Stephen J Rapp, US ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues, looks at the remains of some of the country's martyrs at Liberation War Museum in the capital yesterday, accompanied by Akku Chowdhury, a freedom fighter also a trustee of the museum. Photo: Star
The US supports the ongoing war crimes trials in Bangladesh, said visiting US ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues Stephen Rapp yesterday.
After a courtesy meeting with the judges of the International Crimes Tribunal at the Old High Court building in the capital, Rapp lauded them for being able to discharge their jobs “without pressure, without politics, without threats”.
“… the best way in the world to find the truth is the judicial process where the evidence is presented, where witnesses are cross-examined, where both sides have an opportunity to be heard and that is what is being done here [Bangladesh]. It is the process that the American government strongly supports,” he said.
The Pakistan army and its local collaborators killed three million people and violated around a quarter million women during the Liberation War in 1971 and after about four decades, the government set up tribunals to try the perpetrators, to bring an end to the impunity they had been enjoying.
Two tribunals have so far delivered judgments in nine war crimes cases. Six other cases are now pending with the courts. One convict has already been executed.
“These are historic cases,” Rapp told journalists in front of the Old High Court building.
The trials of war criminals are important for the survivors of the horrible crimes that happened during the war and it is extremely important that these trials have begun and were done well.
“They [trials] are also important for all the world because what happens in every country when people face up to the past and reveal the truth also sends the signals to others.”
During his previous visit to Bangladesh in May last year, Rapp had said, “Though there have been improvements and progress, I still have concerns about the process, and further improvement could help ensure that international standards are met.”
In the course of the trial, some of the judges had been threatened and even their houses had been attacked but they continued serving, Rapp said yesterday, adding, “I very much salute their service and their courage.”
The houses of at least two judges of the war crimes tribunal came under attack last year when the BNP-Jamaat alliance, which has always questioned the transparency of the trial, carried out anti-government movements. The home of a Supreme Court judge, who dealt with appeals in a war crimes case, also came under attack at the same time.
Earlier in the day, the ambassador held a meeting with officials of the investigation agency of the tribunals at its Dhanmondi office and learned about the agency's ongoing activities and future plans.
Rapp also held talks with the prosecution team at the Old High Court building. During the nearly hour-long meeting, he wanted to know whether the prosecution had set priorities of the cases to deal with.
Rapp also held a meeting with the defence lawyers of the war crimes accused Jamaat leaders at a city hotel last night.
He also visited the Liberation War Museum in the city's Segunbagicha. He arrived in Dhaka yesterday morning on a three-day visit.
Rapp is expected to hold meetings with the law minister and foreign minister today and will brief the media on his tour at 5:00pm at the American Centre in Dhaka.