Bangladesh factory disaster survivors demand justice five years on

At least 1,130 people died in the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse, with more than 2,000 others injured
AFP

Savar (Bangladesh) (AFP) – Hundreds of Bangladeshis staged protests and tearful tributes Tuesday on the fifth anniversary of one of the world’s worst industrial disasters, when the Rana Plaza textile factory complex collapsed and killed at least 1,130 people.

Survivors and relatives of the dead placed wreaths at a concrete hammer and sickle memorial at the site of the building in the Dhaka suburb of Savar, while labour groups marked the anniversary by making new demands for justice.

Several people held photos of those unaccounted for since the collapse. About 3,500 workers were inside the complex making clothes for top western brands when tragedy struck. 

More than 2,000 were injured in addition to the huge death toll. 

But a murder trial in the case has been repeatedly delayed and no one has so far been convicted.

Abdul Awwal, 58, visited the ruins in the Dhaka suburb of Savar to honour his 25-year-old daughter, Rozina Khatun. Her body has still not been found.

“She left an 11-month-old son. Her husband got married again, leaving the son to us. Even after DNA tests on the bodies, I still have no trace of my daughter’s body,” said a tearful Awwal, who comes from the northern rural district of Pabna.

“The boy does not have any memories of his mother. He doesn’t even have a grave to mourn at.”

Police said some 500 people held demonstrations and small marches on the highway in front of the ruins at the start of the day.

Others arrived as the day wore on, placing wreaths at the memorial and the unmarked graves of hundreds of workers whose mangled bodies were never identified.

Workers holding black flags placed wreaths and prayed silently at the graves.

– ‘Living dead’ survivors –

Union leaders and survivors have expressed anger at the slow pace of the trial of Sohel Rana, whose family owned the complex which collapsed after it was illegally extended.

“We demand justice, We want Rana to be hanged. We want other criminals to be hanged,” workers chanted as they marched in front of the crater where the complex once stood. It has since become a pond covered with hyacinths.

“The injured workers have become the living dead. We demand the quick trial of the culprits. Five years have gone and yet there is hardly any progress in the murder trial,” said union leader Jolly Talukder.

Attorney General Mahbubey Alam told AFP the case had “been strangled in the lower court for ages”.

Talukder, the union leader, also demanded the release of some $14.5 million which she said was donated to a government fund to help victims.

The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association said the victims and their families had been compensated.

“The complaints about not getting sufficient compensation are absolutely wrong,” association president Siddiqur Rahman told AFP.

Survivors are still haunted by the collapse which trapped more than 2,000 people, some for days. 

Sufia Begum, 36, was rescued after nine hours from inside sandwiched floors. She suffered broken vertebrae and ribs and now wears a steel corset. She no longer believes that justice will be served, but still travelled 330 kilometres (205 miles) from her village to pay respects to dead colleagues. 

Fatima Begum came to the site with her five-year-old granddaughter, who was born 21 days after her father died in the disaster.

“I want my grandchildren’s future to be taken care of. We are ordinary people, we have been asking for the last five years,” she told AFP.

Others survivors recalled bitterly how reluctant employees were forced to work on the day of the disaster despite cracks that appeared the day before in columns supporting the complex.

“It was cold-blooded murder,” said one.

The collapse triggered international outrage. European and US clothing brands — including Primark, Mango and Benetton — were pressured to improve pay and conditions at Bangladeshi factories.

The sector employs some four million workers but wages start at $65 a month, among the world’s lowest.

Groups which oversee safety upgrades say factories have improved since the tragedy. The 20 reported accidents in 2017 was the lowest number in recent years.

A group representing more than 100 European brands warned however that “major life-threatening safety concerns remain” among the country’s 4,500 textile plants.

Several foreigners representing international textile brands visited the memorial to pay respects.

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