the propositions.

The Refugee Convention was adopted at a special United Nations conference on 28 July 1951. The Convention is the basic instrument of Refugee Law that defines a refugee, and sets out the rights of them and the responsibilities of states that grant asylum. The Convention also sets out which people do not qualify as refugees, such as war criminals or having involved on serious non-political crimes among others.

Protection of refugees forms the core of all Human Rights Law and Humanitarian Law. However, since its inception there have been many objections to the provisions of the Convention. It is said that the Convention mandates protection for those whose civil and political rights are violated. However, it does not protect persons whose socio-economic rights are at risk.

For example, the Convention is unable to cover the need of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) and the latest consequences of the global warming, the climate refugees.

The Convention is considered by experts like Dr. B. S. Chimni, a Professor of Jawharlal Nehru University in New Delhi as 'Euro-centric' and insensitive towards the internecine racial, ethnic and religious conflicts in the third world, which has resulted in the creation of refugees in large numbers.

Apart from that, the Convention seems dated and needs for further revisions due to increased complexities in the process of refugee generation, protection and due to advance in the field of refugee studies.

The Convention has been the point of contention for the developed and developing countries. While developed countries are bidding for a rights-based approach; developing countries on the other hand have been voicing their incomprehension as to why they would be expected to abide by the standards that the North no longer seems to accept. It is likely that now the Northern countries assume only a fraction of the responsibilities for refugees.

Experts like Mr. Patrick Hoenig of Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi finds four dilemmas in the Convention with regard to refugee: definition, material assistance, shared responsibilities, and unraveling consensus in observing standards of international law.

Given the post-9/11 scenario, most of the developed countries tighten their borders. By the end of 2004, only two out of top ten receiving countries were developed ones, according to a report of Calcatta Research Group who runs an internationally reputed course on Forced Migration. Developed countries have already developed and implemented the concept of 'third country protection' or 'offshore asylum system'. These types of initiatives are contradictory to the sprit of the Convention.

Even senior officials of the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) openly support modifications in the Convention. "… the Convention has to be looked into from different angles/perspectives considering the present scenario," says Ms. Carol Batchelor, Chief of Mission of UNHCR in India (former Head of agency's Stateless Unit in Geneva) in an international workshop on Forced Migration in Kolkaka, India last year (The writer was one of the participants of the workshop).

In this scenario, none of the South Asian states is a signatory to the Refugee Convention, few citing 'certain biases in the provisions of the Convention.'

Some scholars including Dr. B. S. Chimni feel that before acceding to the 1951 Convention or 1967 Protocol, South Asian states should go ahead for adoption of a rights-based national legal framework to deal with asylum and refugee issues.

Enacting a comprehensive national legislation
From the above discussion, it is clear that given the drawbacks in the Convention, it is very unlikely that South Asian countries including Bangladesh will sign the instrument in near future.

Therefore, adoption of national legislation will be a more viable option for the countries including Bangladesh.

The benefits of national legislation are manifold. These include: dissolution of adoption of adhoc measures; permanent mechanisms for determination and treatment of refugees; ensuring judicious, fair and accountable procedures; enhancement of administrative control of the state; achieving concerted search for durable solution; co-ordination among concerned agencies; reducing frictions and conflicts among states.

Like other South Asian countries, Bangladesh has a tradition of hosting a large number of refugees for a long period. Here, refugees are subjected to same laws as for foreigners. These hardly consider protection need of an individual, especially in case of women and children. Again, due to lack of any explicit legal regime, asylum seekers and refugees are dealt under adhoc administrative arrangements, which by their very nature could be arbitrary and discriminatory, and do not accord any right to the refugees.

On the other hand, in the absence of a legal framework and access to asylum procedure in Bangladesh, newly arrived Rohingyas are forced to stay illegally here and be prone to various vulnerabilities including engagement in illegal activities and even in terrorism.

Over the time, the Rohingya refugees have a significant impacts on the economic, social, cultural, environmental, and law and order situations in Bangladesh. At the latest, it has added to the security concern. It is reported that a section of the Rohingyas have link with domestic terrorist groups like JMB and guerilla group operative in Myanmar-India-Bangladesh borders who receive funds from abroad.

Therefore, the Government should be serious on the matter. It is a high time that Government of Bangladesh adopts a comprehensive policy on Rohingya refugee issues with a view to resolve the problem through bilateral and multi-lateral means. For this, pro-active diplomacy is required. A rights-based approach as to domestic legislation is to give "…weight within a framework that recognises the distinctive essence of humanitarian problems and gives legal recognition to the fact that every person, alien or national, is of equal moral worth, and worthy of treatment that does not violate his her dignity," as Dr. B. S. Chimni rightly points out.

The law should have provisions, among others, on the definition of refugees, asylum procedure, rights and obligation, status of mixed-mirages, cancellation and cessation processor of refugee status etc. The 'Model Refugee Law' drafted by the Eminent Persons' Group (EPG) in 1997 could be a benchmark for further movement in this regard.

The writer is freelance researcher and specialises on legal and human rights issues.