Column
Trial of war criminals

23 Apr 2018

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Pakistan daily Dawn questioned the wisdom of Bangladesh government in holding trial of war crimes after a long gap of more than four decades.

It would be wrong to think that Bangladesh government woke up all of a sudden after four decades of slumber to hold trial for the crimes committed during the liberation war in 1971. Rather it would be appropriate to say that after a long wait the country has got an opportunity to vindicate its grievances for wrongs done to its millions of freedom fighters and freedom loving people. The nation is now hoping that justice will be finally done to the victims of atrocities.

 

Successive Government freed more than 10,000 war crime suspects, and the trials were completely frozen and sent in cold storage after the political turmoil of 1975 and virtually buried thereafter.
The process of war crimes trial had started in Bangladesh within one year of independence with the formulation of the Collaborators Act and the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) Act. The core aim of these two Acts was to provide for detention, prosecution and punishment of persons responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and other crimes under international law.

 

After independence, the Sheikh Mujibur Rahman-led Government had taken several initiatives to bring the perpetrators of the 1971 war crimes to justice, particularly Jamaat and other religious groups who had directly and indirectly assisted the occupying Pakistan military forces to commit heinous crimes like mass murder, rape, torture, looting, arson and destruction to terrorize the people and thwart the liberation struggle.

 

Under the Collaborators and ICT Acts, several tribunals were constituted in 1972 for trial of war criminals and a few convictions were secured. But following the murder of iconic leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975, the Collaborators Act of 1972 was repealed and the Constitution was amended to allow religion-based communal politics to flourish, and the Jamaat to re-establish itself in the country.

 

Successive Government freed more than 10,000 war crime suspects, and the trials were completely frozen and sent in cold storage after the political turmoil of 1975 and virtually buried thereafter.

 

The war crimes trial process was blocked and. A succession of military administrations and BNP-led government swept aside all attempts to secure justice, fearing that many among their own ranks could be brought into the scope of the trials.

 

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s election pledge prior to 2008 election about trial of war crimes gave hope to the entire nation despite growing disillusionment from past experience of successive governments ignoring this genuine demand. Her promise to try the war criminals helped her bag a landslide mandate. After the victory she said people have already tried the war criminals through ballot and her government would only take the necessary legal steps.

 

Thereafter Sheikh Hasina took a number of laudable steps as a result of which it has been possible to achieve a consensus on the issue of bringing to justice all the crimes against humanity committed in 1971, to bring about changes in the ICT Act of 1972 to facilitate unhindered trial of war crimes and at the same time strengthen the prosecution.

 

Six war criminals have so far been executed in Bangladesh following a detailed judicial process. They are Jamaat leaders Matiur Rahman Nizami, Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed, Abdul Quader Molla, Muhammad Quamruzzaman, Mir Quasem Ali and BNP leader Salauddin Quader Chowdhury. One of the top ranking Jamaat leader and business tycoon Mir Quasem Ali was the sixth Islamist to be executed for the war crimes committed during the country’s liberation war in 1971. Ali who owned several business houses and media outlets including the suspended TV channel  Diganta TV was a central executive committee member of Jamaat and he pumped billions in to the Jamaat to put it on a firm financial footing.

 

Jamaat leader Delwar Hossen Sayeedi whose death sentence has been commuted to imprisonment unto death by Supreme Court is now serving jail term. The government has filed petition with the Supreme Court seeking review of its verdict and awarding death sentence to Sayeedi.

 

Two war crimes tribunals have so far delivered 28 judgments. A total of 53 war crimes accused have been convicted and 31 of them sentenced to death. As many as 23 appeals, 22 filed by convicts and one by government, are pending with the Appellate Division of Supreme Court.

 

The pending appeals are filed by Jamaat leaders Abdus Sobhan and ATM Azharul Islam, Jatiya Party leader Syed Mohammad Qaiser, Jamaat turned Awami League leader Mobarak Hossein, Mahidur Rahman, Forkan Mallick, Serajul Haque alias Siraj Master, Khan Akram Hossen, Obaidul Haq Taher, Ataur Rahman Nani, Shamsuddin Ahmed, SM Yusuf Ali, Shamsul Haq, Muhibur Rahman Boro Mia, Mujibur Rahman Angur Mia, Abdur Razzaque, Shakhawat Hossen, Billal Hossen, Moslem Pradhan, Abdul Latif, Ujer Ahmed and Yunus Ahmed.

Jamaat leader Delwar Hossen Sayeedi whose death sentence has been commuted to imprisonment unto death by Supreme Court is now serving jail term. The government has filed petition with the Supreme Court seeking review of its verdict and awarding death sentence to Sayeedi.

 

The war crimes trial being held in Bangladesh conforms to high international standard. In fact, legal experts are of the view that the trials being held in Bangladesh are much better than those in other countries. For example, former Nazi leaders in Germany were put on trial as war criminals by the International Military Tribunal. This trial is known as Nuremberg trial. Those awarded punishment in the Nuremberg trial were not allowed to file appeal against their punishment.

 

Helen Jarvis, who is in charge of international liaison for genocide trial in Cambodia, has shared some experiences of holding genocide trial. Jarvis said that only top ranking persons are being tried in Cambodia on genocide charges and if all those associated with genocide are to be tried the country might face another civil war similar to the one that had ravaged the country earlier. On the issue of trial of war criminals in Bangladesh, Jarvis said that those who were leading the Jamaat-formed militias Al Badr, Al Shams and Razakar and under whose instructions heinous crimes like rape, looting, arson and murders took place should be brought under the purview of war crimes trial. This is exactly what is being done in Bangladesh where only the war crimes masterminds have been put on trial. Bringing all war criminals to justice will be an uphill task.

 

The war criminals convicted by Bangladesh’s International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) have the freedom to file appeal with the Supreme Court. They can also file petitions with the apex court, seeking review of their verdicts. An accused in the war crimes case in Bangladesh can avail of the opportunity of fair trial under ICT Amendment Act 2009.

 

Unlike Nuremberg trial, a war crimes accused in Bangladesh can appoint a lawyer of his own choice. He can cross-examine prosecution witness and file review petition with the Supreme Court against his conviction. He can avail the opportunity for a long, fair and transparent trial process.




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