Stage set for war trial
On the eve of the anniversary of the genocide committed by Pakistan occupation forces in 1971, the government yesterday announced the tribunal, investigation agency and prosecution team for trying war criminals of the Liberation War.
The landmark announcement came just seven hours before the moment the massacre was committed on the black night of March 25, 1971.
In a packed conference room of the home ministry at 4:00pm, Law Minister Shafique Ahmed declared formation of a three-member tribunal, seven-member investigation agency and a 12-member prosecution team to hold the trial under the country's own law, International Crimes (Tribunals) Act 1973.
Trial of war criminals has long been a demand of the nation and the Awami League promised in its election manifesto to meet that demand.
The investigating agency may kick off investigation from now and even arrest accused war criminals and confiscate their properties in the interest of investigation upon the tribunal's permission. The trial will begin on completion of the investigation, said Shafique.
If any specific evidence is found that a person committed the offence, the trial and investigation will continue simultaneously, he added.
High Court Division Judge Md Nizamul Huq has been made the chairman of the tribunal. Its two other members are High Court Judge ATM Fazle Kabir and retired District Judge AKM Zahir Ahmed.
Advocate Golam Arif Tipu will lead the 12-member prosecution team, which also has lawyers Syed Rezaur Rahman, Golam Hasnain, Rana Das Gupta, Zahirul Haque, Syed Hayder Ali, Khandaker Abdul Mannan, Mosharraf Hossain Kajol, Jiad Al Malum, Sultan Mahmud Semon, and ruling AL lawmakers Sanjida Khanam and Nurul Islam Sujan.
The seven-member investigation agency was formed under section 8(1) of the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act 1973. Former additional secretary Abdul Matin, who was also a district judge, will lead the agency.
Other investigators are former inspector general of police Mohammad Abdur Rahim, former deputy inspector general Qutubur Rahman, Major (retd) ASM Shamsul Arefin, Additional DIG of the Criminal Investigation Department Mir Shahidul Islam and CID inspectors Mohammad Nurul Islam and Mohammad Abdur Razzaque Khan.
The investigation agency will probe offences mentioned in section 3 of the Act: crimes against humanity, crimes against peace, genocide, violation of any humanitarian rules during armed conflicts as laid down in the Geneva Convention of 1949, any other crimes under international laws, attempt, abetment or conspiracy to commit any such crimes and complicity in or failure to prevent commission of any such crime.
The offences will be considered as individual responsibility.
The government formed the tribunal as per section 6 of the Act, reads a law ministry notification.
The section empowers the government to "set up one or more tribunals, each consisting of a chairman and not less than two and not more than four other members" to try and punish people for committing offences mentioned in the law.
The tribunal has been formed in consultation with the Chief Justice, the law minister said at a press conference while announcing the formation of the three bodies.
"He [Chief Justice] has approved the appointments," the minister said.
The law ministry sent the files on formation of the three bodies to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
The premier approved the files and sent those to President Zillur Rahman yesterday for approval. The president gave his nod to the appointments and sent back the files to the law ministry, the law minister said.
Shafique said if necessary the number of prosecution team members would be increased.
He said the investigation would be conducted at home and abroad. It might take time to complete the task as the agency officials would have to collect a lot of documents from various corners of the country and other nations to probe the crimes committed during the Liberation War.
Official documents, newspapers, magazines, television footages, and public statements, among others, would be the major source of information for probing the crimes, he said.
The minister said different countries including the USA would assist the government by providing it with necessary documents and information on the 1971 war crimes.
The government announced that the historic trial of war criminals will be held at the old High Court building.
Soon after the announcement, Maj (retd) AKM Shamsul Arefin, member of the investigation agency, told The Daily Star that the investigators' first task would be to collect evidence at home and abroad on crimes against humanity during the Liberation War. On collection of primary information, they would move forward to this end in line with the tribunal's directive.
He said they would collect evidence and information from people.
Mosharraf Hossain Kajol, one of the prosecutors, said they would start working from next week.
"We shall formally sit on Sunday to determine the nature of our task," he said.