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|Volume 11 |Issue 08| February 24, 2012 ||
An Unwarranted Resolution
February 16, 2012 was a unique day in the parliamentary history of Bangladesh, when Awami League-led ruling alliance MPs stood against the government and forced the House to pass a private member's resolution that says, “Parliament's opinion is that legal provisions be enacted to take actions against those obstructing war crimes trial, which began in accordance with a decision of the House.”
Before February 16, another private member's resolution was passed by the House in 1992, defeating the then BNP-led government. The resolution called upon the government to form a naval police force to curb piracy in the coastal area. The story of the passage of the resolution was different.
Parliamentary expert Nizamuddin Ahmed, Professor, Department of Public Administration at Chittagong University, recalls the '92 event. He says that an independent MP Nurul Islam Moni moved the resolution and refused to withdraw it even after the minister concerned offered his assurance. When the speaker was about to place it for voice vote, an opposition MP suggested the speaker to arrange for division vote.
The speaker had agreed with the proposal and placed the resolution for division vote. MPs belonging to both treasury and opposition benches were counted. And at that time, opposition MPs were found majority in the chamber, and the result was obvious. The opposition MPs won the division vote, defeating the government.
But on February 16, the situation was completely different. And the way the resolution was passed was full of drama. The ruling AL MP Benjir Ahmed, who piloted the resolution had actually withdrawn it on assurance of the state minister for law, Qamrul Islam. In response to the resolution, the state minister said that it was possible to take actions against those obstructing the war crimes trial under the existing law of the country and there was no need to enact a new law for this purpose.
Everything was going on smoothly. But all of a sudden the entire atmosphere in the House took a different turn. After Benjir withdrew the resolution, the deputy speaker placed the resolution for voice vote seeking the House's permission to withdraw it. Before MPs could cast their vote, a number of their colleagues started shouting loudly protesting the withdrawal. Within moments, others followed them, creating a chaotic situation in the House for more than 15 minutes.
Only disorder descended. Amid such a situation, AL MP Fazle Rabbi took the floor and said that the motion could not be withdrawn. “If the motion is withdrawn, the collaborators will get the benefit from it.”
Deputy Speaker Col (retd) Shawkat Ali, who was presiding over the sitting at the time, was seen unable to bring back order to the House. At one stage Speaker Abdul Hamid entered the chamber and finally the resolution was passed.
Four days into its journey, the current parliament on January 29, 2009, unanimously passed a historic resolution calling upon the government to ensure the trial of the war criminals. Everybody, excepting those against the trial of war criminals, welcomed the resolution of the new parliament.
In the run up to the ninth parliamentary polls, the AL had also promised to hold trial of those who committed crimes against humanity during the country's liberation war in 1971.
But the February 16 resolution has already triggered a fresh controversy over the trial. Was there any logic behind such a resolution? It was difficult to find any reason why the MPs remained so hell bent on the resolution since existing laws of the country are adequate enough to take actions against those obstructing judicial proceedings. MPs acted emotionally and emotion and justice do not always go hand in hand.
The role of the deputy leader of the House, Syeda Sajeda Chowdhury, also came under question. On that day, she seemed to have miserably failed to act as the leader in absence of Leader of the House Sheikh Hasina. She could not convince her own party MPs to act in accordance with the party's political stance.
The way the resolution was passed also exposed the poor whipping system in the House.
Finally, the role of the speaker leaves a lot to be desired. Why did the speaker allow the resolution to be placed in the House? The resolution should not have been allowed to be placed in parliament, as Section 133 (IV) of the Rules of Procedure of Jatiya Sangsad does not allow it to be placed as the trial of war criminals is under adjudication by a tribunal.
Moreover, Section 134 of the Rules of Procedure also does not allow a resolution to be placed in the House which seeks to raise a discussion on the matter pending before any statutory tribunal or statutory authority performing judicial or quasi-judicial functions.
What's the impact of the resolution, which was passed without any restriction stipulated in the rules of procedure? The resolution provided the government with a new weapon to use against its political opponents, BNP-Jammat-e-Islami to be precise. The ruling AL has been accusing BNP-Jamaat alliance of creating hurdles before holding the trial. And after the passage of the resolution, some ministers and ruling AL leaders are claiming that the government is now bound to enact a law in line with the resolution.
Statements made by Law Minister Shafique Ahmed and State Minister Qamrul Islam have sparked fears in the public. They have said that any criticism of the war crimes trial will be treated as obstruction. If criticism is barred by enacting a fresh law or amending an existing law, it will come as a threat to freedom of thought, conscience and speech, which will be against people's fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution. It may also question the government's sincerity in maintaining transparency and credibility in the war crimes trial. So, if the government moves to enact a fresh law, following the resolution, it may give birth to a lot of political hue and cry, which may not be good for the ongoing trial.
Senior BNP leaders have claimed that the resolution was aimed at suppressing and foiling the opposition movement for the restoration of the caretaker government. Any further move by the government to go ahead with the resolution will further deteriorate the situation. The ruling AL's tactic of using the resolution to mount pressure on the BNP may serve its political purpose, but it will not serve people's interest and, worse, the new move might do more harm than good to the trial.
The resolution is not binding upon the government. It is the government's discretion whether it will follow the resolution or not. If the government wants, it can take action under the existing laws against those obstructing the war crimes trial.
On March 25, 2010 the government has formed the International Crimes Tribunal and has also set up an investigation agency and a prosecution panel, their task is to inquire into the crimes committed in 1971 and bring the perpetrators of the crimes to justice. Of course, it did not take the steps following the January 29 resolution passed by the current parliament.
The then BNP-led government also did not form naval police following the resolution passed by the House in 1992. But later in 1994, it formed the Cost Guard by enacting a law to ensure security in coastal areas.
The AL-led government and the ruling alliance MPs should act, speak more carefully and cautiously on any matter related to the trial of war criminals. Any controversy will embolden those against the trial of war criminals. We earnestly request our politicians not to gain political benefit right now by using the war crimes trial. They should keep in mind that successful completion of the trial will be the biggest ever success of the current government.
The writer is Senior Reporter, The Daily Star.
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