Uphold impunity – Rescue the War Criminals

Dear Friends,
Today I am writing to you to inform you about a war. A war that hasn’t drawn any blood, at least not yet, but it is hurting our collective conscience nevertheless. It is a media war, a war where only the wealthy succeeds, only they can spread their ideas and convince the rest of the world that they are right. On the other side, being the underdogs, we can only hope that our faint whispers will somehow overpower their roars only because they are true.

Many of you may not know the history of Bangladesh, some may know about the liberation war of 1971 that gave birth to this new nation, but even fewer know about the genocide that fuelled the rage our guerrillas needed to free their mother land. Even though no scientific survey was ever cunducted, by the end of the war, reports of civilian casualty varied from 200,000 to 3,000,000 while the number of reported rape victims was as high as 400,000, and this all happened within a time frame of only 9 months. During that period, West Pakistani military forces and collaborating local militia groups, namely, Rajakar, Al-Badr and Al-Shams, ravaged the country and created an unprecedented humanitarian crisis that was never seen in that part of the world before or since. I am not writing to you today about the genocide, I only want to tell you about the aftermath. When we finally won our freedom, tribunals were set up in the country to bring the perpetrators of war crimes to justice. The initial focus of these tribunals was to prosecute the local collaborators. In the next couple of years following the war, many were arrested and some were convicted while many of the kingpins and masterminds of Rajakar, Al-Badr and Al-Shams had fled the country. Among those who fled was Ghulam Azam, the leader of the collaborating forces, and Chowdhury Mueen Uddin, the alleged henchman of Al-Badr force now living in the United Kingdom, just to name a couple. While the prosecution continued for those that were captured, warrants were issued for the ones that fled. However, that early process towards justice was short lived. With the murder of the national leader in a military coup in 1975, the trial was shut down, all alleged and even convicted perpetrators were released, and all hope of the victims for justice was lost. With the immunity offered by the dictators that followed, many of the kingpins and masterminds safely returned, assimilated in the new political arena, slowly grew more powerful by the day and along with them grew the religious fundamentalism, anti-Semitism and radical Islam in Bangladesh. Those who did not return kept spreading those same venomous ideologies in UK and elsewhere.

A New Beginning
The victims of 1971 had to wait for four long decades before a new justice process was initiated. The current Awami League Government formed the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) in early 2010 in response to the overwhelming national mandate. It all became possible because of the national outcry of the people to put an end to impunity, which was the main reason for Awami League’s land slide victory in the 2008 national election. Bangladesh, a third world country, showed the world that ballot still counts and we can and we did succeed in putting an independent tribunal in place to prosecute all war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. After 41 years of political immunity, few of those alleged masterminds, Ghulam Azam among them, were finally arrested and as a part of the investigation and prosecution processes, Investigation Agency of the ICT submitted their reports and the prosecutions commenced against the leading figures alleged of international crimes during the liberation war. The Investigation Agency of the ICT have also collected evidence and concluded their investigation for a few other alleged perpetrators, including Chawdhury Mueen Uddin. And this all happened without any foreign aid, assistance, prescription, blessing, or compromise on the part of the international community.

International Rescue
As soon as the talks of this new tribunal started, this propaganda machine awakened. The masterminds of mass murders and their political affiliates started a worldwide campaign to undermine its progress. Within the country, they didn’t find much support or gain any grounds, except from their political allies whose support was available regardless. So they switched their attention outward. They hired the services of foreign lawyers, consultants, experts and even statesmen that money can buy and funded lobbyists to push their agenda in Washington, London and all the power hubs in the world. Soon people from high places started visiting Bangladesh, some invited while others on their own. They started “scrutinizing” the tribunal’s procedures and started making comments and suggestions, most of them unrealistic that they knew a third world country like Bangladesh is not in a position to implement. Some even suggested following the jurisprudence of the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court for prosecuting war criminals even though their own home country rejected it. Some took issue with the provision of death penalty in the law although that was not a ‘mandatory punishment’, nor was necessarily an inevitable outcome of the process. At first everyone including the government thought these suggestions were sincere, they even amended the law and introduced new rules to accommodate these “suggestions”, where applicable, but to ordinary people like myself it soon became apparent that all these tactics are for nothing but to impede, undermine and most importantly, to delegitimize the process.

After failing to gain any traction in Bangladesh the conspiracies were outsourced and they stretched abroad. Back to back seminars and meetings started taking place around the globe. If it happens in London this week, next week it may happen in Oxford University, or in SOAS or American International University. Renowned human rights activists, political personnel, journalists and legal experts joined the campaign – ironically on less informed and somewhat dogmatic premises without appreciating the true nature of the process in Bangladesh, its context and the domestic nature of the law and procedures that are at the centre of it. Everyone started screaming about international standards of jurisprudence and how the tribunal is not compliant with it, completely failing to appreciate the fact that Bangladesh indeed has a time tested legal order which had been functioning so far without any of these organisations or experts ever raising any so-called concerns in the past. They never complained about Bangladesh’s courts where hundreds and thousands have been prosecuted over the years. Their focus is evidently on this one particular tribunal, the International Crimes Tribunal, where only a hand few are currently being tried for their alleged involvement in international crimes.

Bangladesh government, confined by their limited resources and resourcefulness, is totally silent about this, embassies are not answering questions, invitations to these seminars are being ignored and the other side of the story is slowly being silenced forever, while millions like me are frantically watching from the side line and witnessing them lose in this game where the stakes are set through lobbying and PR operations launched by the defence team and its political allies. Meanwhile, from behind the bars, the masterminds are smiling, smelling their yet again another glorious escape.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article or in the comment section are those of the respective authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of International Crimes Strategy Forum (ICSF).

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Archive I: Media Archive

Archives news reports, opinions, editorials published in different media outlets from around the world on 1971, International Crimes Tribunal and the justice process.

Archive II: ICT Documentation

For the sake of ICT’s legacy this documentation project archives, and preserves proceeding-documents, e.g., judgments, orders, petitions, timelines.

Archive III: E-Library

Brings at fingertips academic materials in the areas of law, politics, and history to facilitate serious research on 1971, Bangladesh, ICT and international justice.

Archive IV: Memories

This archive records from memory the nine-month history of 1971 as experienced and perceived by individuals from all walks of life.