I am highly grateful to Mr. Riaz Haq to contribute this article. Please, PTH DOES NOT essentially agree with all the things written in this article. However, for the sake of freedom of speech, we are publishing this article. Regards Raza Habib Raja
Bangladesh Prime Minister Shaikh Hasina Wajid, daughter of independence leader Shaikh Mujib ur Rehman, set up what she calls “International Crimes Tribunal” (ICT) in 2010 to try those accused of committing atrocities during the war that gave birth to her country on Dec 16, 1971 when Pakistani forces surrendered to the invading Indian Army. “International” in the title is clearly misleading because it is not based on international law. In reality, it is a national court, based on a Bangladeshi statute passed in 1973 and amended in 2009 and 2012.
Conveniently, all of those in Bangladesh charged with “war crimes” happen to be part of the opposition allied with Hasina’s chief rival and former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia. Hasina feared that if Khaleda won the elections scheduled for early 2014, the ICT would be disbanded and the accused set free. It is believed that the “war crime” trials were rushed and Khaleda’s Jamaat-e-Islami partners convicted and executed to avoid that possibility.
The Bangladesh ICT has been highly controversial from the start. Its first presiding judge, Mohammed Nizamul Huq, had to resign as chairman of the tribunal, following the disclosure of private emails and conversations which raised questions about his role. Recordings of him speaking by telephone were also available on YouTube and published by The Economist magazine. It seems to show that he worked improperly with Ahmed Ziauddin, a lawyer based in Brussels, and that the lawyer co-operated with the prosecution—raising questions about conflicts of interest. And in JI leader Delwar Hossain Sayeedi’s case it suggests that, even before the court had finished hearing testimony from the defense witnesses, Mr Nizamul was already expecting a guilty verdict.
More recently, another accused, JI leader Abdul Quader Mollah, was convicted of “war crimes” and quickly executed. Three of the charges against Mr Mollah relied on hearsay evidence. The charge for which Mr Mollah was found guilty was based on the testimony of a single witness, who was only 13 years old at the time, and no corroborating evidence was offered. The judicial process used for convicting and executing Molla has drawn criticism from UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay, US, EU and International Bar Association.
The ICT has so far convicted 10 JI people, eight of whom have been sentenced to die. None of the Bengali nationalists who murdered Biharis, pro-Pakistan Bengalis and West Pakistanis have been charged.
The ICT verdict against Molla begins with the recitation of unsubstantiated and unproven Bangladeshi nationalists claims that “three million people were killed, nearly quarter million women were raped”. These claims have failed the scrutiny of the only serious scholarly researcher Sarmila Bose ever done into the subject. Bose’s investigation of the 1971 Bangladeshi narrative began when she saw a picture of the Jessore massacre of April 2, 1971. It showed “bodies lie strewn on the ground. All are adult men, in civilian clothes….The caption of the photo is just as grim as its content: “April 2, 1971: Genocide by the Pakistan Occupation Force at Jessore.” Upon closer examination, Bose found that “some of the Jessore bodies were dressed in shalwar kameez ‘ an indication that they were either West Pakistanis or ‘Biharis’, the non-Bengali East Pakistanis who had migrated from northern India”. In Bose’s book “Dead Reckoning” she has done case-by-case body count estimates that lead her in the end to estimate that between 50,000 and 100,000 people were killed on all sides, including Bengalis, Biharis, West Pakistanis and others, in 1971 war.
As part of her efforts to manipulate upcoming elections, Shaikh Hasina has amended the constitution to scrap the caretaker government provision for holding parliamentary elections. Instead, she has installed an “all-party” interim cabinet, in which BNP did not join, to conduct the polls.
There has been a very strong and violent reaction to Hasina’s actions from the Opposition led by Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its allies, particularly the Jamat-e-Islami which enjoys substantial support. For nearly a month, the entire country has been under a rail and road blockade by the BNP and its allies, according to the BBC. It has cut off routes between Dhaka and much of the rest of the country, including the critical port city of Chittagong.
The current events in Bangladesh confirm that it is still a divided nation continuously debating 1971. Sheikh Hasina is a highly divisive person using divisions to boost herself personally. I have personally seen significant conflict among my Bangladeshi friends, particularly relating to Hasina’s close ties with India. Unfortunately for Bangladesh, she continues to be a divider, not a uniter.