Bangladesh: The ICC trials and the international media
Abdul Mannan , শুক্রবার, মার্চ ০৮, ২০১৩


One of my former students called me from a European Capital to inform that there has been lots of misleading information in a section of the European media on the ongoing trial of those accused crimes against humanity and war crimes in Bangladesh in 1971. Similar reporting are also taking place in other media of the west. She even informed me that one of the newspapers reported that there is an ongoing street battle in Bangladesh between atheists and Muslims and it all started because the courts in Bangladesh has sentenced to death an Islamic cleric (Sayedee) due to pressure from the atheists. Unfortunately since the International Crimes Tribunal of Bangladesh went into operation in 2010 there has been a systematic propaganda in the International Media against the Tribunal and the trial of those accused. The propaganda is spearheaded by Toby Cadman, one of the three UK based legal counselors representing the 10 Jamaat-e-Islami accused at the Tribunal. This party has a proven record of being an active accomplice of the Pakistani occupation forces in 1971 when three million Bangladeshis were killed and no less than two hundred thousand women raped and indiscriminate act of arson, loot and genocide committed. The party believes in the philosophy of Al-Qaida, though many western countries wrongly brands it as a ‘moderate democratic Muslim party.’ It is neither `moderate’ nor ‘democratic’ and preaches the Salafist brand of Islam, the brand that has so far given the world terror merchants of Bin-Laden kind. The Jamaat in Bangladesh is alleged to have earmarked a fund of $225 million raised from its internal and international sources for waging an international propaganda war.
When Bangladesh went to war to liberate it from the Pakistani occupation forces in 1971, the entire nation, except the Jamaat, Muslim League, Nizami Islami and Pakistan Democratic Party activists, mobilized itself and joined the war. Out of the mentioned four right wing political parties that distanced itself from the war, Jamaat was the most organized, having a very strong presence amongst young college and university students. These young supporters had their own organization Islami Chattra Sangha, though not very large in numbers were mostly educated in Madrasas or religion based seminaries, harboured an extremely segmented and narrow view of the world as their education system never taught modern science and humanity. The Sangha members were later trained to be the members of the killing squad of the party, known as the notorious Al-Badars. The supporters of the other three political parties, though acted as auxiliary outfit of the Pakistani forces were more committed to petty crimes unlike their colleagues in Jamaat or Sangha. In a short span of about six months Jamaat managed to transform its Sangha outfit, the Al-Badars into storm troopers trained in secret and selective killing something very close to Germany’s war time Gestapo and SS. They were led by the people like Abbas Ali Khan, Matiur Rahman Nizami, Ali Ahsan Md. Mujahid, Qamruzzaman, Mir Kashem Ali. All of them later graduated to become Jamaat leaders and are now facing trial at the ICT. During this time Jamaat was led by Ghulam Azam who is also now facing trial
Immediately after Bangladesh became an independent country the first government of Sk. Mujib, better known as Bagabandhu to the people of Bangladesh promulgated a Law in 1972 to try those involved in collaborating with the Pakistani army and committing crimes against humanity and war crimes. A total of 37,491 alleged collaborators were rounded up from across the country of whom 8891 were later on released under a general amnesty as their involvement did not go beyond committing petty crimes. Some researchers put this figure into 11000. A total of 18 crimes which included rape, murder, looting, arson, committing genocide, forceful conversion and eviction from own homesteads were identified where the amnesty would not be applicable. 73 Special Tribunals were set up across the nation to try those detained. In the first phase 2848 accused were brought before the trial and they were allowed to defend themselves through their chosen counsel. Out of these, 22 were sentenced to death, 62 got life term, 752 shorter terms and rest acquitted while others waited for their turn to be tried. In 1973 another Act, commonly known as the International Crimes (Tribunal) Act-1973 was passed and given a Constitutional protection.
After the war was over 91000 POWs were transferred to India which included 195 Pakistani Army officers who were accused of committing gross crimes against humanity and war crimes during their stay in Bangladesh in 1971. The Simla of 1972 between India’s Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Pakistan’s President Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto made a way to release the POWs excepting the 195. During this time there were about 2000 Bengali army and civil service officers stranded in Pakistan and they were all hurdled up in different jails across Pakistan to live in squaler conditions. Besides them there were another two hundred thousand Bengalis in different cities of Pakistan, devoid of job or any earning. Bhutto held all of them hostage on the condition that the detained 195 prisoners be released. In the home front Mujib continued to receive pleas and pressures from the families of stranded Bengalis in Pakistan to bring them back at any cost, even through the release of the 195 accused. In 1974 a tripartite agreement between the foreign ministers of Bangladesh, India and Pakistan allowed the release of these 195 on the condition that they would be tried in Pakistan after proper enquiry. Though these 195 went home, no enquiry or trial were ever held. However Bangladesh never ratified this agreement in the Parliament, as required by the Constitution and currently there is no bar on trying these 195, even in absentia.
Everything changed after the assassination of Mujib on August 15, 1975. General Zia through a military coup assumed the state power, abrogated the Collaborators Act of 1972 and released all those sentenced under this law and allowed many of them to enter active politics and even inducted some of them into his cabinet (Mowlana Mannan and Abdul Alim). He even allowed the Jamaat and other right wing parties, who were banned from active politics by the 1972 Constitution to resurrect, something very similar to allowing the revival of the Nazi party in Germany. Though the 1973 ICT Act was very much in existence, no government till 2010 thought it necessary to use this Act to bring the perpetrators of the 1971 to justice. The Bangladesh Awami League, the lead party in the current alliance government incorporated in their election manifesto of 2008 that once they are voted to power they will bring the those accused of committing crimes against humanity and war crimes in 1971 before the court of law and face trial, which they are doing currently. Though the Jamaat never could muster any public support anywhere in the sub-continent in Bangladesh they are unfortunately actively backed by BNP the main opposition party of the country simply for their political gains. BNP is merely a platform of politicians drawn from different political background, does not have a consistent political ideology and is very good in forging alliance of convenience. On the contrary, Jamaat, though commands no more than 4% of public support, is a cadre based regimented party and most of their young workers are well groomed in creating violence and terror in short notice. In the recent times the BNP-Jamaat axis proved to be a very useful machinery in creating a reign of terror across the country after one of their key leader Delwar Hosain Sayedee was condemned to death for his crimes in 1971 by the ICT.
A section of western media always questions the quality and transparency of the trials of the ICT, notwithstanding the fact that amongst half a dozen such Tribunals currently active in many countries the Tribunal of Bangladesh is most transparent and liberal. Here trials are not held in a Guantanamo Bay style or in camera, the accused are given the option to choose their defense counsel and foreign advisors and have right to appeal against any verdict in the highest court of the country, an option for bail (currently one such accused is on bail, living with his family because of his old age). Such privileges absent in all other courts in operation. The trial proceedings are open to any visitor with permission from the court. So far many foreign visitors were allowed to witness the proceedings in the court and all expressed their satisfaction regarding the proceedings. Once the trials of the three Jamaat leaders were complete and verdict announced the US and UK foreign office expressed their satisfaction adding that as long as the trials are held in a transparent manner they have no comments to make. No other such trials are currently held in more transparent manner than those held in Bangladesh.
Some proposes that the trials would have been more acceptable if they were held under UN supervision forgetting that Bangladesh is a signatory to Rome Statute of 1998 which came into force on July 1, 2002. The Rome Statute was adopted to create International Crimes Court (ICC) and stated that ‘ICC can only investigate and prosecute the case of international crimes (genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes against aggression) in situation where states are unable or unwilling (Rwanda, Cambodia) to do so themselves. Thus the majority of international crimes continue to go unpunished unless and until domestic systems can properly deal with them. Therefore, permanent solutions to impunity must be found at the domestic level.’ Now it should be clear why Bangladesh does not need any sort of UN or other supervisions or interventions as we have the necessary laws in place and many of our legal practitioners by all definition are of international standard.
The section of international media that reports events in Bangladesh based on half truths or complete ignorance are actually aiding the growth of religious fanaticism of Al-Queda and Taliban type in Bangladesh and in near future not only Bangladesh the world will feel sorry for such short sighted acts. The world should not forget the fact the Talibans were created with the active collaboration between the CIA and the Pakistan’s dreaded ISI. Today it is believed that ISI is very much active in Bangladesh, funding the activities of the Jamaat and its allies. If the world media is careful enough to base their reports on facts rather than fiction or half truths, it will do the world lot of good. Today amongst all Muslim majority countries Bangladesh is known for its liberal views. Its people are religious but not fanatics which the Jamaat wants them to be. Islam entered this part of the Indian sub-continent through Sufi saints and not on the edge of swords as Jamaat wants to preach. Sufi saints were ambassadors of peace. Only the collective effort of all can make the world more livable. The world surely does not want the emergence of another Pakistan style country in South East Asia where religious militancy will be the state principal. If these issues are not settled now, it will never be settled in future.
The writer is a former Vice-chancellor, University of Chittagong. March 8, 2013