Smart Economy


Global leaders' letter and Bangladesh's legal autonomy

Dr. Rashid Askari

 Published: 14:40, 4 February 2024

Global leaders' letter and Bangladesh's legal autonomy

A number of Nobel laureates and 242 other world leaders have written an open letter to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina that has brought the fine line between international justice concerns and the right of a people to self-determination into sharp relief. Although their intentions seem to be pure on the surface, the letter could have serious consequences for judicial independence and national sovereignty.It is becoming more important to understand the intricate web of foreign actions and how they affect Bangladesh's domestic politics as the discussion over the open letter continues to heat up. This scenario's complexities stretch beyond Dr. Muhammad Yunus's example and into wider issues of sovereignty, diplomatic pressure, and the meeting point of global justice and local governance.

The letter casts doubt on the fairness and professionalism of Bangladesh's court system by suggesting the deployment of a group of unbiased legal specialists to examine the charges against Dr. Yunus. It casts doubt on the ability of Bangladesh's judicial system to guarantee a fair trial.The letter however raises questions about potential outside influences that could affect or undermine the legal proceedings.How does this group of world leaders completely understand the complexities of the legal processes in Bangladesh against Dr. Yunus? There is a serious danger that they may inadvertently undermine the independence of a country's legal system.

The letter appeared in the Washington Post as an advertisement not news, and it was allegedly done by a lobbyist firm. The naturalness of the letter comes under suspicion while it is learnt that similar attempts were made in the past. On March 7, 2023 a similar open letter signed by 40 global leaders expressing “deep concerns and wellbeing” of the Nobel Laureate was printed on page 7 of the Washington Post in 18.5 inches and five columns. The size of the advertisement was 90 and a half column inch and as per the rate of the advertisement cost at that time, it stood at Tk 7.8 million. This time the advertisement has been published on Jan 29, 2024 on page 7 in 19 inches and five columns that stands at more than 76 thousand dollars which means more than Tk 85 lakhs (8.5 million). The amount is however excluding the expenses of the advertising firm and other essentials. Why does Yunus need to spend such a staggering sum on a mere advertisement? It is a usual practice to send a letter to the person addressed. Whereas the letter regarding Dr. Yunus’ trial, though addressed to Sheikh Hasina was published in a US newspaper. Had it been published in a Bangladeshi newspaper, the people of Bangladesh and the Prime Minister could have learnt about it all too easily. It is published in a US newspaper with a view to maligning Bangladesh and its premier overseas.

Getting these two open letters published consecutively in a widely circulated newspaper like the Washing Post as advertisements give us the impression that Professor Yunus and his lobbying firm are used to publicizing his laurels and working to his advantage. And the question arises as to who is sponsoring the sort of too costly advertisements.

The worldwide leaders' resolve to label Dr. Yunus's prosecution as a "travesty of justice" only serves to heighten the sovereignty issue. Although global observation has the potential to bring about beneficial change, it is essential to distinguish between helpful criticism and meddling that is not warranted. If the complexities of a legal process are not fully understood before it is criticized, the confidence of the entire court system could be compromised. Besides, the notion of legal autonomy, a crucial component of any sovereign nation, risks being overshadowed by the desire for external intervention. The letter's call for an international team of lawyers suggests that they do not have trust in Bangladesh's judicial system to fairly and impartially administer justice.  This climate of mistrust towards Bangladeshi government coming from a few global leaders and the proposal to take recourse to an alternative solution could infringe upon the sovereignty of an independent country. The plan raises the question of whether outside experts can successfully traverse Bangladesh's complex legal system without unintentionally impacting the proceedings

In addition, the letter's direct request for a group of “impartial” lawyers to step in raises questions over the letter's objectives. Though the global leaders claim they want to make sure Dr. Yunus's cases are reviewed fairly and impartially, it is little wonder that this will put Bangladesh on diplomatic high alert. The government's decision-making could be impacted by the constant reminder of international watchfulness brought about by the external inspection.

An additional complication arises from the fact that world leaders have requested a group of impartial legal specialists. Although their goal is to ensure a fair and impartial examination, the plan raises the question of whether outside experts can successfully traverse Bangladesh's complex legal system without unintentionally impacting the proceedings.

Who are these 242 signatories to the letter? They are a chain of people directly or indirectly connected to the Nobel Laureate Professor Yunus. They appear to be aware only of Yunus’ side of the story, and are quite ignorant of the other side. The other side of the Nobel Laureate’s story is not as good as painted by them. Had they known it full well that Yunus has been convicted of gross violations of the labour law of the country, they wouldn’t have leapt to his defense beyond their limits.

While at first glance the open letter appears to be a show of unity, it actually prompts serious reflection on the limits of foreign meddling in domestic law. Promoting productive discourse without infringing upon the ideals of autonomy and self-governance requires finding the correct equilibrium between worldwide concern for justice and respecting a nation's right to sovereign legal processes. In our interdependent world, the nuances of international relations are brought to light by the complexity of this issue.

The fact that the letter arrived so soon after the Bangladeshi elections on January 7, 2024, further complicates the issue of sovereignty. The election result, which confirmed Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's administration, has set off debate regarding the letter's intentions. It seems to be a calculated move to take advantage of weak spots or change the political climate.A nuanced debate has ensued over whether the open letter from the world leaders is an international effort to put diplomatic pressure on the Sheikh Hasina government or a sincere call for justice. Circumstantial evidences show that it isa diplomatic maneuver to meddle in Bangladesh's own affairs.The world leaders' attempt also appears to be a ploy to take advantage of any weaknesses that may have arisen as a result of the recent political events.

One must not ignore the dynamics of time. The intervention of world leaders is further complicated by the fact that Bangladesh is experiencing political shifts and power consolidation in the period following the election. The letter's timing begs the concerns of its intentions and the effect it may have on the newly constituted government's stability. We are prompted to contemplate the dynamic between diplomatic manoeuvres and sincere pleas for fairness. Outside forces may try to influence public perception of a country's leadership by taking advantage of a period of change or perceived political instability. Here, the letter from world leaders should be seen as a timely reminder of how to maintain a constant state of diplomatic vigilance on the part of the Sheikh Hasina government.

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

Source: Daily Asian Age.