It is not revenge. It is not retribution. It is not settling of accounts. And politics, it is definitely not. It is meting out justice. It is holding political leaders accountable for their action especially if they commit crimes against humanity. It is fulfilling an inner urge for justice and fair play. In the final analysis it is establishing the supremacy of law and humanitarian values that we have learnt to hold dear in our hearts.
The punishment of Motiur Rahman Nizami is not simply because he worked against our liberation war but because in working against our freedom struggle he committed atrocities that would have brought him death sentence even under normal circumstances. This verdict is against a man who was 28 years old in1971 (given that he is now 71), an adult by all definition who, being fully conscious of what the Bengalees of then East Pakistan desired opted, on his own volition, to go against the wishes of the people and in doing so resorted to murder, rape, mass killing, torture and other related crimes that are now considered to be crimes against humanity.
While we do not consider it to be in good taste to rejoice at anybody's death sentence but we do so in this case because of the heinousness of his crime, the enormity of his involvement in the killing machine that the Pakistani army had set up against the freedom fighters, the depth of his hatred for what our liberation stood for and finally the fact he never repented or expressed the slightest remorse for the atrocities that he committed at that time, of which he was such an integral part. In a telling paragraph the judgment says “No punishment other than death will be equal to the horrendous crimes for which the accused has been found guilty beyond reasonable doubt.”
An insidious campaign is now afoot claiming that our nation is divided on the war crimes trial. Such a view is without any substance and it is our duty to renounce it forcefully. Yes there are those who consider that the trial could have been conducted better, that the prosecution could have done a more professional job and that some incidents that have occurred during the trial could have been easily avoided. Some procedural flaws have also been pointed out and legal views expressed that contradict others.
But to the best of our knowledge, and based on opinions of the hundreds of thousands who read us and interact with us, we have absolutely no doubt that our nation is fully committed behind this trial and there is a great deal of support for holding people accountable for the crimes committed in 1971.
As we had written before, we reiterate that our principled position in holding the trial is the same as set by the Nuremberg trial organized after the Second World War and the goal that has been set by the United Nations in the subsequent trials held in similar cases of crimes against humanity.
Just as a distinction was made between those who supported Hitler and those who joined the Nazi party and the SS and committed atrocities so also we have made a distinction between those who opposed Bangladesh's independence on political grounds and those who committed war crimes against our freedom fighters and our unarmed people. Bangladesh has not put on trial all those who opposed us or even all the razakars on trial but only those who committed atrocities. This is an important distinction which clearly proves that our war crimes trial is neither motivated by political agenda nor by the desire to seek any revenge or settle old scores. It is against those against whom specific charges of crimes exist.
Commenting on Nizami becoming a minister in independent Bangladesh, the War Crimes tribunal observed that it was a “slap in the face of our Liberation War as well as the martyrs.” We couldn't agree more. How could a popular party like BNP and a leader like Khaleda Zia be so oblivious to history, so disregardful of public sentiment and so disrespectful to the memory of our martyrs to make a leading collaborator -- the leader of Al Badr, a para-military force known for killing our intellectuals -- a minister in her cabinet? Obviously BNP and Begum Zia thought very little of our freedom struggle, and the atrocities of '71 did not matter to them much.
The war crimes trial and Nizami's verdict are definitely vindications of our long cherished desire to hold accountable those leaders who killed our freedom fighters and were active partners in the genocide that Pakistan army committed against our people. If that be so, then we will have to thank and laud the role of the party and the leader who made it possible. We think the freedom fighters and the nation as a whole owe Sheikh Hasina and her party a huge debt of gratitude for making the trial possible.
While we do not agree with many of her claims, yet when she says that the war crimes trial couldn't have been held without her we unhesitantly agree, simply because she is right. President Ziaur Rahman indemnified Bangabandhu's killers and made a well known collaborator prime minister and some others ministers. Gen. Ershad never showed any intention of trying the war criminal of 1971 and again made well known collaborators and war criminals ministers in his cabinet. Begum Khaleda Zia formed a coalition government with them and gave the two most controversial of their leaders prominent ministerial berths, almost as if to mock the freedom fighters.
Yes, it is true that during the campaign for caretaker government in mid-nineties AL did take Jamaat as an ally. It is an act for which AL has been justly criticised and will be so criticised in the future.
However, totally overshadowing everything else, AL's stance on war crimes trial and the steadfastness of Sheikh Hasina in making it a reality are unique examples of courage and commitment to the memory of our martyrs. We can still remember when prominent war criminals would enter big social gatherings with a swagger and proudly proclaim that he was “razakar” especially if well known freedom fighters would be seen in the crowd. The idea that they would ever face a trial was almost dreamlike for millions of us who had the honour to fight for our freedom. So as a freedom fighter this writer, with millions of others can only bow our head in grateful thanks for bringing the likes of Nizami to justice. Thank you Sheikh Hasina.
The writer is Editor and Publisher, The Daily Star.