Amnesty International (AI) has caused fury and rage in the minds of Bangladeshis with its latest statement in support of two war criminals awaiting death – SQ Chowdhury and Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed.
The way it tried to defend these two criminals is surprising, given AI's long track record, which is not always stone-paved (its false claim of babies being killed by Saddam Hussein in Iraq is just a reminder). More shocking and surprising was the manner in which it tried to insult our war of independence by saying that “pro-independence forces also committed serious crimes”.
We understand AI's anti-death stance. But this time its statement is questionable and looks like a deliberate and motivated attempt to slur the war crimes trial process with false information.
Let's scrutinise the AI statement paragraph by paragraph.
In its second paragraph, the statement claimed that our International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) failed to meet international standards. It is a sweeping comment without elaboration which should be waved away with similar vagueness. But still we can elaborate.
Our ICT had been most fair to the defendants if we compare them to Nuremberg trial or Tokyo trial. The defendants had all the rights to appeal. The trials were open to all and the accused were given adequate time and facilities to prepare their cases. In the beginning, there were some concerns about the process which were later addressed. For example, the provision for review appeal was incorporated.
After these were done, the US Ambassador-at-large for War Crimes, Stephen Rapp, who closely observed the trial process, had concluded by saying “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.”
AI statement's third paragraph is also motivated and travesty of truth. The trial of these two criminals started in 2012. So, how could AI say make the comment that "in the government's haste to see more war crimes convicts executed…” Where does the AI see the haste? Rather we would say justice had been delayed, in this case long 44 years.
AI's comment on the trial of Mojaheed is also incorrect and reflects its serious misunderstanding and lack of knowledge about our war of independence. Bangladeshis all know what role Mojaheed and his killer force Al-Badr played during the war. Mojaheed, as the second-in-command of Al-Badr, must bear the responsibilities of all killings, raping and other atrocities committed by his force. It was clearly established before the court that Mojaheed himself called his force as the “angel of death” (reported in Dainik Sangram, Jamaat's party paper, on April 24, 1971). And he said: “Al-Badr is the Azrail (angel of death) to the Indian agents.”
During the trial, a witness said he saw Mojaheed in a torture cell where hundreds of freedom fighters were killed. He also heard the war criminal say to a Pakistani army officer about a few freedom fighters who should be shot dead.
But AI preferred not to go through these evidence before making its own conclusion.
In case of SQ Chowdhury's case, AI's allegation also does not hold water. AI said a witness testified that a person who could corroborate his statement was dead when in fact the individual was very much alive and had even submitted a signed affidavit to the court to prove it.
Here, AI simply bought what SQ Chowdhury's defence wanted all to believe. The facts are that the witness described a touching tale of how his family members were killed by Chowdhury and how he survived. He also said how he took shelter in another person's house and saved his own life.
When the defence asked him where the 'another person' named Danu Mia was, the witness said he had heard that Danu Mia had died.
About a year later, SQ Chowdhury's defence produced an affidavit by Danu Mia well after the time to do so expired. The defence had plenty of time to examine the investigation officer's report to marshal its defence and name Danu Mia. But it did not do so.
Whether Danu Mia was dead or alive does not undermine the atrocity that was committed that day, but AI's statement put such a twist that it might seem the merit of the incident depended on Danu Mia.
The most nefarious comment AI made is about our war. It suddenly commented that “serious crimes were also committed by the pro-independence forces, but no one has been investigated or brought to justice for them”.
We believe AI, in supporting the war criminals, had forgotten the history of war crimes trials. It needs to juggle up its memory on the Nuremberg trial or Tokyo trial.
On the European front, the bombing of Dresden was a debatable issue as British and American aircraft dropped 3,900 pounds of bombs on the cultural city. It was a non-military target. And yet the Nuremberg trial or any other trial did not deal with the Dresden issue.
Similarly, Tokyo trial did not deal with the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Any war trial is by the victors. And naturally atrocities of the defeated forces are tried in international tribunals. So when AI suddenly brought to the fore the question of 'crimes' by pro-liberation forces, it revealed the political nature and thereby the intention of the statement.
AI put a new spin to its statement when it held a press conference later to deny that it had not demanded release of SQ Chowdhury or Mojaheed nor had it wanted trial of pro-liberation forces. AI's this explanation is at best reviled on the street because whatever it said in support of Chowdhury and Mojaheed actually amounts to seeking their release. Otherwise why should it say that miscarriage of justice is to happen through their executions? Similarly why should it raise the issue of 'serious crimes' by pro-liberation forces unless it seeks justice for them?
In making a highly politically biased statement AI actually has undermined its position as an advocate of human rights and damaged its reputation.