War Crimes Trial: Sinha’s seminal judgments | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, September 01, 2017 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:31 AM, September 01, 2017

News Analysis

War Crimes Trial: Sinha’s seminal judgments

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The wave of attacks on Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha questioning his mental fitness and legal expertise while also expressing doubts that he is not the author of his judgment on the 16th constitutional amendment may encourage supporters of war criminals to raise questions about the verdicts in war crimes cases that the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court led by Justice Sinha delivered, legal experts and political analysts fear.

The CJ has presided over the Appellate Division benches that disposed of appeals and review petitions filed by Motiur Rahman Nizami, Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujaheed, Mir Quasem Ali, Muhammad Kamaruzzaman and Salauddin Qader Chowdhury against their conviction for war crimes.

Their appeals and review petitions were dismissed and they were executed on different dates for committing war crimes during the 1971 Liberation War.

Justice Sinha has himself written the verdicts both on the appeals and review petitions of Salauddin Quader and Mir Quasem. As CJ, he has written the verdicts on Kamaruzzaman's appeal and Nizami's review petitions.  

He was also a member of the Appellate Division bench that disposed of the government appeal, seeking death penalty for Jamaat leader Abdul Quader Mollah as well as his review petition against the apex court verdict.

Justice Sinha wrote the verdicts on both the appeal and the review petition by Mollah.

Elevated as an Appellate Division judge on July 16, 2009, Sinha was also a member of the Appellate Division bench that delivered some other historic verdicts, including in Bangabandhu murder case and three constitutional amendments -- 5th, 7th and 13th. 

Before assuming the office of the chief justice on January 17, 2015, Justice Sinha, being the senior most judge of the Appellate Division, has led the four-member bench of the apex court in November 2014 to dispose of the appeal filed by Jamaat leader Kamaruzzaman against his death sentence handed down by a war crimes tribunal. The four-member bench delivered the verdict on November 3, 2014, rejecting the Jamaat leader's appeal. Justice Sinha wrote the verdict. 

Justice Shamsuddin Choudhury Manik, who has been an old and bitter critic of Justice Sinha since his disagreement centring on his retirement in October 2015, was a member of the same bench.

He agreed with the main verdict penned by Sinha.

Jamaat leader Kamaruzzaman, however, filed a petition with the top court seeking review of its judgment. Being the chief justice, Sinha this time led the four-member bench of the Supreme Court to dispose of the review petition. 

The SC delivered its order on April 6, 2015, rejecting the appeal. As a member of the bench, Justice Manik wrote the judgment on the review petition. He found no error in the judgment delivered by Justice Sinha in November 2014.

In 2014, Justice Sinha was a member of the five-member Appellate Division bench headed by CJ Muzammel Hossain to dispose of the appeal by Jamaat leader Delawar Hossain Sayedee against his conviction and death sentence by a war crimes tribunal in 2013.

The bench delivered the verdict on September 17, 2014, commuting the Jamaat leader's death sentence to life imprisonment. Justice Sinha, Justice Abdul Wahhab Miah and Justice Manik each wrote separate judgments. The then CJ Muzammel and Justice Hasan Foez Siddique concurred with Sinha's verdict.

Quader Mollah's case marked an unprecedented rise of youths in support of the war crimes trial.

In February 2013, a war crimes tribunal sentenced him to life, sparking huge protests which led to the creation of Gonojagoron Mancha at Shahbagh in the capital. The movement later spread across the country, demanding capital punishment for Quader Mollah and other war crimes convicts.

This very protest also led to the amendment to the war crimes law, allowing the government to appeal against the tribunal verdict.

Following this amendment, the government filed an appeal with the SC against the tribunal verdict in Quader Mollah's case. Justice Sinha was a member of the five-member bench headed by the then CJ Muzammel Hossain. The apex court delivered the verdict on September 17, 2013, and sentenced Mollah to death. 

Justice Sinha, Justice Wahhab Miah and Justice Manik wrote separate judgments on the appeal with their views and reasoning. CJ Muzammel and Syed Mahmud Hossain agreed with the judgment of Justice Sinha.

In the disposal of Quader Mollah's petition seeking review of the apex court's verdict, Justice Sinha was in the five-member bench led by the then CJ Muzammel. The bench delivered the verdict on December 12, 2013, rejecting the petition. Justice Sinha wrote that verdict.

All of this goes on to show the significance of the apex court and Justice Sinha in completing those trials.  

One of the biggest achievements of the Sheikh Hasina government has been to hold war crimes trial. Over the years, the anti-liberation forces had become very powerful both politically and financially, giving birth to a perception that they might escape punishment for crimes committed during our Liberation War.

But a bold step by Hasina meant that many of the top war criminals were brought to book through trial.

The political situation during the trial proceedings was not peaceful. Jamaat-Islami frequently called hartals against the verdicts. Even after the tribunal's verdict convicting Jamaat leader Sayedee in 2013, Jamaat-Shibir men unleashed unprecedented violence, leaving around 100 people dead.    

The role of the judiciary has also been glorious in upholding the universal principle of justice for crimes against humanity. In the process, several judges, including CJ Sinha, played a seminal role for which the nation is grateful.

But to question his professional integrity, honesty, metal fitness and commitment to upholding the rule of law is to question all the legal processes he has been a part of. This, we fear, may cast doubts on all the verdicts he has fully or partly authored, which cannot be the wish of the prime minister who so courageously held the war crimes trial.   

Now, sowing the seeds of doubt about Justice Sinha's integrity will only strengthen the anti-liberation forces who have always opposed the war crimes trial.

To accuse him of being a "Razakar" is perhaps the cruellest of ironies. 

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