Against the backdrop of recurring attacks on witnesses and others involved in the war crimes trials, the investigation agency has proposed amending the relevant law to provide them with lifelong security.
On December 30 last year, the investigation agency that has been tasked with witnesses' security asked the home ministry to incorporate two provisions into the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act, 1973.
It proposed that witnesses, victims, judges and officials of the tribunals, members of the prosecution and investigation agency and their families be entitled to physical protection for rest of their lives.
To ensure the wellbeing of the witnesses, it proposed that the witnesses, victims and their families be entitled to and eligible for the benefits as provided by the state for freedom fighters.
Shawkat Mostafa, additional secretary of the home ministry, told The Daily Star on Thursday that his ministry had recently forwarded the investigation agency's proposals to the law ministry.
"The law ministry will take necessary measures upon analysing [the proposals] and holding meeting(s) with the stakeholders," he added.
Sanaul Huq, a senior member of the agency, on Thursday told The Daily Star that they had held a meeting with home ministry officials about a week ago where the officials agreed to bring changes to the war crimes act.
Law Minister Anisul Huq told The Daily Star yesterday that he was yet to get the proposals. “This [the issue of security of witnesses and others involved in the trial] is very important. After receiving [the proposals] I will talk to those who submitted the proposals and also the officials at the home ministry,” he said.
Since the beginning of the long-awaited trial around four years ago, different quarters have been demanding that the government enact a law to protect the witnesses and the people involved in the trial, but to no avail.
The demand grew stronger after a prosecution witness had been killed and attacks made on several other witnesses and houses of judges and prosecutors in the last few months.
Mostafa Hawlader, a witness in the case against Jamaat-e-Islami leader Delawar Hossain Sayedee, was hacked in his Pirojpur home on December 8 last year. He succumbed to his injuries at Dhaka Medical College Hospital two days later.
Houses of two other prosecution witnesses -- Mahabubul Alam of Pirojpur and Ranjit Kumar Nath of Faridpur -- also came under attack on October 28 and December 15 respectively.
Besides, village homes of justices SK Sinha, ATM Fazle Kabir and Jahangir Hossain and Chief Prosecutor Ghulam Arief Tipoo and Tureen Afroz came under attack during opposition enforced blockades in December last year. Jamaat and its student wing Shibir were allegedly behind the attacks.
On January 9, several prosecution witnesses in Sayedee's case urged the government to enact the witness protection law to ensure their long-term security. They also demanded financial assistance for the witnesses as making a living has become quite difficult for many of them due to fear of attacks.
Senior member of the war crimes investigation agency Sanaul Huq said the existing rules of procedure allowed the tribunal to direct the authorities concerned to ensure protection, privacy and wellbeing of a witness only during the trial stage.
"But the rules are silent about the protection of witnesses before and after they give their testimonies. That is why we have proposed the amendments," he said.
The International Crimes (Tribunals) Act was enacted in 1973 for trying the alleged war criminals of Bangladesh's Liberation War in 1971. Since 2009, the government has brought several changes to the act.