Dhaka, Aug 8 (bdnews24.com) — The first war crimes tribunal on Wednesday extended a war crimes investigator’s cross-examination time by two more days.
The three-judge International Crimes Tribunal-1, set up to try crimes against humanity during the nation’s War of Independence, had on Aug 2 ruled that Jamaat leader Delwar Hossain Sayedee’s defence wrap up the cross-examination by Wednesday.
The tribunal indicted the Jamaat-e-Islami executive council member on 20 counts of war crimes on Oct 3, 2011.
The tribunal also rejected a defence petition seeking leave of the tribunal to cross-examine Sayedee’s investigation officer on two reports that, the tribunal said, were internal communication between the investigation agency and the prosecution.
Another petition by the prosecution praying that a witness, who could not be produced before the tribunal, had died and thus his statement given to the investigation officer be received as evidence citing the relevant provision (19.2) of the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act 1973, was accepted.
Sayedee’s war crimes investigator, ASP Mohammad Helal Uddin, began his deposition on Apr 8 and continued for eight days. This was followed by cross-examination, which has continued off and on over the last four months.
He took oath to face Sayedee’s defence on Wednesday for the 46th time. Although the tribunal had reminded the defence about its Wednesday deadline for completing the cross-examination, senior counsel Mizanul Islam appealed that the proceedings be brought to a close for the day at the end of the first half.
The tribunal Chairman, Justice Mohammad Nizamul Huq, also found the counsel looking ill and inquired after his health. Mizanul Islam said he was indeed feeling unwell and would not be able to continue his cross-examination for much longer.
He said he would need more time as well since he had not been able to cover all the material to his satisfaction.
The tribunal rejected a defence application seeking copies of two reports that the investigation officer had submitted to the judges.
The reports from Mar 17 and Mar 19 substantiated an application by the prosecution pleading that the tribunal receive 46 witness statements as evidence.
It was the prosecution’s contention that producing these witnesses would cause undue delay or expenditure to the proceedings following a provision of the tribunal laws.
The tribunal allowed the application for 15 witnesses but was not satisfied in case of the remaining 31. Apparently the application had failed to fulfil the conditions of the relevant provision and thus the tribunal allowed the petition only in part.
The court had then barred the defence from asking any questions regarding the contents of the two reports but had allowed questions regarding the process of the reports and such other matters that did not divulge what the reports stated.
The defence said that without the right to question about the contents, it would be extremely difficult to disprove the prosecution’s case and show that the entire application had been malafide.
Justice Huq noted the arguments of both sides in his order and gave his ruling on the two applications followed by the deadline for cross-examination, having heard the arguments of both sides.
The prayer noted the court’s earlier decision of rejecting another defence petition regarding the two reports which the defence was not allowed to obtain. The order noted that the defence, however, could still question the veracity of the reports through other questions. “And we see the defence has done that successfully.”
As regards inclusion of a dead witness’s statement, the order noted the defence argument that this Mukundo Lal Chakrabarty was among the 46 witnesses but his statement was among those rejected.
However, subsequently the prosecution had not sought to produce this witness before the tribunal, said Mizanul Islam. The defence counsel said, “Had the witness been important enough, the prosecution would have.”
The order cited the entire relevant provision of the Act and continued to state, “We find there is nothing in the Act that says the statement must be valuable.”
Justice Huq, giving the order, also said that there was no such provision that precluded a party from filing the same application despite an earlier rejection.
The tribunal then directed that Mukunda Lal Chakrabarty’s statement be included as evidence.
Justice Huq then moved on to the last part of his order and stated that upon including another witness statement, the defence would need a little more time for cross-examination of the investigation officer on the said statement. The order further stated, “It further appears that the health condition of Mizanul Islam is not good and he also submits as such.”
The order noted that Mizanul Islam submitted that he needed some more time for cross-examining the investigator on a number of points including the witness home.
“We find that some more time is needed for completing the cross-examination. We are also inclined to give him some more time. We direct the defence to complete cross-examination by Monday next positively. No further time will be allowed.”
The defence was up in arms protesting that it would be rather difficult to complete the cross-examination.