A trial to deny justice
Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi
Last Updated : Wednesday, December 19, 2012 9:04 AM
The Muslims of Bengal played a remarkable role in the independence struggle that put an end to British colonial rule in the Indian subcontinent. They also had a major role in the creation of Pakistan. This was after the realization of the Muslims in the subcontinent that if they did not secure a separate state for themselves as the British were leaving the country, it meant that British rule would be replaced by Hindu rule. Therefore, when Indian leaders launched the “Quit India” movement, Muslims launched a similar movement called “Divide and Quit India.” These movements eventually led to the end of the British rule and the creation of Pakistan by including Muslim majority western and eastern regions of India while the non-Muslim majority regions remained part of a divided India.
The state of Pakistan was created with two parts – West Pakistan with more geographical area and a low density of population and East Pakistan with less area and a higher density of population. But unfortunately, as a result of mistakes committed by both sides, the unity of the country did not last for even a quarter of a century. East Pakistan seceded from West Pakistan following a nine-month civil war that ended with the creation of Bangladesh. This was accomplished with the interference of India that borders East Pakistan on three sides. The Pakistan army, led by General Niazi, surrendered before the Indian army, led by General Aurora, in the 1971 war. It was said that the Pakistani general hastened to surrender before receiving orders from the his army’s central command and before using all of his ammunition.
The Pakistan army was accused of committing war crimes, including murder and rape, during the civil war. The first government of Bangladesh, headed by the father of the nation Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, issued a law to try war crimes, and accordingly a list of suspected war criminals was prepared. The list contained 195 Pakistani soldiers and there were no civilians among those accused of war crimes. Another law was issued to try Bangladeshis who collaborated with the Pakistan army. Under this law, more than 100,000 people were arrested but were later released due to a public amnesty announced by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who came to power in West Pakistan managed to secure the release of the Pakistani soldiers, taken as prisoners of war by India, following his talks with the Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. There were some suspected war criminals among these soldiers. With this, the trials of war crimes suspects seemed to come to an end.
However, 40 years after the creation of Bangladesh and the general amnesty declared by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman with his famous saying “I want the world to know that Bangladeshis can forgive and forget”, his party, the Awami League, which came to power by winning the last elections, has now restored the law aimed at trying those suspected of war crimes. This was not done with the purpose of putting on trial the Pakistani troops suspected of committing war crimes, but rather was aimed at trying the political rivals of the Awami League and even those who were not earlier accused of war crimes.
Several international human rights organizations have criticized this law and the way the International Crimes Tribunal (Bangladesh) is conducting proceedings which lack international standards. These global bodies include the UN Commission on Human Rights, International Bar Association, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch, in addition to the British House of Lords. Several internationally renowned human rights activists as well as Muslim leaders have also spoken out against the Bangladesh government’s move. However, the government has paid no heed to this criticism and has instead persisted in violating these rights to a degree that some senior government officials have begun to speak publicly about when the trial will end and the punishment that the accused will receive.
These violations culminated in a Skype scandal exposed by the British magazine The Economist. The magazine disclosed Skype conversations between ICT’s presiding judge Mohammed Nizamul Haq and Ahmed Ziauddin, a war crimes expert of Bangladeshi origin living in Brussels, Belgium. In an article published earlier this month, The Economist said it had heard 17 hours of recorded telephone conversations and seen over 230 emails between Haq and Ziauddin. These conversations and emails indicate that the ICT trial is a government sponsored affair and that the war crimes lawyer is the one who framed the charges and who has been in constant contact with not only the judge but also the public prosecutor. One of the calls between the judge and the lawyer described the political pressure that the government is exerting on the Tribunal to expedite the trial proceedings against MP Delwar Hossain Sayeedi in the following words: “The government is infected with madness and total insanity so as to force a judgement to be delivered before December 16.”
The magazine pointed out that usually it does not resort to publishing classified material except in cases involving serious matters and threats to the lives of others. It also questioned the credibility of the court and the way in which it dealt with the country’s past. “This material is confidential and we are bound by law and the Code of Practice of the British press not to reveal such information except in matters of the most serious public interest. We did not solicit the material, nor pay for it, nor commit ourselves to publish it,” the magazine said.
It also drew attention to the dramatic shifting of a witness from the prosecution side to the defense after he was kidnapped near the door of the court. The defense team alleged that secret police agents kidnapped him, but the government denied the charge.
Meanwhile, lawyers loyal to the opposition called for a retrial of the case after removing Nizamul Haq from the panel of judges. Sayed Moudud Ahmed, an opposition leader and prominent lawyer, said: “The trial proceedings are clearly illegal and unconstitutional and therefore unacceptable after the disclosure about the Skype conversations. Also, the resignation of the judge is evidence of his involvement in an immoral and illegal act. He committed a breach of oath and indulged in a shameful act.” Ahmed urged the Bangladesh president to sack the judge after the formation of a Supreme Judiciary Council. He noted that appointing a new judge to lead the Tribunal and continuing the trial was not acceptable to the people.
A number of factors, such as the Skype scandal that led to the resignation of the presiding judge, the interference of government officials in the trial proceedings, their statements about the trial proceedings and the nature and date of the verdict, emphasize the fact that these trials have been politicized and will lead to denying rather than guaranteeing justice.
— Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs. He can be reached at [email protected]
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