Protect Muhammad Yunus

My previous Month of Microfinance blog posts have been cheerier fare, with an inspiring story here or note of caution there.  But this post is a call to action, a call to protect the father of this movement, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Muhammad Yunus. 

When the government of Bangladesh began its attacks on Prof. Yunus more than six years ago, my children were 12 and 9 years old. Because they had known about the extraordinary work of Prof. Yunus and Grameen Bank, I looked for a way to help them understand these attacks. I told them that Nelson Mandela had been attacked by the South African government; that Mahatma Gandhi had been attacked by the British/Indian Government; and that Martin Luther King had been attacked by the U.S. Government. I told them that governments are sometimes threatened by visionaries. That helped.

And on it goes.  The government of Bangladesh has intensified its campaign to defame Prof. Yunus, most recently by the prime minister, who again promoted baseless charges related to a cancelled World Bank loan for the Padma Bridge.

The prime minister’s statements have created a dangerously hostile environment for Professor Yunus.  Several organizations with official or quasi-official links to the ruling party have been calling for harsh and unjustified action against Professor Yunus or the Grameen Bank that he founded.  These actions represent a serious violation of human and civil rights, with the power of the state being turned against an individual who has devoted his life to supporting the needs of the poorest people, and who only has the truth with which to defend himself.  These developments should prompt strong response from leading human rights organizations in the days ahead.

The Bangladesh government’s claim that a Canadian court vindicated it after a corruption case related to the Padma Bridge was withdrawn due to a technicality was recently debunked by journalist David Bergman.  “Those who claim that the Canadian proceedings prove that the World Bank allegations were baseless or that the evidence was made-up,” Bergman wrote, “are distorting the contents and meaning of Justice Northeimer’s January ruling….Truth, however, is a stubborn thing. So even in this new post-fact world, saying inaccurate things about Canadian judicial orders may just come back to bite the [Bangladesh] government.”

None of this dilutes Professor Yunus’ contribution to his country and to the world.  In 2006 there were a flurry of events surrounding the presentation of the Nobel Peace Prize to Professor Yunus and Grameen Bank in Oslo, Norway including a lecture at a local university.  The hall was packed with many sitting on the floor or standing along the walls.  Johannes Sannesmoen, microfinance expert at the Strømme Foundation in Norway introduced Professor Yunus.  “In 1979 the Nobel Peace Prize went to Mother Teresa for her work to help the poor die with dignity,” Sannesmoen said.  “In 2006 the Nobel Peace Prize goes to Muhammad Yunus for his work to help the poor live with dignity.”  Now it’s our turn to help Prof. Yunus live with dignity.

Take Action: Actions are already underway, but concerned citizens throughout the world can make a difference in many ways:

  1. Write to your elected federal representatives (e.g., Representatives and Senators in the U.S.) and ask them to ask your Secretary of State or Foreign Minister to (a) contact the Bangladesh government and insist that they respect Prof. Yunus’ human rights and (b) ask your government’s ambassador in Dhaka, Bangladesh to report about the situation of human rights in Bangladesh and about Prof. Yunus’ situation in particular, especially given the prime minister’s attacks on him in parliament.
  2. Write to the Bangladesh ambassador in your country and ask him or her to ensure that Prof. Yunus’ human rights are respected and ensured.
  3. Share and promote the Protect Yunus blog and its key messages on social media. (Find our@ProtectYunusTwitter feed here our Facebook page here.)
  4. Write a letter to the editor to your local paper and explain what is happening in Bangladesh and the need for your government to stand up for Prof. Yunus’ human rights.
  5. Write your friends and ask them to take these steps themselves.

Join your local RESULTS group (if active in your city/country) or another community of activists in your area.

Report back to the Protect Yunus team and let them know what you’ve done and what you learned after taking these action steps.

Suggest additional ideas for people to get involved, which we can share. You can email us atprotectmdyunus@gmail.com.

By Sam Daley-Harris (founder of RESULTS, co-founder of the Microcredit Summit Campaign, and founder CEO of the Center for Citizen Empowerment and Transformation)

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