Intellectual killing and the war crimes of 1971
The mother of a thief talks big. As this Bengali proverb goes, so go the recent remarks of the trio of Ali Ahsan Mujaheed, Quader Mollah, the two Jamaat top brass, and their sincerest sympathiser Saha Hannan.
These men were trying to deny such a naked truth that their attempts seem like those of the proverbial thief's mother who loudly denounces others while her own son is an inveterate criminal. The clever mother speaks up so that her boastful gesture may give people a good idea about her son and let them not mistake him for a potential thief.
This is simply laughable, because it is a futile attempt at concealing an offence, which is already exposed. The Jamaat-e-Islami leaders Mujaheed, Quader Mollah, and Shah Hannan's position is like that of the thief's mother who is unavailingly trying to cover up the full extent of crime through loud voice and boastful lies.
It is as clear as anything that the valiant people of Bangladesh have fought a war of independence in 1971 against the Pakistan occupation army and their lackeys -- the local collaborators. They were known as Razakars, Al-Badr, and Al-Shams and were heavily made up of the leaders and votaries of the then Jamaat-e-Islami now Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh.
That ours was a war of independence has been globally acknowledged, and that Jamaat-e-Islami was opposing it has been substantiated by one hundred and one evidences. Therefore, when this bragging, overbearing, and bumptious trio term it a "civil war," deny the existence of war criminals, and distort the sacred motive behind our joining the liberation war, they surely hurt the feelings of freedom-loving millions with their virtual negation of the very existence of Bangladesh. This is, frankly, virtually sedition, a crime against the country, a serious offence.
Our liberation war is the most glorious event in our history; our freedom fighters are the most valued persons of our country while the Razakars are the enemies of the state. Headed by Golam Azam, the Razakars were the collaborators of the Pakistan occupation army.
Golam Azam was a party, directly and indirectly, to the atrocious genocide, the rapes and molestation of millions of Bengali women, and the most barbaric act of killing hundreds of pro-liberation intellectuals. In these vile occurrences, he was assisted by his top associates, Nizami and Mujaheed. Their participation in the intellectual killing mission has had a number of tangible proofs.
For instance, in a picture recovered from the archives of Pakistan military intelligence, Golam Azam along with his chief accomplice Nizami is seen to hand the list of the names of pro-liberation Bengali intellectuals over to Pakistani generals (The New York Times, 30, July, 1971). He was the ringleader of 70,000 Razakars working under different factions with different names.
Another camp of the non-Bengali Muslims was added to them and the combined force forged some paramilitary units, which were trained by the Pakistan army. The paramilitary units named Al-Badr and Al-Shams played the key role in the heinous task of intellectual killing.
In June 1971, the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Sydney Schanberg made a candid report on that. In his words: "Throughout East Pakistan the army is training new paramilitary home guards or simply arming 'loyal' civilians, some of whom are formed into peace committees. Besides Biharis and other non-Bengali, Urdu-speaking Moslems, the recruits include the small minority of Bengali Moslems who have long supported the army-adherents of the right-wing religious parties such as the Muslim League and Jamaat-e-Islami led by Golam Azma and Matiur Rahman Nizami. These groups collectively known as the Razakars, the paramilitary units spread terror throughout the Bengali population. With their local knowledge the Razakars were an invaluable tool in the Pakistani Army's arsenal of genocide."
After Schanberg made a number of eyewitness accounts for the New York Times, the Pakistan army expelled him from the country on June 30, 1971.
It was December 1971. The occupation army was coming near to a crushing defeat. The marauding forces were on the verge of turning tail. Sensing their impending danger, they hit upon a wicked plan to cripple our social and cultural advancement by killing the standard bearers of our country -- our intellectuals. They shot the last bolt. On December 14, the Pakistan army let loose the paramilitary units to kill the intellectuals -- teachers, politicians, scientists, physicians, lawyers, journalists, and others.
The way the highly valued children of our soil were killed was diabolical. They were rounded up like cattle, bound, blindfolded, and led to torture chambers at Mirpur, Muhammadpur, Nakhalpara, Razarbag, and finally taken to Rayerbazar, where they were gunned down like sitting ducks.
Stranded intellectuals killed between March 25 and December 16, 1971 across the country are among others: Dr. G.C. Dev, Dr. Munir Chowdhury, Dr. Mofazzal Haider Chowdhury, Dr. Anwar Pasha, Dr. Fazle Rabbi, Dr. Alim Chowdhury, Sahidullah Kaiser, Nizamuddin Ahmed, Selina Parvin, Altaf Mahmud, Dr. Hobibur Rahman, and Dhiren Dutt. The final toll rose to over 200.
What we today call war crime has a long history. In fact, perfidy has existed in human society over the centuries. It has been tried under customary laws. In the Hague Convention of 1899 and 1907 these customary laws were clarified. The modern concept of war crime however, has developed through the Nuremberg trails which were held basing on the definition of the London Charter published in 1945. The customary law defines war crimes as crimes against peace, against humanity.
Over the last century, many other treaties also introduced positive laws that put constraints on belligerents in light of which the nature of war crime can be determined. War crimes include mistreatment of prisoners of war or civilian and mass murder or genocide. Under the Nuremberg principles, the supreme intentional crime is that of waging a war of aggression. In addition, the war crimes that are defined in the statute, which established the International Criminal Court include:
* Breaches of the Geneva Convention, such as deliberate killing or causing great suffering or serious injury to body or wealth.
* Torture or inhuman treatment.
* Unlawful deportation, confinement, or transfer.
The people who killed or helped to kill the intellectuals of Bangladesh are war criminals by any definition of the term. They were in breach of the Geneva Convention and crossed all limits of simple human decency in their treatment of the intellectuals.
They joined hands with Pakistan occupation force that willfully launched an armed war of aggression against the innocent peace-loving people and unarmed civilians. They caused untold sufferings, irrecoverable physical and economic harm to them, and wanton destruction to national wealth. They made the stranded intellectuals undergo barbaric torture and unlawful confinement in the torture chambers, until finally they were killed.
They have successfully fulfilled all the criteria for being war criminals. They should have been brought to justice much earlier on the sovereign soil of independent Bangladesh. But quite unfortunately for us, they are seemingly beyond the reach of the law.
The long arm of the law could not even touch a hair of their heads. Little by little they have gained ground. Backed by the opportunist power hunters of the right-wing coalition, they too, have been able to have the taste of power. So, naturally, they don't give a damn what the pro-liberation folks think.
Not only that, the war criminals could go to the extent of passing most derogatory remarks on the Liberation War itself and denying the existence of the anti-liberation forces. This well becomes them to belittle the image of our Liberation War since they were (and are) the enemies of the state of Bangladesh, if not enemies of the people of Bangladesh.
Mujaheed, who now does not see the existence of any war criminal in here, was erstwhile president of East Pakistan Islami Chhatra Shagha and one of the top brass of Al-Badr force. He helped the occupation army in carrying out the bloody massacre, plunder, and rape. He, too, it is credibly alleged, had his role in the brutal killing of the intellectuals on December 14 in 1971. Quader Mollah was dubbed as "butcher" in his neighborhood. He, it is credibly alleged, started killing people even before the occupation army launched genocide.
We know it full well who the war criminals are. The party they belonged to remained banned until 1976. After the ban was lifted, they have resumed their activities with renewed interest and are posing serious threats to the hardest earned ideal of our Liberation War i.e. a secular democratic state.
We failed to try the war criminals! But it is never late to mend. One government's failure to do that should not justify other government's indifference to it. What we have already had is a tremendous popular support about this trial. On the other hand, there is always a considerable public disquiet about the government's inaction as to it.
The present caretaker government has by this short time trod paths where its predecessors had not. The present government has settled the long borne Mujib-Zia dispute and saved history from distortion. So people are looking forward to seeing the government make sure that the war crimes will be tried and that the criminals will be punished.
Dr. Rashid Askari is a writer, columnist, and Professor of English, Islamic University, Kushtia.