Trial of war criminals
A sort of national consensus has developed recently for bringing the war criminals of the liberation war to justice. The Election Commission (EC), responding to the demand of the political parties, has announced that it will recommend to the caretaker government (CTG) to initiate steps for the trial of the war criminals.
Most of the political parties that participated in talks with the EC have demanded disqualification of war criminals from contesting in elections. The EC has suggested to the parties to raise the issue strongly with the CTG during their proposed dialogue with it. The EC has already incorporated a provision in its draft electoral reform proposal to disqualify the war criminals from contesting in any election.
Apart from the political parties, veteran freedom fighters, family members of martyrs and a large number of conscious citizens have been urging the CTG to initiate the trial of war criminals. Former chief adviser Justice Habibur Rahman has also criticised the present CTG for not taking up the issue of holding trial of war criminals.
Trials of war criminals have been held throughout the world. The first war crimes trial in modern times was held after World War II by the victorious Allied nations to prosecute German and Japanese war criminals.
Many nations that Germany occupied during World War II, or which collaborated with the Germans in the persecution of civilian populations, especially Jews, held national trials in the years following World War II.
Poland, the former Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union, Hungary, Romania, and France, among others, tried thousands of defendants, both Germans and indigenous collaborators, in the decades since 1945. The Soviet Union held its first trial, the Krasnodar Trial, against local collaborators in 1943, long before World War II had ended.
The Nuremberg Trials were a series of trials, most notable for the prosecution of prominent persons of the political, military and economic leadership of Nazi Germany. The trials were held in the city of Nuremberg, Germany, from 1945 to 1949, at the Nuremberg Palace of Justice.
The first and best known of these trials was of the major war criminals before the International Military Tribunal (IMT). The IMT tried 22 major war criminals between October 18, 1945, and October 1, 1946, and twelve of those convicted were sentenced to death.
In 1993 and 1994, the United Nations (UN) established war crimes tribunals to prosecute those who committed crimes during the civil wars in the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda. In 2002, the UN and the government of Sierra Leone established a jointly administered war crimes tribunal to prosecute atrocities committed during Sierra Leone's civil war.
A similar court has been constituted to prosecute war criminals from Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge leaders are now being tried by a tribunal formed under UN assistance, after more than 28 years of killing around two million people.
The UN approved a statute in July 1998, creating a permanent International Criminal Court (ICC) to try people accused of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and crimes of aggression. The ICC was designed to replace ad hoc tribunals of limited jurisdiction, such as those created to address the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda. The ICC, with its headquarters in The Hague, officially came into being on July 1, 2002.
All such instances clearly demonstrate that no one, even a head of state, is immune. The case of Cambodia can be of great help for us as it shows that lapse of time and inaction in the past do not really hinder holding of war criminals' trail. The International Crimes (Tribunals) Act 1973, promulgated on July 20, 1973, provides the CTG with power to try the war criminals of our liberation war by constituting tribunals.
The government announced general amnesty on November 30, 1973, for those who were not charged with specific allegations of war atrocities. The amnesty came alongside a collaborator law setting up 75 tribunals throughout the country for trying serious war crimes committed by the local collaborators of Pakistani occupation forces, such as Razakars, Al-Badr, Al-Shams, and Peace Committee members charged with specific allegations of war atrocities. But the tribunals were abolished during the post-Mujib regimes on the plea of national unity.
Of late, these elements have been raising their heads to snap at the ideals and values of our liberation war. It is ironical, indeed, that a university teacher informs us that there are no war criminals in Bangladesh as the war in 1971 was between India and Pakistan, and a senior leader of Jamaat-e-Islami says there was no genocide in 1971.
The UN's declaration of Universal Human Rights 1981 says: "Among the genocides of human history, the highest number of people killed in lower span of time was in Bangladesh in 1971. On an average 6,000 to 12,000 people were killed every single day."
The most disgraceful thing for the nation is that the collaborators who were largely responsible for the biggest genocide of human history were never brought to trail, despite repeated efforts by the civil society over the past decades. The negligence of the previous political governments was mostly responsible for it.
The CTG, though bound by a time frame, can take the first crucial step towards processing the trial of war criminals, paving the way for the next elected government to complete the trials. The people are quite unwilling to forget and forgive what had been done to them by some of their own compatriots.
Sector Commanders' Forum (SCF), a platform of sector commanders of the liberation war, has launched a movement to bring the war criminals to trail through forming a legal committee. It has announced that freedom fighters along with the people would resist an electoral alliance with Jamaat or other anti-liberation war elements. Surely, it is a commendable move.
Hundreds of students and teachers of Dhaka University have expressed their solidarity with the SCF, demanding trial of war criminals. They have also expressed their commitment to work with SCF and build opinion against the war criminals.
Leaders of Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee have called for boycotting war criminals in the next parliamentary election. The conscious citizens of the country must raise their voices louder in demanding the trial of war criminals. Our failure this time may be failure forever.