It has been a long journey to accomplish an ‘impossible’ mission! However, the Awami League-led government remained committed to hold the war crime trials against the local and international pressure and unwarranted conspiracy. Almost nearing nine years into the operations of the war crimes tribunals, the trials of war criminals about 40 years after the country’s independence are considered by the people to be one of the biggest achievements of Bangladesh as a nation. Not only that, perhaps it is one of the most courageous strides that the Awami League-led government, representative of pro-liberation force, has made towards re-establishing the spirits of 1971 War of Liberation.
During the 2008 general election, the Awami League election manifesto pledged to try the war criminals if it got into power. It did win that election with two-third majority. As pledged, the Awami League government formed the tribunal and relevant trial process in March 2010. It may be mentioned that on 25 March 2010, the Awami League government announced the formation of (i) a three-member judges’ tribunal; (ii) a seven-member investigation agency; and (iii) a twelve-member prosecution team to hold the trials according to the International Crimes Tribunals Act of 1973. This landmark announcement was made on the 39th anniversary of the Operation Searchlight carnage by the Pakistan Army on 25 March 1971. A second tribunal was formed by the government in March 2012. However, the second tribunal is now non-functioning since September 2015. Only Tribunal-1 has been functional at present.
Since the International Crimes Tribunal’s inception in March 25, 2010, the tribunals have up until now delivered judgements in 35 cases against 85 war criminals. Among them, 54 were sentenced to death. Following the verdicts of the trials at the tribunals, the apex court of the country (Supreme Court of Bangladesh) has so far disposed of the appeals of seven war criminals. In these seven appeals, the Supreme Court of Bangladesh has upheld the death penalty of the six war criminals. In the other appeal the Supreme Court of Bangladesh commuted the death penalty of the war criminal Delwar Hossain Sayeedi into life imprisonment.
The death sentences of the other six war criminals have been executed by the government. These war criminals were: Abdul Quader Molla (executed on 12 December 2013), Muhammad Kamaruzzaman (executed on 11 April 2015), Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid (executed on 22 November 2015), Salauddin Quader Chowdhury (executed on 22 November 2015), Motiur Rahman Nizami
(executed on 11 May 2016) and Mir Quasem Ali (executed on 3 September 2016).
Currently, 25 condemned war criminals are absconding to avoid arrest and execution. Nine of the war criminals among those who were sentenced to imprisonment till death are also absconding. Therefore, law enforcement agencies are yet to arrest a total of 34 fugitives.
It must be stated that the journey of the war crimes trials has not been smooth in any means. Rather they have faced many challenges over the years. Witnesses were threatened and attacked.
The prosecutions and the tribunal judges were made subject to bombs and cocktail attacks. Jamaat-e-Islami called protest after protest against the verdicts. The country had to tackle mayhem unleashed by the Jamaat-e-Islami and its student
wing Islami Chhatra Shibir in 2013, after the tribunal sentenced Jamaat leader Delwar Hossain Sayeedi
Nevertheless, on 20 June 2017, the International Criminal Court (ICC) President Justice Silvia Alejandra Fernández de Gurmendi expressed her satisfaction over the proceedings of war crimes trials in Bangladesh, according to a press release of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh. She specifically stated that “The experience of Bangladesh in holding war crimes trials will play an important role in development of overall judicial system in the national level.”
It is such a pity that one of the large political parties of Bangladesh, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) led by Begum Khaleda Zia, had remained silent on the issue of the trial of the 1971 war criminals. It is shocking to find that even after several observations made by the war crimes tribunals on the role played by the Jamaat-e-Islami in committing war crimes in 1971, BNP continued its political alliance with the anti-liberation party (Jamaat-e-Islami). More to that BNP is also participating in the upcoming election of Bangladesh as an election-alliance with Jamaat-e-Islami.
It may be stated that Jamaat-e-Islami is not a registered political party in Bangladesh. Therefore, it cannot participate in any election. However, BNP has given nominations to about 35 Jamaat-e-Islami leaders under BNP’s political banner to contest the next general election to be held on 30 December 2018. BNP even nominated at least seven family members of different war criminals.
On 30 December 2018, the people of Bangladesh are therefore seriously to make a choice — whether to send pro-liberation forces into power again or to choose the war criminals and their sympathizers by compromising with the spirit of 1971 War of Liberation. I am sure, not a difficult choice to make for us, Bangladeshis! It is surely 1971 spirit that will
Barrister Tureen Afroz is Prosecutor, War Crimes Tribunals of Bangladesh