Bangladesh’s hysterical vengeance

Sparking protests and criticism from human rights groups across the world, the Bangladesh government executed Motiur Rahman Nizami, a former minister and leader of Jamaat-e-Islami, after country’s Supreme Court formally rejected his final plea against the death sentence last week. Earlier in 1014, he was convicted and sentenced to death by Bangladesh’s so-called International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) for allegedly committing war crimes during the ‘1971 Bangladesh Liberation War.’ The Hasina Wajid-led Awami league government formed the ICT in 2009 to prosecute and punish individuals involved in war crimes in Bangladesh. This tribunal has awarded death sentences to five opposition politicians, including five JI leaders since late 2013. The human rights groups all over the world have strongly condemned the execution of 73-year old Islamist leader who was convicted by a controversial tribunal, ignoring the due process of law and international standards. Reacting to this undesirable development, Turkey has also recalled its ambassador from Bangladesh.

The Nuremberg Trials were a series of military tribunals, established by the Allied powers after World War II through the London Charter, primarily to prosecute and punish the members of Nazi Party who planned, carried out or participated in the Holocaust and other war crimes. Later in 1946, another International Military Tribunal for Far East in Tokyo also prosecuted various Japanese leaders for war crimes. These trials eventually went a long way in evolving and codifying the principles and procedures for the war crimes trials throughout the world in the second half of the Twentieth Century. In 1998, the UN General Assembly adopted the Rome Statute of International Criminal Court. Finally in 2002, Rome Statute was entered into force, resulting in the formal establishment of International Criminal Court (ICC), headquartered in The Hague.

Under international law, now the ICC is the international legal agency to exercises its jurisdiction to prosecute individuals for international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in the world. In 2003, an Iraqi Special Tribunal, comprising five Iraqi judges, was formed to try deposed president of Iraq Saddam Hussain on the charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes. Among other things, this tribunal was severely criticised for its jurisdictions since only the ICC was supposed to try him in accordance with its legal procedure and principles. As a matter of fact, the so-called International Crimes Tribunals (ICT), established by the incumbent Bangladesh government, is by no means an ‘international tribunal’ in the sense it was not duly established in accordance with the International law. Instead, it was only formed through a Bangladeshi statue passed in 1973 and later amended in 2009 and 2012. Therefore, apart from the quality of trial conducted by it, the very formation of the tribunal suffers from serious legal defects, putting a big question mark over its authenticity, legality and propriety.

The Nuremberg principle V says, “Any person charged with a crime under international law has the right to a fair trial on facts and law.” Similarly, Article 67 of the Statue of International Criminal Court ensures a number of safeguards and rights to an accused, including his right to examine witnesses against him. Many human rights organisations in the world, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have pointed out a number of legal defects and procedural irregularities in various trials conducted by Bangladesh’s International Crime Tribunal. In Motiur Rehman Nizami trial, the prosecution was allowed to call 22 witnesses, while the defence was arbitrarily restricted to produces only 4 witnesses. Besides this, the defence was also prevented from cross-examining the key prosecution witnesses during the trial. The tribunal was also found relying on the hearsay evidence.

In December 2012, The Economist published the contents of leaked communications, showing an observable collusion among the judges of the tribunal, prosecution, government officials, and an external advisor. Consequently, the chairman of the tribunal Justice Nizamul Haq had also to resign. According to universally recognised principles of criminal justice, a man cannot be awarded a capital punishment until he is proven guilty beyond a shadow of reasonable doubt. In fact, the so-called beyond reasonable doubt (BRD) standard of proof has been grossly violated and ignored by the ICT in Bangladesh. In fact, after the lapse of a considerable time, a criminal charge cannot be proved against an accused person beyond reasonable doubt owing to certain legal complexities and technicalities. Therefore, it is quite perplexing how the ICT find it quite expedient to hang people in the country for war crimes committed some four decades ago.

Although Pakistan has formally recognised Bangladesh, yet both countries haven’t successfully fostered close friendly relations with each other. One of the major irritants between the two countries has been Bangladesh’s overriding desire requiring Pakistan to formally tender an apology to it over the unfortunate 1971 events. In fact, this demand is quite unjustified, and rather unreasonable. Certainly, there is hardly anything as ‘unconditional apology’ between the interstate relations. These relations are primary based on mutual respect and goodwill between the two states. The United States has fostered friendly relations with Japan despite the fact the US has yet not tendered an apology for dropping nuclear bomb on two cities of Japan marking the end of World War II. However, the US has extensively helped Japan in its post-war reconstruction. Now both countries have strong and active political, economic and military relations. According to an international survey, presently Japan is one of the most pro-Americans nations in the world.

Whatever Pakistan did in its erstwhile eastern province in 1971 was anything but irrational, unjustified or rather unusual. Every independent state always proactively endeavours to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity by all means. This is what the US military did to suppress the confederate states during the American Civil War. This is what the British Army did to defeat the Irish Republican Army during the Irish Civil War. The territory of today’s Bangladesh became a part of Pakistan in 1947 after a due political process. But ironically, Presently India is blatantly and arbitrarily employing its full military apparatus in state of J&K to keep its illegal hold on the disputed state. While overplaying the ‘atrocities’ committed by Pakistan’s army, one should also keep in the mind the negative role played by India and armed Mukti Bahini guerrillas in aggravating the situation in East Pakistan in 1971. Nevertheless, in 2002, President Pervez Musharraf not only visited the national war memorial site in Bangladesh but also expressed regrets over the unfortunate 1971 events.

In 1974, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh signed a tripartite agreement to normalise their relations through reconciliation by ending their post-war mutual confrontation. Under this agreement, pledging to ‘forgive and forget the past mistakes’, the Bangladesh government undertook not to try the prisoners of war as an act of clemency. Apparently, it is a blatant violation of the tripartite agreement as now the Bangladesh government has chosen to establish the ICT for war crime trials after more than 40 years. At present, the Bangladesh government is pursuing its well thought-out policy of imparting hate and vengeance against Pakistan to its youth. In fact, now Bangladesh’s hatred towards Pakistan has somehow become its iconic state symbol. Regrettably, in its hatred and vengeance against Pakistan, the Awami League government now feels no hesitation at all in arbitrarily trying and mercilessly hanging its own citizens.

Observably, Hasina Wajid-led Awami League is perusing the typical witch-hunt against its political opponents. Considering the Jamaat-e-Islami a potential hurdle in way of its self-styled modernisation and pro-Indian policies, the Bangladesh government is trying to eliminate JI by executing its leaders in the name of war crimes. Now, after Motiur Rahman Nizami’s execution, the government is all set to hang another ICT convict Mir Qausem Ali, a JI leader and its key financier. Therefore, the international community should proactively intervene to prevent Bangladesh government from committing grave human rights violation under the influence of its current ‘national hysteria’. Obviously, the historical, and rather hysterical vengeance against Pakistan will eventually lead Bangladesh nowhere. Instated, it will add to the miseries of the millions of deprived and underprivileged Bangladeshi people. Therefore, reconciliation, both internal and external, is the only way forward for Bangladesh.

The writer is a lawyer. He can be contacted at Follow him on Twitter