‘Justice in Bangladesh: Another kind of crime’ itself is another kind of crime!

This article is jointly written by Omar Shehab and Farhan Nasim.


Photo courtesy: Arif Hafiz

On 23rd March The Economistpublished an article titled ‘Justice in Bangladesh: Another kind of crime’ [1] criticizing the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT),Bangladesh. The article starts by dignifying the infamous Eichmann trial, a Second World War Holocaust case, which took place in Jerusalem in 1961, as ‘model of meticulous process’ and ‘open, subject to evidence and challenge, and legal.’ And later accuses ICT for falling ‘a long way short of Israel’s model of due process.’

Ironically, many people pointed out that Eichmann trial left many unresolved human rights and jurisdictional questions. In the rest of this article, we will compare the two trials in regard to the Economist article’s allegations.

A bunch of false accusations against the ICT infest the third paragraph of the article. It opens with a typical Economist-style vague claim (as they did before on ICT: see [2], [3], [4], [5], [6], and [7]): “The government has interfered in the court’s deliberations.” But in recent years, The Economist has shown biased view regarding several Bangladeshi causes. In similar vague fashion, this very Economist once invented a story that, the current Awami League regime ‘helped by bags of Indian cash and advice triumphed in general elections in Bangladesh.’ [8] Hence their claims are subjects of potential doubts.

The second allegation of the article claims, “Public discussion of the proceedings has been restricted.” In reality, numerous newspaper articles, television talk shows, blog posts, and social networking activities are swarmed with ICT related discussions. ICT never imposed any restriction on them; it only insisted on, (a) being sensitive to the victims, (b) being accurate on reports, and (c) not becoming contemptuous (of court). Though ICT has the authority to punish anyone for violating those regulations, they never exercised it.

“The number of defense witnesses,” the article alleges then misleadingly, “was curtailed.” However, it doesn’t mention the rationale behind the curtailment. In fact, similar policies have been followed by other international tribunals, ICT for Rwanda and ICT for former Yugoslavia being two examples.

Alleging continues citing a kidnapping incident: “One was even kidnapped on the steps of the court.” Whereas the very premises of the alleged story is problematic and full of holes to begin with. Let us show some examples: Firstly, only witnesses of the abduction are the defense lawyer and two reporters of a Jamaat-e-Islami owned newspaper — with marginal readership due to its disputed credibility. They conveniently (!) appeared on the spot all on a sudden, right when the kidnapping was taking place. No other journalist or common people were present! Secondly, the registrar of the court was present on the spot, and confirmed that nothing such happened. Thirdly, the defense didn’t file a complaint against this abduction.

02172013185200par-3The next issue the article raises is that, “In one case, the presiding judge resigned and the death sentence was handed down by three men who had not heard all the witnesses.” This accusation is groundless. All the new judges have access to the witnesses’ statements made to the prosecution, transcripts of cross-examination of witnesses, and other related documents.

The article also criticizes that, “In another, the defendant was represented by a lawyer who did not have nearly enough time to prepare a case.” However, as we reviewed the proceedings, we found that the court insisted on the efficiency of both sides on several occasions. Let us quote one from proceedings of August 23, 2011 [10], where a prosecutor was explaining the unnecessary background of investigation: “The tribunal chairman interrupted him and said, ‘You should better go straight to your argument rather than citing history. No need for all the explanations.’ / The prosecution said that he thought there should be at least a little bit of explanation.” Here is another from proceedings of March 5, 2012 [11], where the court responded to the defense when they applied for something related to jail condition: “Justice Nizamul Haq: Mr. Fakhrul Islam [Defence Counsel]; … You’re repeating the same issues which have already been disposed by us. Don’t do it again. It seems to us, it is nothing but wastage of time.”

In later part of the article, waits the biggest lie. It reads: “Now the government wants to rewrite the law to allow death sentences to be applied retrospectively.” In fact, The International Crimes Tribunal Act 1973 allowed only the defendants but not the prosecution to appeal against a verdict. Moreover, it didn’t allow framing charges against an organization if it officially took part in war crimes. The new amendments, passed recently after the public uprising, allow the prosecution to appeal against a verdict and frame charges against an organization.

economistOn the other hand, potential evidences exist that, Eichmann trial had been influenced by government. And interestingly, the article itself admits one: in order to try him, Mossad operatives kidnapped Adolf Eichmann from the streets of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Eichmann’s attorney, Dr. Servatius, argued whether presenting his client before the court through an Israeli covert operation on a territory beyond its jurisdiction was legal? The court skipped the issue mentioning that as irrelevant to the case and that should be mediated between the two governments, hence leaving the question unresolved. Duke University law professor Hans W. Baade treated this matter in detail in an article [12] while the trial was taking place.

More recently, Professor Ian Shapiro of the Yale University discussed the Eichmann trial in his class in 2010 [13]. Here is a conversation between Professor Shapiro and his student convicting the trial for not allowing Eichmann sufficient time for appeal: “Student: I was uncomfortable with the speed of the execution. It happened extremely soon after his appeal and plea for mercy; within a couple of hours. / Professor Ian Shapiro: Right, it was the way executions are done in China today, not the way executions are done in the United States today, right? It was very rapid. And why were you uncomfortable with that? / Student: I think there’s no doubt that what he did was wrong, but you at least have to go through the procedures just to ensure that justice is actually served, so that even if it was correct that he deserved the death penalty. I think the actual protocol should have been followed and that he should have gotten his time to make the appeal.”

In addition, when Moshe Pearlman published his book, The Capture of Adolf Eichmann, four weeks before the trial opened, prominent political theorist Hannah Arendt commented in her book, Eichmann In Jerusalem, that, “The book caused some embarrassment in Israel … [Mr. Pearlman] had stated that the trial authorities had already made up their minds about the untrustworthiness of Eichmann’s testimony …”

Hannah Arendt also reported the court’s response when Eichmann’s attorney asked to call in the witnesses of the abduction on Eichmann. She wrote: “Dr. Servatius, who tried strenuously and unsuccessfully … to call Zvi Tohar, chief pilot of the El-Al plane that flew Eichmann out of the country, and Yad Shimoni, an official of the airline in Argentina, as witnesses, mentioned Ben-Gurion’s statement; the Attorney General countered by saying that the Prime Minister had ‘admitted no more than that Eichmann was found out by the Secret Service,’ not that he also had been kidnaped by government agents.”

Furthermore, Der Spiegel once reported [14] that, a German Intelligence Service agent, Rolf Vogel, was delegated to persuade the then Israeli prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, so that the Eichmann trial never raises the question of Hans Globke’s [15] involvement in Eichmann’s activities. In exchange Israel was awarded 240 million DM of military aid.

Here New York Times [16] reports two courtroom occasions regarding late Moshe Landau, one of the judges of the Eichmann trial: “On one occasion, … Justice Landau became impatient with the chief prosecutor, Gideon Hausner, after Mr. Hausner called witnesses who testified about horrors in Polish and Lithuanian ghettos. … these narratives were not strictly germane to the case. / ‘I know it is difficult to cut short such testimony,’ Justice Landau told Mr. Hausner in open court. ‘But it is your duty, Sir, to brief the witness, to explain to him that all external elements must be removed that do not pertain to this trial.’ / On another occasion, … ‘Eichmann was so wrapped up in his notes and papers that Judge Landau coldly had to remind him to stand when addressed by the court. Eichmann’s face flushed with momentary anger as he looked up; then, realizing where he was, he jumped up, apologizing’.”

And ironically, the very law that tried Eichmann itself was subjected to retroactive amendment: the original law, called the Nazis and Nazi Collaborators (Punishment) Law, 5710-1950 [17], was amended in 1963 by Nazis and Nazi Collaborators (Punishment) Law (Amendment) 5723-1963, repealing section 12(b) of the original law.

This amendment allowed prosecution of people out of the scope of the original law. Here is the removed section: “(b) No person shall be prosecuted for an offence under this Law, except offence under section 1 or 2(f), if twenty years have passed since the time of the offence.”

We find Hannah Arendt’s evaluation of the Eichmann trial very relevant before concluding this discussion. She remarks: “The irregularities and abnormalities … were so many, so varied, and of such legal complexity that they overshadowed during the trial … the central moral, political, and even legal problems that the trial inevitably posed. Israel herself … confused the issues further by listing a great number of purposes the trial was supposed to achieve, all of which were ulterior purposes with respect to the law and to courtroom procedure. The purpose of a trial is to render justice, and nothing else; even the noblest of ulterior purposes … can only detract from the law’s main business: to weigh the charges brought against the accused, to render judgment, and to mete out due punishment.”

In his/her article, the author attempted to elevate the Eichmann trial to a utopian court, and convicted ICT, Bangladesh of false acts of crime as well. But we have already seen that Eichmann trial was full of errors and inconsistencies, and their allegations against ICT are false. Those six hundred words by Economist is, to say the least, horrendous shame on journalistic honesty, academic integrity as well as disgrace for professionalism.

Omar Shehab is a PhD student at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, USA.  Farhan Nasim is doing his bachelors at the Shahjalal University of Science and Technology, Sylhet.

Originally published as an Op-Ed in


  1. “Justice in Bangladesh: Another kind of crime,” The Economist, March 23, 2013.
  2. “Unrest in Bangladesh: A nation divided,” The Economist, March 9, 2013.
  3. “Discrepancy in Dhaka—a brief update,” Banyan Asia, The Economist, December 11, 2012.
  4. “Bangladesh’s war-crimes trials: Bloodletting after the fact”, Banyan Asia, The Economist, March 1, 2013.
  5. “Bangladesh: Discrepancy in Dhaka,” Banyan Asia, The Economist, December 8, 2012.
  6. “War crimes in Bangladesh: Justice delayed,” The Economist, January 26, 2013.
  7. “Trying war crimes in Bangladesh: the trial of the birth of a nation,” The Economist, December 15, 2012.
  8. “India and Bangladesh: Embraceable you,” The Economist, July 30, 2011.
  9. “19 Feb 2012: Order on New Age,” Accessed April 5, 2013.
  10. “Hearing at the ICT on August 23rd, 2011 as transcribed by David Bergman,” Accessed April 5, 2013.
  11. “Hearing at the ICT on March 5th, 2012 as transcribed by David Bergman,” Accessed April 5, 2013.
  12. Baade, Hans W. “The Eichmann Trial: Some Legal Aspects,” Duke Law Journal 400 (1961): 400-420.
  13. “Course PLSC-118: The Moral Foundations of Politics,” taught by  Ian Shapiro under Open Yale Courses. Accessed April 5, 2013.
  14. Wiegrefe, Klaus. “The Holocaust in the Dock: West Germany’s Efforts to Influence the Eichmann Trial,” Der Spiegel, April 15, 2011.
  15. Hans Josef Maria Globke was a high-ranking public servant after World War II in the Federal Republic of Germany.
  16. Fox, Margalit. “Moshe Landau Dies at 99; Oversaw Eichmann Trial,” The New York Times, May 2, 2011.
  17. Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Nazis and Nazi Collaborators (Punishment) Law, 5710-1950,” Accessed April 5, 2013.

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed, or the assumptions made within the analysis in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of International Crimes Strategy Forum (ICSF).

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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