A monitoring cell to oversee procedures to bring back fugitive war crimes convicts and accused from abroad remains dysfunctional since the government formed it six months ago.
The eight-member cell could neither set its terms of references nor sit for the maiden meeting since February, frustrating the victims' families and campaigners of the long-awaited war crimes trial.
Apparently disappointed at the delay, an investigation agency -- also one of the components of the cell -- of the international crimes tribunals has recently written to the home ministry to “immediately” arrange for the first meeting.
However, chief of the cell and Additional Secretary (Political) to Home Affairs Kamal Uddin Ahmed told The Daily Star on August 12, “We are holding meetings internally. It won't be right to disclose everything.”
After conviction of three fugitive war criminals including Chowdhury Mueen Uddin and Ashrafuzzaman Khan, the kingpins of the killings of intellectuals in 1971, the government on February 16 formed the cell comprising representatives from two ministries and five agencies. The duo and Abul Kalam Azad, also known as Bachchu Razakar, were tried in absentia.
The cell is comprised of joint secretaries of the foreign and the home ministries, a deputy inspector general of police, representatives of the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence, the National Security Intelligence, and the prosecution and the investigation agency of the tribunals.
“We will sit and fix terms of references of the cell and discuss how to carry out the tasks,” Kamal added.
But, the investigation agency on August 5 wrote to the senior secretary of the home ministry to draw the attention of Kamal Uddin, saying: “… the agency has yet to receive any letter for convening meeting of the cell.”
Mentioning the verdict of the case against Mueen and Ashraf, the letter signed by Sanaul Huq, a senior member of the agency, said: “The trial is very much sensitive to the civil society, victims' families, and local and foreign media.
“As the agency always keeps contact with the witnesses and the victims' families, it often has to face their questions. In the given context, it is requested that a meeting be convened immediately to show a visible progress before the Martyred Intellectuals Day on December 14,” read the letter.
Sultan Mahmud Simon, the prosecution's representative to the cell, told The Daily Star, “No meeting of the cell has yet been held. I didn't get any call for any meeting. “I don't know the reason behind it.”
In response, Kamal Uddin said, “All efforts have been made to bring them [war crimes fugitives] back. This is a very sensitive issue. I shouldn't be right to disclose everything.”
Shahriar Kabir, executive president of Ekattorer Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee, said, “It is very unfortunate that a government committee could not hold a meeting in six months. This is failure of the committee, which should be made accountable.”
Speaking anonymously, an investigator said they had proposed for a “strong cell” led by the home secretary, but the cell was formed under the leadership of an additional secretary.
“The cell should be dissolved if it could not be functional due to lack of power,” the investigator observed.
In addition to the three fugitives, trial of a Faridpur BNP leader believed to be in Sweden was held in absentia and the International Crimes Tribunal-1 has kept the case waiting for verdict.
Besides, the tribunal-1 on August 14 framed charges against former Jatiya Party lawmaker Abdul Jabbar who is also on the run.