Amid Controversy Dr. Yunus Participates in World Human Fraternity Meeting. By Dr. Arun Kumar Goswami

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The news of Dr.Yunus being invited to the World Fraternity Meeting amid the controversy against his image has surprised the informed people. This news has raised many questions and frustrations. The second ‘World Meeting on Human Fraternity,’ which will take place on May 10-11, involves experts from around the world who will engage in fraternal dialogue on the most pressing issues of our contemporary world. The event, organized by the ‘Fratelli Tutti Foundation’ under the theme “Be Human,” aims to explore ways to promote human brotherhood in a world increasingly dominated by conflict and fear. The conference builds upon the success of last year’s World Meeting on Human Fraternity, which brought together diverse personalities from around the globe to discuss the importance of fraternity. This year’s event will feature roundtable discussions, presentations, and meetings involving Nobel laureates, scientists, artists, professors, and other prominent individuals.

The World Meeting on Human Fraternity serves as a platform for dialogue and collaboration, aiming to inspire individuals and communities to embrace the values of understanding, compassion, and solidarity. With the participation of influential figures like Pope Francis and around 30 Nobel laureates, the event promises to generate meaningful discussions and inspire concrete actions toward building a more just and peaceful world. Bangladeshi Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Dr. Muhammad Yunus was also invited to participate in this program. Despite massive controversy at home, Yunus’s participation in this meeting raised questions about the goal of this summit. 

Controversies against Dr. Yunus 

Dr. Muhammad Yunus was once widely praised domestically and internationally for his pioneering work to “end poverty” through microfinance. His achievement of winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 was a moment of pride for the nation. However, his journey was not without its share of controversies. His image suffered a dramatic drop when his fraudulent activities in tax evasion, money laundering, labor law violations, exploiting marginalized people, influencing the World Bank to revoke funding for the Padma Bridge, and abusing power to shield financial misdeeds were exposed. None of the other guests has such controversies as much as Yunus does!

Questions concerning Professor Yunus and his actions have been raised for a long time. Still, he has not faced any opposition due to his prominence and worldwide influence or the previous government’s reluctance. But the rude reality is that he violated Bangladesh's labor law. His workers were the first to report his illicit activity, while the government and other organizations were oblivious. Labor law violations include failing to make laborers and employees permanent after completing their apprenticeships (in violation of Section 4(7) of the Bangladesh Labor Act), failing to pay 5% of profits to labor welfare under the Labor Welfare Foundation Act of 2006, and failing to establish labor welfare and workers’ participation funds. As a result, on January 1, the Dhaka Labor Court convicted Yunus and three other high-profile Grameen Telecom management officials of violating labor laws and sentenced them to six months’ simple jail. The violations include failing to permanently fill the jobs of 101 workers and employees, not forming a workers’ participation fund and welfare fund, and failing to provide 5% of the company’s dividend to workers.

Instead of immediately addressing the grave allegations against him, Dr. Yunus filed several cases and writ petitions with various courts to hush these matters. He tried to shift public attention away from his ethical and legal issues by undermining domestic authorities and seeking foreign support to portray himself as a political victim. Professor Yunus evoked sympathy and used this tactic to sway social media opinion in Bangladesh and beyond. However, a deeper investigation reveals that most netizens are unaware of his serial episodes of financial irregularities, blatant disregard for rules, shady business practices, and misuse of funds.

Ambassador of Peace or International Influence? 

People across the world should understand that by advertising poverty alleviation, Yunus developed a network of the world’s most influential people to shield his financial wrongdoing. The sad reality is that millions of impoverished Bangladeshis are suffering as a result of being ensnared in the debt trap of many Yunus-controlled microfinance companies. Despite Grameen Bank’s 41-year history of microcredit implementation, there is no conclusive evidence of its effectiveness in lifting impoverished people out of poverty; instead, there have been numerous reports of victims of this terrible debt cycle attempting suicide due to their inability to repay their loans.

While his concept of poverty reduction is primarily accepted, his attempts to get legal immunity from unethical financial activities by leveraging his Nobel prestige and international influence are grounds for worry. Previously, 40 global figures expressed their “deep concerns for the well-being” of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Muhammad Yunus in an open letter to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, which appeared as a full-page ad in the Washington Post on Tuesday, March 7, 2023. In August 2023, 160 global figures, including former US president Barack Obama and ex-UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, published a joint letter denouncing the “continuous judicial harassment” of Yunus. 

However, the very individuals who claim to carry the torch for world peace and human fraternity need to be more effective when applying the principles to their close allies. Despite their adeptness in drawing attention to global issues, they seem reluctant or incapable of ensuring adherence to the standards they advocate, especially when dealing with entities connected to them personally. This apparent double standard raises concerns about the sincerity and consistency of their commitment to the principles they espouse, leaving room for skepticism regarding the true extent of their dedication to upholding human and labor rights.

Lastly, the global advocacy for Dr. Yunus’s acquittal underscores a gap between advocacy and action, prompting a critical examination of the motives behind such selective implementation of international frameworks within the context of personal affiliations and connections. Regarding the worldwide peace process, Dr. Yunus has little impact on peace-building. As a close ally of the USA, he never raised a solid voice to end the Gaza war. Despite this, the Fratelli Tutti Foundation granted him the status of a supporter of peace only based on the Nobel award and his international influence. So, the organizers should reconsider it before choosing their ambassador of peace whether he/she is preaching the peace or not. As long as Dr. Yunus is guilty and currently on bail, he shouldn’t be lecturing at any meeting whose main theme is #Be Human. 

*Professor Dr.Arun Kumar Goswami, Columnist and Director, Centre for South Asian Studies (CSAS), Dhaka.

 

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