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Dr. Kamal Hossain


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Kamal Hossain (born 20 April 1937) is a Bangladeshi lawyer and politician. He is head of Kamal Hossain & Associates, a South Asian law firm. Hossain is the founder and president of the Gano Forum political party and convener of the National Unity Process, a political initiative supported by most Bangladeshi opposition parties. A former academic, he has practiced international law. In 1981, The New York Times compared Hossain to Adlai Stevenson.

Educated at the University of Notre Dame and the University of Oxford, he was called to the bar of England and Wales in Lincoln’s Inn in 1959. Hossain enrolled as an advocate in the High Court of East Pakistan. He worked on cases with prominent Pakistani lawyers, including Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy and Mahmud Ali Kasuri, early in his legal career. Hossain often worked on habeas corpus cases during the Ayub Khan regime. Between 1961 and 1968, he taught law at Dhaka University. Hossain was the legal counsel of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the Awami League during the Agartala Conspiracy Case, and was elected vice-chairman of the Pakistan Bar Council in 1970. In 1971, he was part of the League’s negotiation team for the transfer of power after the 1970 general election. Hossain was imprisoned in West Pakistan with Sheikh Mujibur Rahman during the Bangladesh Liberation War.

He served in Bangladesh’s first post-independence government from 1972 to 1975, initially as law minister and chairman of the drafting committee in the Constituent Assembly. Hossain led the process which produced the 1972 Constitution of Bangladesh. He then served as foreign minister, and led Bangladesh to join the United Nations in 1974. As energy minister, Hossain later enacted the Bangladesh Petroleum Act. He was a research fellow and visiting fellow at Oxford University during the late 1970s. In 1981, he ran as an opposition candidate for president against Abdus Sattar. Hossain fell out with Awami League president Sheikh Hasina during the 1990s, and formed the Gono Forum (People’s Forum) party.

Hossain has been one of South Asia’s leading international lawyers, and was an arbitrator in the Iran-United States Claims Tribunal. He served as the UN Special Rapporteur for Afghanistan from 1999 to 2003. Hossain has been a member of arbitration tribunals dealing with maritime disputes between Malaysia and Singapore and Guyana and Suriname, and was a two-term member of the UN Compensation Commission. He is a former vice-president of the International Law Association, chairman of the Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust and the South Asian Institute of Advanced Legal and Human Rights Studies (SAILS).

Hossain’s family is from Shaestabad in Barisal; his grandfather, Syed Sadat Hossain, was the zamindar of Shaestabad. The area of Shaestabad was home to several Bengali zamindar families, including that of the poet Sufia Kamal. Hossain’s father, Ahmed, was an early Bengali Muslim physician and MBBS holder in Calcutta, Bengal Presidency, British India. The elder Hossain was a relative of Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, the third Prime Minister of Bengal and fifth Prime Minister of Pakistan.

Kamal Hossain was born on 20 April 1937 in Calcutta. His family moved to Dhaka, East Bengal in 1949 after the partition of British India. Hossain attended St. Gregory’s High School, where his classmates included the future academic Anisuzzaman. He received a two-year scholarship to the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, United States at age 16, and studied economics before pursuing a master’s degree from the University of Michigan. Hossain’s American classmates included Richard V. Allen, future national security advisor to President Ronald Reagan. In the U.S., he joined the Pakistan Students Association with fellow Bengalis Nurul Islam and Golam Wahed Choudhury. Hossain was a member of the association’s leadership committee, which was led by Munir Ahmed Khan.

He has cited Justice Fazal Akbar as an inspiration to study law. Hossain moved to England from the U.S. in 1958, traveling to London by ship. In England, he met future professor Rehman Sobhan. In 1959, Hossain received a Bachelor of Civil Law degree from the University of Oxford and enrolled as a barrister in Lincoln’s Inn. He also enrolled as an advocate in the High Court of East Pakistan. Hossain received a Doctor of Philosophy degree in international law from Oxford in 1964, with his dissertation “State Sovereignty and the United Nations Charter”.

Hossain began his practice at Original (one of the oldest law firms on the Indian subcontinent, which had established a division in East Bengal during the 1950s), and was invited to join the firm by lawyer Abul Ahmad. At Original, Hossain worked with two Englishmen and Justice Mohammad Hossain. Hossain was at Original from 1959 to 1962, when he came into frequent contact with barrister and former prime minister Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy. Pakistan had come under military rule after a 1958 coup, and Hossain has recounted that he and Suhrawardy often zigzagged their car through Dhaka’s streets to confuse (and evade) Pakistani-intelligence vehicles. Through Suhrawardy, Hossain came into contact with Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. He has said that Rahman predicted the collapse of Ayub Khan’s regime in 10 years (which it did, in 1969).

Hossain defended Maulana Bhashani in a habeas corpus case. He was a lawyer for the English Rally brothers, who owned businesses in the Port of Narayanganj, and worked on a case for Chandranath Films. In 1963, Hossain began independent practice as a barrister. He represented The Daily Ittefaq, one of East Pakistan’s largest Bengali-language newspapers, when it was banned by the Pakistani government. East Pakistan Chief Justice Badruddin Ahmed Siddiky told Hossain’s lead counsel Mahmud Ali Kasuri to give the floor to Hossain during the Ittefaq case, and Kasuri obliged. The verdict favored Hossain and Kasuri.

He joined Dhaka University’s Department of International Relations as a part-time lecturer in 1961, and later taught international law. Hossain’s academic work at the university continued until 1969, and he was a staunch supporter of the six point movement.

During the Agartala Conspiracy Case, Hossain prepared the writ petition and worked on the case with Queen’s Counsel Thomas William. In 1967, 1968 and 1969, he was elected vice-chairman of the East Pakistan Bar Council (now the Bangladesh Bar Council). Hossain was elected the last vice-chairman of the All-Pakistan Bar Council in 1969. In 1969 and 1970, he was involved in the round-table conferences between the government of Pakistan and major opposition parties led by the Awami League and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

On the eve of the Bangladeshi war of independence, Hossain accompanied Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in negotiations with Pakistani President General Yahya Khan and Pakistan Peoples Party Chairman Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The League wanted a new Pakistani constitution based on the Six Points, including a parliamentary democracy. The League demanded that the results of the 1970 election be honored and the National Assembly be convened. The Pakistani military junta refused to accept the demands, which triggered civil disobedience in March 1971. On 25 March 1971, Kamal Hossain went into hiding as Operation Searchlight began and a crackdown ensued on the civilians of East Pakistan. He was arrested by the Pakistan Army on 4 April 1971 from Old Dhaka. Hossain and Sheikh Mujib were the two most high profile Bengali detainees during the war. Both men were flown to prisons in West Pakistan. Hossain was kept in Central Prison Haripur until 28 December 1971.

Following the surrender of Pakistan, there was intense global pressure to release Sheikh Mujib. When Zulfikar Ali Bhutto went to meet Sheikh Mujib, the Bengali leader requested Bhutto to arrange for Hossain’s release as well. After his release from prison, Hossain was kept secretly at a bungalow near Islamabad along with Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. According to Kamal Hossain, Bhutto and Aziz Ahmed pushed for a final attempt at securing a con-federal link between Bangladesh and Pakistan and proposed the Shah of Iran as an intermediary. Sheikh Mujib and Hossain refused to accept Bhutto’s proposal until their release from Pakistani custody. In early January 1972, the Pakistani government succumbed to international pressure and allowed Sheikh Mujib and Hossain to leave for London. In London, Sheikh Mujib was received as the president of Bangladesh. British Prime Minister Edward Heath arranged for a plane to take Sheikh Mujib and members of the Provisional Government of Bangladesh to Dhaka. Hossain and the delegation led by Sheikh Mujib arrived in Bangladesh on 10 January 1972 after a brief stopover in New Delhi to thank Indian premier Indira Gandhi.

Law Minister (1972-1973)
One of the first tasks in the government of newly formed Bangladesh was to prepare the Constitution of Bangladesh, which was completed in 1972. Kamal Hossain was the Chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee in the Constituent Assembly of Bangladesh. The constitution laid the structure of a parliamentary republic modeled on the Westminster system with common law influences, including judicial precedent.

The ruling Awami League also inducted principles of Bengali nationalism, secularism and socialism in the document.

Foreign Minister (1973-1975)
After the Bangladeshi general election, 1973, Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman vacated his constituency seat from Mirpur, Dhaka for Kamal Hossain. As a result of Rahman’s gesture, Hossain was elected to the Parliament of Bangladesh. His campaign budget was 20,000 Taka, which was derived from the Awami League fund. After the election, he returned 7000 Taka to the fund. Hossain was asked by Sheikh Mujib to become the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh.

As Foreign Minister, Kamal Hossain secured Bangladesh’s admission to the United Nations in 1974. The U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger praised Hossain during
meetings with Sheikh Mujib in New York and Dhaka. At a press conference in New York, Kissinger called Hossain “another student of mine”. Hossain accompanied Sheikh Mujib to a bilateral meeting with U.S. President Gerald Ford at the White House. Hossain offered to resign on several occasions because of pressure from the Awami League’s lobbying activities. He has stated that he still does not understand how Sheikh Mujibur Rahman could decide to embark on BAKSAL.

The 1973 oil crisis began to push developing countries like Bangladesh to explore the prospect for oil and gas production. There was speculation of large reserves in the Bay of Bengal. Hossain began to study the legal reforms needed for Bangladesh to launch a hydrocarbon industry. 40 foreign companies applied to explore the bay.

Petroleum Minister (1974-1975)
In 1974, Sheikh Mujib requested Hossain to take charge of the petroleum ministry. Under Hossain’s tenure as petroleum minister, Petrobangla was established. Hossain drafted the Bangladesh Petroleum Act after studying the laws of Malaysia and Indonesia. The new law replaced colonial laws and introduced the Production Sharing Contract for multinational energy firms in the country.

1975 military coup
Hossain was on a bilateral visit to Yugoslavia when the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman took place on 15 August 1975. He rejected calls by the martial law government to return, fearing for his life. He moved to Oxford University for a period of teaching and research.

1981 presidential election
Hossain was the Awami League candidate for Bangladesh’s presidency during the Bangladeshi presidential election, 1981.He was defeated by Acting President Abdus Sattar. Hossain alleged the result was rigged. The following year, the 1982 Bangladesh coup d’état overthrew President Sattar.

Split from League and Gano Forum creation
In 1992, differences between Hossain and Awami League president Sheikh Hasina caused him to leave the party. He set up a small political party called Gano Forum.

Caretaker concept
In 1996, Hossain supported the inclusion of a constitutional provision for the caretaker government of Bangladesh.

2001-2006 opposition
Hossain and the Gano Forum joined an alliance led by the Awami League in opposing the government of Prime Minister Khaleda Zia between 2001 and 2006. Hossain often shared the political stage with Leader of the Opposition Sheikh Hasina at the time. Hossain separately promoted political reform. He mooted the idea of a Constitution Commission to reform the Bangladeshi constitution.

Hossain was instrumental in preventing the use of a fraudulent voter list by Khaleda Zia’s government.

Opposition since 2009
Hossain did not join the victorious Awami League coalition in 2009. He has since criticized human rights abuses under the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. In 2011, he defended Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus in court following Hasina’s decision to sack Yunus from the board of Grameen Bank. Hossain defended the jailed photographer Shahidul Alam in court. Hossain has also supported deposed chief justice Surendra Kumar Sinha. In September 2018, he announced an initiative to create national unity in the country, which received support from opposition parties. Hossain has stated he wants Bangladesh to be a “functional democracy”. Hossain has stated that he is willing to sit with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for talks.

On 22 September 2018, a large political rally was convened by Kamal Hossain at the Mahanagar Natya Mancha (Metropolitan Theater Hall) in Dhaka. It was attended by leaders of the centre-right opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), including Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir and party stalwarts Moudud Ahmed, Abdul Moyeen Khan and Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain. Other opposition leaders included Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal leader A. S. M. Abdur Rab, Bikalpa Dhara Bangladesh leader Badruddoza Chowdhury, Bangladesh Jatiya Party leader Andaleeve Rahman and former Awami League leaders Mainul Hosein and Mahmudur Rahman Manna.

The rally called for a neutral election-time government; the dissolution of parliament and changes to personnel in the Election Commission. The opposition leaders vowed to wage a joint movement ahead of the 2018 general election. Hossain and other opposition leaders allied themselves with BNP on the condition that BNP will no longer be in alliance with the Jamaat-e-Islami. The Jamaat was deregistered by the Election Commission of Bangladesh and hence cannot contest elections.

The Awami League General Secretary Obaidul Quader called the opposition alliance weak and stated that it was not being viewed as a credible threat by the government.

On 13 October 2018, Kamal Hossain announced a new alliance called Jatiya Oikya Front, a coalition of several centre-right, centrist and left-wing parties. However, the new alliance excluded Bikalpa Dhara Bangladesh led by former president Badruddoza Chowdhury. BNP leader Moudud Ahmed stated that “The launch of the National Unity Front will go down in history as a turning point”. An article in The Diplomat magazine stated that if the new alliance succeeded it would reshape Bangladeshi politics for a generation.

Among the stated goals of the new alliance include amending Article 70 of the Constitution of Bangladesh; repatriation of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh; reforms in the government and judiciary; banking sector reforms; combating terrorism; reforming the quota system in the civil service; and combating corruption.

Role in the international arena
Hossain is renowned worldwide as a jurist and enjoys a long-standing association with the United Nations. Between 1998 and 2003, he served as the UN Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan. He is a current member of the UN Compensation Commission. In addition, he has appeared in several international arbitrations, both as a lawyer and an arbitrator, including acting as an arbitrator in the Iran-United States Claims Tribunal.

He has also been vice chairman of the International Law Association London, chairman of both the BLAST, the South Asian Institute of Advanced Legal and Human Rights Studies (SAILS), and advisory council member for Transparency International. He has also acted as an observer in various elections around the world.

Hossain is a leading jurist in Bangladesh and has conducted a number of landmark cases, published in various law journals in Bangladesh.

Personal life
Hossain married Hameeda Hossain in 1963. He has two daughters, including the leading Bangladeshi civil rights lawyer Sara Hossain and the film maker Dina Hossain. His son-in-law (through Sara Hossain) is British journalist David Bergman. – Wikipedia

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