Fugitives' list gets longer
Despite several directives by the International Crimes Tribunal and initiatives of the government to arrest war crimes accused, police have failed to capture more than half of them, frustrating justice seekers.
Two war crimes tribunals had issued arrest warrants against 102 war crimes accused in 18 cases since August last year, but the law enforcers could arrest only 45, according to The Daily Star reports.
Eighteen accused are now facing trial in four cases. Of them, 10 are fugitives. The investigation agency has completed its probe into five other cases in which it has found evidence of crimes by 37 people. Of them, 22 are on the run.
Besides, arrest warrants had been issued against 47 more accused in 10 other cases. But police could arrest only 23. The cases are under investigation and the prosecution has sought their arrest for the sake of “proper investigation.”
Two war crimes tribunals have so far convicted 24 accused. Of them, five have been convicted in absentia.
When a convict remains absconding, victims' family members find it “almost meaningless” that the government was spending a huge amount of money and the prosecutors and investigators were doing a laborious job for justice, prosecutors and investigators said.
They recommended amendment to the law so that the investigation agency itself could arrest suspects without warrant during the probe.
In February 2014, the government formed an eight-member monitoring cell, led by additional secretary of the home ministry, to secure the arrest of the fugitive convicts and war crimes accused.
But after holding only a single meeting, the cell largely remained inactive, sources said.
As the number of fugitives continued to increase, the International Crimes Tribunal-1 in May this year ordered the government to form a monitoring committee to secure arrest of the fugitive convicts and accused.
The government in the same month formed a five-member committee led by a deputy inspector general of police and comprising representatives of the Detective Branch and Special Branch of police, Rapid Action Battalion, and the tribunal's investigation agency.
On September 14, the tribunal's prosecution wrote to the home and law ministries, inspector general of police, all metropolitan police commissioners and police superintendents of all districts, seeking “strong measures” to immediately arrest the fugitives.
However, these steps brought little change to the situation.
Sanaul Huq, co-coordinator of the tribunal's investigation agency, said when an accused learns about investigation going on against him, he goes into hiding.
The accused, against whom investigations and trials are currently going on, are not high-profile or well-known figures and when they go into hiding, it is difficult for law enforcers to catch them, he said.
“Besides, in many cases, we've found a lack of sincerity on the law enforcers' part.”
Some of the accused had left the country while the rest, the agency believes, were still in Bangladesh, Sanaul added.
Prosecutor Tureen Afroz said, “To some extent, the law enforcers are responsible for this.”
However, a lack of a comprehensive strategy in this regard was one of the main reasons, she said, adding, “The accused are going into hiding, taking advantage of the loopholes in the total process.”
Sanaul said the agency was facing a huge challenge to bring in witnesses in cases in which the accused were being tried in absentia.
When a witness finds the accused was on the run, he or she loses interest in testifying, said Sanaul, adding, “We've had such experiences in several cases.”
Tureen said victims' family members find a trial “almost meaningless” when an accused remains absconding even after conviction. “It may amount to a moral victory [for justice seekers], but it [trial in absentia] is not real justice in any sense,” she added.
Prosecutor Rana Dasgupta said, “In trials in absentia, victims' family members get justice but don't get solace or closure ... Until the execution of the sentence, the trial is meaningless for them.”
Contacted, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said, “If they [accused] flee the country, what can police do?” Yet the law enforcers were trying to find them and arrest them all, he told The Daily Star on December 9.
Rana Dasgupta said the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act-1973, under which the trial was being conducted, should be amended empowering the investigation agency to arrest a war crimes accused without warrant so that the agency officials could arrest a suspect during the probe.
Sanaul echoed him.
He said the investigation agency should have the power to arrest an accused after preliminary investigation so that an accused could not run.
The Anti-Corruption Commission Act and the Narcotics Control Act empowers investigators concerned to arrest any accused during the probe, he said.
Besides, under the existing criminal law, a court could order attachment of properties of a fugitive to force him or her to surrender. But, the ICT act had no such provision and for this reason, a fugitive could use his property through family members.
Several war crimes tribunals in other countries have such provisions, Sanaul said, adding, “So, the ICT act should be amended incorporating such provisions, which can solve the current problem to a large extent.”
Keeping in view the offenders' propensity to go into hiding during a probe, the investigation agency in April last year proposed the Law Ministry for amending the act.
But the ministry was yet to take any steps, Sanaul added.
Abdul Hannan Khan, the coordinator of the investigation agency, said it would be “very difficult” to stop the fugitives fleeing unless the agency was given the power to arrest suspects without warrant.