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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2526

Dhaka Diary: War criminals of 1971: time to take action

By Rabindranath Trivedi - contributing for Asian Tribune

Dhaka, 11 November, (Asiantribune.com): There is Islam in Bangladesh despite the lame propaganda in pre-independence era. There are war criminals in Bangladesh, who abetted in the genocide and cowardly killing of our mothers brothers sisters and intellectuals and others in 1971. During a war, any action of murder, rape, torture against the civilian population is a crime
There will be no punishment for the never-ever-pardoned war criminals, who have the audacity today to question history that is ripe in the memory of millions of living people worldwide and documented well in archives around the world for posterity, unless we understand that five years of shamelessly laying wreaths at the Jatiyo Smriti Soudha cannot convert a wolf into a sheep.

Do we know why we as a nation are in so much turmoil?

It is because our valiant Shaheeds do not rest in peace.

What helped such a transformation?

There can be several factors accounting for the dramatic shift that converted a civil element into an evil one, but the ones that stand out are the total desecration of the judicial system and the defilement of the law. Creating and empowering a fanatical terrorist group to repress political opposition, protecting murderers from the law, obstructing justice, and falsely accusing innocent citizens of crimes which they not only did not commit but were victims of, are obscenely ugly.

Various forms of corruption, from money laundering to bribe taking, and so on, must be dealt with in terms of their own merits, but should not be equated with extraordinary crimes. It is an irony that after a traumatic transition to democracy in 1990, it was the same lot of pseudo-politicians expediently created by the military itself -- the civil, military, bureaucratic, and political hustlers of various shades who participated in Ershadian looting -- who reappeared in politics in democratic grab. Politics continued to remain the preserve of the same people who, after a period of hibernation, returned under the wings of a triumphant BNP.

Once again the same people -- the tax evaders, the bank defaulters, the smugglers, the criminals and robber barons -- were foisted upon an electorate unable to make an informed political choice. The election under the prevailing system failed to throw up the very best, the noblest or the fittest, but helped the scum of the society who were rich, unscrupulous and most powerful to bag the votes through tricks, manipulation and muscle power.

What was the credibility of entire election machinery, when the election could be rigged and the votes could be purchased with black money or through coercion? Besides, a bitter and blind inter-party confrontation, the intra-party infighting, and absence of intra-organizational democracy continued to impede the growth of democratic culture in our country.It can't be, in any way, conducive to democratic growth if political opponents are hounded, harassed and persecuted, as was experienced during the authoritarian regime of BNP-Jamaat alliance -- while the acts of the betrayal of public trust, abuse of power and rampant corruption went unpunished, observed Brig. M A Hafiz, (retired ) former DG of BIISS..

And is it a surprise if such a nation, over the course of time, sinks into a morass of corruption and criminality?

Awami League (AL) strongly demanded the caretaker government take legal measurers against the leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami who repressed women during the Liberation War and made insolent comments over the nation's war of liberation. At a meeting of the party's central working committee (ALCWC), the AL also demanded the government and the Election Commission (EC) take measurers so that the war criminals and Jamaat-e-Islami, "abuser of holy Islam for political gains", cannot register with the EC and take part in the upcoming elections.

A total of 12 ALCWC members including the party president, general secretary and three presidium members are currently under detention.The meeting came down heavily on the remarks made by Jamaat leaders and sympathisers demeaning the nation's most glorious achievement -- the Liberation War , reports the daily star.

Genocide Act enough to try war criminals , Act formulators say

The government may still try war criminals under the much-neglected Genocide Act 1973, which allows it to set up tribunals to try and punish members of military and 'auxiliary' forces from any country guilty of war crimes and genocide in Bangladesh.

The central figure in drafting the act, Dr Kamal Hossain, told The Daily Star, "In principle, this law is in force and can be invoked for all the cases that fall under its ambit."

The inclusion of auxiliary forces in the act allows setting up of a tribunal by the government to try and punish war criminals from forces such as Al-Badr, Al-Shams, and Peace Committees that were formed in 1971 against the war of liberation of Bangladesh, if it can be proven that they were under the control of the occupying Pakistani military. The punishments under the act are either death or any other appropriate penalty commensurate to the gravity of the war crime committed.

Dr Kamal however added that the definition of 'auxiliary forces' should be carefully examined after looking at the necessary evidence of the activities of forces such as Al-Badr and Al-Shams.

The International Crimes (Tribunals) Act 1973 (ICA), promulgated on July 20, 1973 empowers the government to try individuals on specific charges of crimes against humanity and peace, genocide, war crimes, violation of the Geneva Convention and international laws, for assistance or conspiracy to commit such crimes, and for failure to prevent commissioning of such crimes.

The government only needs to set up a tribunal under the act which is still applicable, as the general amnesty granted to war criminals by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1973 does not apply to individuals against whom there had been specific charges of war crimes.

The press note on the general amnesty on November 30, 1973 states, "Those who were punished for or accused of rape, murder, attempt to murder or arson will not come under the general amnesty."

The gazette notification promulgating the ICA on July 20, 1973 says the tribunal set up under the act 'shall have the power to try and punish any person irrespective of his nationality, who, being a member of any armed, defence or auxiliary forces commits or has committed in the territory of Bangladesh, whether before or after the commencement of this act, any of the following crimes."

The act goes on listing the crimes against humanity including rape, torture, abduction, confinement of civilian population, or persecution on political, racial, ethnic or religious grounds, while crimes against peace are defined as planning, preparing, initiating or waging a war in violation of international treaties.

The ICA deals with genocide in the most detail, defining it as acts that are committed with intent to 'destroy in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, religious, or political group'.

The crimes that are considered acts of genocide include killing of members of any of the groups, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the groups, deliberately inflicting 'conditions of life calculated to bring about a group's physical destruction in whole or in part', imposing measures to prevent procreation within a group, and forcibly transferring children of one group to another.

War crimes are defined by the ICA as violations of internationally recognised war customs, including but not limited to murder and ill-treatment of civilians or prisoners of war, plunder of private property, wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages, and devastation not justified by military necessity.

According to one of the writers of the draft, former ambassador Waliur Rahman, the ICA was initiated by Bangabandhu immediately after his return from internment in Pakistan in January 1972, and was drafted under the direct auspices of two prosecutors from the Nuremberg Trials.

He said the Nuremberg prosecutors were even willing to come to Bangladesh during that period to hold a 'symbolic trial', but could not do so because of other political preoccupations of the Bangladesh government back then ,reports the daily star.

Definition of Genocide is the deliberate and systematic destruction of an ethnic, religious or national group. While precise definition varies among genocide scholars, the legal definition of it is found in the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG).

Article 2 of the CPPCG defines genocide as ‘any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.’

Unfortunately, when General Ziaur Rahman, a valiant Mukti-judda, emerged as a ‘strong man’ in 1975, he rescinded the Collaborators Act and released all the prisoners including those who were sentenced. He allowed religion-based parties to operate and started reinstating and rehabilitating them. No wonder, those who were guilty of ‘crime against humanity’ and collaboration with the enemy state (Pakistan) started returning from abroad, especially Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, and they were given Bangladesh citizenship and passport. A prime beneficiary of this development is Golam Azam of the Jamaat. However, once General Zia took over, all of them were issued Bangladesh passport or ‘travel documents’ to return to Bangladesh.

Fortunately, the International Crime Act of 1973, which allows trial of war criminals, is still active. Therefore, the military-backed government of Fakhruddin Ahmed that has started many essential reforms can try the war criminals and punish them provided it has the required commitment writes Abdul Momen writes from Boston, USA.

It may be recalled Out of 37,000 sent to jail on charges of collaboration, some 26,000 were freed after announcement of the general amnesty. Around 11,000 were still in the prison when the government of Justice Sayem and General Zia repealed the Collaboration Act on December 31, 1975. After the scrapping, those behind bars for war atrocities appealed and eventually got released.

In the early 90s, a mother of martyrs, Jahanara Imam, launched a movement for trial of war criminals. Though it won overwhelming public support none of the governments had bothered to take notice of it. At that time, the People's Inquiry Commission was formed to investigate the activities of the war criminals and the collaborators. Led by eminent poet Sufia Kamal, the commission comprised renowned academics, litterateurs and other professionals. On March 26, 1994, it unveiled accounts of the war crimes committed by 16 persons.

The war criminals are former acting aamir of Jamaat Abbas Ali Khan, Matiur Rahman Nizami, senior assistance secretary general of Jamaat Muhammad Kamaruzzaman, former BNP lawmaker Abdul Alim, Jamaat leader Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, Maulana Abdul Mannan, Anwar Zahid, Abdul Kader Molla, ASM Solaiman, Salauddin Quader Chowdhury, Maulana Abdus Sobhan, Maulana AKM Yousuf, Mohammad Ayen Ud Din, Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed, ABM Khaleq Majumder and Dr Sayed Sajjad Hossain.

“This is a country (Bangladesh) where lies traffic as truth, where the past is rewritten to whitewash the sins of those who opposed our independence, where our very history has been distorted beyond recognition, all without a thought as to the corrupting effect such blatant disregard for truth has on the national character. If we wonder why things have got to where they are, why corruption, cheating, and petty criminality are so endemic, why in so many areas there seems to be an absence of basic morality, it might be worthwhile to look back at our nation's original sin and locate the problem, or at least its genesis, there.

Can a nation which tolerates lies about its past ever be great? Can a nation in which war criminals and collaborators can hold their heads up high ever amount to anything? And is it a surprise if such a nation, over the course of time, sinks into a morass of corruption and criminality? I don't know. But I am unfamiliar with any other instance where those who opposed the birth of a country or those who collaborated with its enemies have been rehabilitated to the point that they are brought into the government. Our case certainly seems shamefully unique.

This is where the corruption of the nation's soul was born. If we focus on corruption and do nothing about the war criminals and collaborators, we are treating only the symptom and not the disease. Make no mistake about it: this is our original sin, and if we do not cleanse the poison from our bloodstream, once and for all, nothing else we do to clean up the country will have lasting effect, and in the long run our failure will come back to haunt us, Zafar Sobhan writes in an editorial comment in The Daily Star on Nov 2.

Rabindranath Trivedi,is a retired Addle Secretary of Bangladesh Government and author and columnist.

- Asian Tribune -

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