The government has failed to appoint the chairman to a war crimes tribunal for over one and a half months since the post fell vacant, drawing huge criticism from all quarters involved with the long-drawn out trial.
The International Crimes Tribunal-1 has seen no progress in the trial of five cases, including the one against Jamaat-e-Islami chief Motiur Rahman Nizami, since the retirement of Justice ATM Fazle Kabir on December 31 last year.
The prosecution described this as an unfortunate event while the defence said the delay was a deliberate decision by the government for "political reasons".
Shahriar Kabir, a prominent campaigner of the war crimes trial, cited “reluctance” of the Awami League-led government, which always touted the issue as its priority one agenda, as the reason behind the delay.
The trial losing momentum at the ICT-1 also slowed down the investigations linked to some other cases, a top investigator said.
The government, however, on several occasions said it would appoint a judge in that position soon and gave a timeframe recently, which is over.
On November 13 last year, the tribunal kept Nizami's case waiting for the verdict but even after three months, it is not clear whether the court will hear the closing arguments again.
As per the war crimes law, a tribunal can resume a case's trial from where it stopped even after any change in the judges' panel.
But there is a precedent of different practice.
The tribunal-1 had heard the closing arguments of both the prosecution and the defence in the war crimes case against another Jamaat leader Delawar Hossain Sayedee for the second time after Justice Md Nizamul Huq stepped down over a controversy and ATM Fazle Kabir took over the charge as chairman. And it was all done, the court said, for the sake of justice.
The government took only two days' time to reconstitute the tribunal at that time.
The cases against Jamaat leaders ATM Azharul Islam, Abdus Sobhan, BNP leader Zahid Hossain Khokon and Mobarak Hossain are also pending with the tribunal. Besides, several petitions regarding contempt of court are also pending.
The day Justice Kabir retired, former state minister for law Quamrul Islam said the tribunal would be reconstituted soon.
On January 17, newly-appointed Law Minister Anisul Huq said the government was looking for a judge, who would be able to keep the trial up to the international standards.
Two weeks later, he said the ICT-1 would get the new chairman within a week. On Wednesday, he hoped that the tribunal would get the new chairman within a day or two.
He cited the "official procedure" as the reason behind the delay in appointing the chairman.
“We are aggrieved. Why is it taking so much time? It is not clear to us,” said Shahriar Kabir, executive president of Ekattorer Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee that has been campaigning for the war crimes trial for the last two decades.
“The government is showing a little bit reluctance over the war crimes trial after the January 5 election,” Shahriar, a witness in a war crimes case, said on Wednesday.
Like the whole nation, the prosecution is also frustrated over the matter, Rana Dasgupta, a senior member of the prosecution team, said recently. The delay in the trial procedure goes against people's expectation, he added.
Prosecutor Tureen Afroz said the government should have had a plan to appoint a judge since the retirement of Justice Kabir was scheduled.
Shyamoly Nasrin Chaudhury, widow of martyred intellectual Alim Chaudhury and a prosecution witness, hoped that the government would appoint a judge soon to end the stalemate.
Tajul Islam, a senior member of the defence, recently said the government had expedited or delayed the trial process when deemed necessary. “We think the government has not appointed the chairman due to political reasons."
Abdul Hannan Khan, the coordinator of the investigation agency that is now probing 10 cases, said the delay in recruiting a judge not only held back the trial proceedings, but also had a negative impact on the activities of the agency.