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Is the US Senators’ Letter to Sheikh Hasina justifiable?

Dr. Rashid Askari

 Published: 12:22, 28 January 2024

Is the US Senators’ Letter to Sheikh Hasina justifiable?

The recent letter penned by twelve U.S. senators to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has ignited a fervent discussion within Bangladesh's political landscape. The contents of the letter, addressing concerns over the treatment of Nobel Laureate Dr. Muhammad Yunus and broader issues of justice system application, have sparked debates over the boundaries of international intervention in a nation's internal affairs.This kind of letter from a country’s top senators urging intervention in the legal proceedings of another country must raise critical questions about the reasonableness and acceptability of such external interference in a sovereign nation's legal procedures.

The senators, including influential figures like Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin and Senators Todd Young, Tim Kaine, and others, expressed their collective apprehension about what they termed as "persistent harassment" of Dr. Muhammad Yunus. The letter urges Prime Minister Hasina to address these concerns and put an end to what the senators perceive as an abuse of the justice system.

The learned senators, oblivious to the criticisms of others, have left to Professor Yunus’ defence. Their letter, though carefully crafted, sounds absolutely preposterous. It seems to be an echo of what Professor Yunus has been saying over the year in regard to the cases and allegations brought against him.It will come as no surprise if we learn that the letter was drafted by Yunus himself and the senators were requested willy-nilly to sign on the dotted line.  The letter claims that Professor Yunus has faced more than 150 “unsubstantiated cases” and some human rights organizations have noted “irregularities in proceedings against him”.

 How do the learned senators make sure that Professor Yunus cannot commit any crimes? On what grounds do they plead him innocent to the charges brought against him by the labourers? If the cases against him are really “unsubstantiated”, they should grab the chance to substantiate their claims and produce evidence before the court without further delay. If any“irregularities” are discovered in the proceedings against Yunus, they should pinpoint them before the court and take the advantage of getting the lawsuits dismissed out of hand. If they deem necessary, they might bring in hotshot criminal defense lawyers from across the globe to secure a not guilty verdict for the Nobel Laureate. The Bangladeshi premier Sheikh Hasinahas assured, time and again, that Professor Yunus can employ lawyers from anywhere in the world to defend him in the cases.

If the Nobel Laureate’s friends find his recent six-month sentencing meted out for violating the country’s labour law “irregular”, they should inform themselves of the fact that Nobel laureates are not above the law and this is not the lone example of a Nobel laureate being sentenced. An extract of the 84-page verdict of the court reads, “The defence complemented the accused No.1, Yunus, who is the Nobel-winning international figure for fighting poverty. But Nobel laureate Yunus is not being tried in this court, he is being tried as the chairman of Grameen Telecom. The allegations of violation of labour law have been proven against him.” In addition to that, the court had granted him bail for the asking.

In response to the senators’ letter, the Bangladeshi government and public intellectuals question the legitimacy of such intervention, emphasizing the sub judice nature of the matter. The argument revolves around the principle that internal legal proceedings should be allowed to unfold without external influence, especially from foreign legislators. The government asserts its commitment to due process and the rule of law.

The backdrop of the legal cases against Dr. Yunus adds complexity to the situation. Allegations of labour rights violations and financial irregularities form the basis of the cases, with prosecutors contending that the charges are not politically motivated but rooted in Yunus' actions within Grameen Telecom. This intricacy underscores the importance of allowing the legal process to determine the outcome without external pressures.

The crux of the debate lies in the interpretation of national sovereignty. While the U.S. senators express concerns over perceived injustices, it can be argued that foreign interference, even in matters related to human rights, can undermine the sovereignty of a nation. Striking a balance between international scrutiny and respecting a country's legal processes remains a delicate task.The legal principle of sub judice, meaning that a case is under judicial consideration and should not be discussed elsewhere, adds a layer of unacceptability to the senators' letter. What the senators have done is not only an unwarranted intervention in the legal procedure of another country, it is alsoan encroachment upon its sovereignty. The best the respected senators could do was to help Professor Yunus providing legal support. Or they could have urged Bangladeshi government to dispense justice to Professor Yunus. Besides, they are quite ignorant of what Professor Yunus had really done with the labourers of Grameen Telecom. If the allegations brought against Professor Yunus finally prove true (we don’t expect so though), what would they do?  Allowing the legal proceedings to run their course without external influence is essential for a fair and impartial trial.

The cornerstone of any functioning democracy lies in the independence of its legal system. Bangladesh, like any other sovereign nation, upholds the autonomy of its judiciary to ensure the fair administration of justice. The senators' letter stands against respecting the sanctity of a country's legal procedures, free from external influence.International relations are governed by the principle of non-interference in a nation's internal affairs. The letter also stands against the accepted norms of diplomacy, where nations refrain from intervening in each other's legal processes. The sovereignty of a nation demands respect for its internal decision-making.

By providing context about Bangladesh's ongoing legal reforms, the government can further challenge the reasonableness of the senators' intervention. Illustrating the nation's commitment to enhancing its legal system, ensuring transparency, and upholding the rule of law demonstrates that external interference may not align with the evolving dynamics of the country's judiciary.

Highlighting the trust placed in the due process of law is crucial. Bangladesh's legal system operates on the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, and the senators' letter may be seen as premature and prejudiced against this foundational principle. Trusting in the legal proceedings of the country to reach a fair conclusion should be integral to the Yunus issue.

The reasonableness of the senators' letter can be challenged by emphasizing the availability of diplomatic channels for engagement. Rather than issuing public statements, engaging in private diplomatic dialogue would align more closely with accepted norms of international discourse. Advocating for a respectful exchange of information and concerns can contribute to a more reasoned approach.

To assert the unreasonableness of the senators' letter, scrutinizing the factual basis of their claims is imperative. To challenge that the letter rests on misinformation, misconceptions, or an incomplete understanding of the legal proceedings,becomes a powerful tool in questioning the credibility of the intervention. The concerned government agencies should take cognizance of this.

Ultimately, reinforcing the concept of national sovereignty becomes the linchpin of the argument. Asserting that Bangladesh, like any sovereign state, has the right to manage its internal affairs without undue external pressure is fundamental. The senators' letter may be viewed through the lens of respecting this inherent right.

In navigating the delicate balance between international relations and national sovereignty, Bangladesh can effectively challenge the U.S. senators' letter. By underlining the principles of legal independence, non-interference, ongoing legal reforms, trust in due process, diplomatic engagement, questioning the basis of claims, and reinforcing national sovereignty, the nation can articulate a robust defense of its internal affairs against external scrutiny.

Writer: Dr. Rashid Askari, a distinguished academic, bilingual author and the former vice chancellor of Islamic University Bangladesh.

Source: Asian Age.