No political concession at war crimes trial
Forty-three years ago, Bangladesh, the then East Pakistan, experienced one of the worst genocides in the history of mankind. After being discriminated for decades by the racist regime of Pakistan, the people of the then East Pakistan unanimously exercised their 'right of self-determination' and declared its independence from Pakistan on 26 March 1971. The said racist regime however launched an unjust war in which the Pakistani Army and its local collaborators (Razakar, Al Badr, Al Shams etc.) committed the most heinous crimes, such as, genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes etc. upon the people who believed in Bengali nationalism and thereby, demanded independent Bangladesh exercising universally recognised 'right of self-determination'.
Bangladesh's Liberation War in 1971 resulted in up to three millions of merciless deaths at the hands of Pakistani Army and their local allies. Bengali civilians were routinely tortured in camps jointly managed by the Pakistani Army and its local collaborators. Bengali Hindus were persecuted; Bengali women were raped, and were made subject to sexual enslavement and forced pregnancy. The future of tens of millions of Bengalis was changed overnight as they had to take refuge in neighboring India. There were also target killings of Bengali intellectuals.
Two of the alleged orchestrators of these horrific crimes, Motiur Rahman Nizami and Delwar Hossain Sayedee, have faced trial before the International Crimes Tribunals, Bangladesh for their alleged crimes committed during 1971. The nation is eagerly waiting for the trial and appeal judgments of them respectively.
Nizami, in particular, was identified during his trial as a leader and instigator of many of the killings that occurred in 1971. He was charged with 16 counts. His charges include genocide, 'crimes against humanity' by murder, rape, abduction, deportation, religious persecution, etc., and 'other international crimes'. It was alleged that Nizami was directly involved in a number of massacres such as massacres at Arpara and Vutergari villages on 16 April 1971, Karamza Village on 8 May 1971, Bousgari village on 10 May 1971, Dhulaura village on 27 November 1971 and Brishalikha village on 3 December 1971. Nizami was alleged to have played a key role in the abduction, torture and killings of civilians at the old MP Hostel, Mohammadpur Physical Training Institute and of Bengali intellectuals.
Sayedee was charged with similar crimes. On more than one occasion, he accompanied Pakistani troops as they murdered unarmed Bengali civilians, according to testimony at the tribunal. He was also alleged to have caused widespread destruction by ordering the arson of roadside buildings in more than a dozen villages. Sayedee was said to have targeted leaders of the freedom movement. Evidence was presented that Mahbubul Alam Howlader was tortured and his older brother murdered by Sayedee and his men. On another occasion, Razakars under Sayedee's command attacked the Hindus of Hoglabunia village. Some of the men raped a woman yet Sayedee did nothing to stop them. Evidence was presented that Sayedee abducted the three sisters of Gouranga Saha and detained them for three days during which they were repeatedly raped.
It is true that both Nizami and Sayedee have been members of the political party, Bangladesh Jamayat-e-Islami. However, political background of the accused has absolutely no bearing in determining his or her criminal liability at the trials before the International Crimes Tribunals, Bangladesh. 15 trials those have been initiated so far before the International Crimes Tribunals involved accused criminals, 11 of whom have political connections with Bangladesh Jamayat-e-Islami, 2 with Bangladesh National Party (BNP – the opposition party, 2008-2014), 1 with Jatiya Party (JP – the current opposition party) and 1 with Bangladesh Awami League (BAL – the party in power, 2008-2014; also, the current party in power). Therefore, it is clear that political orientation or association of the accused criminals have no bearing upon the ongoing trials at the Bangladesh tribunals and as such, accused criminals cannot be shielded from justice under the guise of a political party.
In conclusion, it is stated that the International Crimes Tribunals, Bangladesh are independent in the exercise of their judicial functions and are legally mandated to ensure fair trials. Accused criminals are guaranteed all universally recognised rights to defend his/her position including right to know the charge, right to have a public trial, right to plead guilty/not-guilty, right of legal representation, right to present evidence, right to cross-examine prosecution witnesses, right not to be self-incriminated, right of appeal, etc. Moreover, since the trials at the International Crimes Tribunals, Bangladesh are evidence-based, there is absolutely no room to make any political considerations or concessions to the accused criminals.
The writer is Prosecutor, International Crimes Tribunal.