The government is set to incorporate in the war crimes act specific provisions for punishment for organisations, which will pave the way for the trial of the Jamaat-e-Islami for its alleged war crimes in 1971.
The law ministry has completed a draft for bringing about amendments to the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act-1973 and will send it to the cabinet for its approval anytime soon.
The lack of clear-cut provisions for punishing any organisation in the ICT Act is considered a major obstacle to trying the Jamaat for its role during the country's Liberation War.
Under the draft law, the war crimes tribunal will have powers to ban any organisation and prohibit its activities in any name or any form or in disguise, if convicted of war crimes, said sources having knowledge of the draft.
Leaders and activists of the guilty organisation, who had direct involvement in the commission of offences and have so far escaped trial, will also face conviction.
“A draft on the amendment of the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act has already been readied…. I can decide in a week as to when the draft will be placed before the cabinet,” Law Minister Anisul Huq told The Daily Star on Friday.
He, however, declined to disclose the nature of punishment proposed in the draft.
Once approved by the cabinet, the draft will be placed in parliament for passage.
But that will take around two months, as parliament is in recess now. The House session concluded on July 3 and is constitutionally bound to sit within two months.
On July 15 last year, the International Crimes Tribunal-1 termed the Jamaat-e-Islami “a criminal organisation” for its role during the war. The court made the observation while delivering its verdict in the war crimes case against former Jamaat chief Ghulam Azam, who has been sentenced to 90 years in prison.
In the wake of pressure from justice seekers for trying the Jamaat, the government in February last year amended the ICT Act, paving the way for trying organisations for war crimes. The law, however, lacks specific provisions for punishing the guilty organisation.
Nevertheless, some legal experts believe that a convicted organisation can be punished under the existing law. They say the General Clauses Act, under which an entity is treated as a person, can be applied in this case and the Jamaat can be duly punished.
Meanwhile, the investigation agency of the international crimes tribunal has completed investigating the Jamaat and recommended banning it. The agency said it had found that this anti-liberation party was involved in grave war crimes.
After receiving the probe report and other documents in March, a seven-member prosecution team started preparing formal charges for initiating the trial against the Jamaat, and work is at the final stage now.
If the Jamaat is finally tried, Bangladesh will be the second country to bring an organisation to book for war crimes. In the first instance, trials of seven Nazi organisations were held at the historic Nuremberg trials after the Second World War.
In May, the law minister told reporters that a political party could not be tried under the existing ICT law as it had no specific provision for punishment.
His remarks sparked a huge outcry among justice seekers and war trial campaigners. Many also questioned the government's sincerity in trying the Islamist party. All this prompted the government to amend the act quickly, sources said.
Section 20(2) of the existing law says: “Upon conviction of an accused person, the tribunal shall award sentence of death or such other punishment proportionate to the gravity of the crime as appears to the tribunal to be just and proper.”
According to the draft, this provision will remain unchanged.
In the case of any organisation, the draft says upon conviction of an organisation, the tribunal shall award sentence, declaring it banned and prohibiting its future activities.
The president or secretary or persons holding such posts or any activist or representative of the convicted organisation, who had direct involvement in the commission of the offence shall be deemed to have committed the offence.
Besides the Jamaat, investigators have recommended banning six organisations that were associated with the Islamist party in 1971 and confiscating the assets of these organisations.
The six organisations were Islami Chhatra Sangha (ICS), Jamaat's then student wing, Shanti Committee, Razakar Bahini, Al-Badr Bahini, Al-Shams Bahini and Jamaat's mouthpiece daily Sangram.
The proposed law, however, has no provision for confiscating the assets of any guilty organisation, the sources said.
These organisations actively helped the Pakistani occupation forces in carrying out widespread atrocities across the country for nine months, killing around 30 lakh people and raping more than 2 lakh women, investigators said. Established by the highly controversial Abul Ala Moududi in 1941, the Jamaat had been banned twice, in 1959 and 1964, for creating communal violence.
In independent Bangladesh, the party was banned immediately after liberation, but was later allowed to do politics by late president Ziaur Rahman.
Last year, the High Court declared the Jamaat's registration with the Election Commission illegal on the ground that the party's constitution does not conform to the charter of the country. The case is now pending with the Supreme Court.