War Crimes Trial: Bangladesh At The Crossroads – Analysis


By S. Binodkumar Singh*

On November 22, 2015, condemned war crimes convicts Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) Secretary General Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed (67) and Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) Standing Committee member Salauddin Quader Chowdhury (66) were hanged simultaneously at Dhaka Central Jail at 12:55 am after the President, Abdul Hamid, on November 21 rejected their applications seeking Presidential clemency as they lost all legal battles against their death sentences on charge of crimes against humanity committed during the Liberation War of 1971.

In fact, the International Crime Tribunal-2 (ICT-2) on July 17, 2013, had sentenced Mojaheed who was arrested on June 29, 2010, and was indicted on June 21, 2012, to death after finding him guilty on five of seven charges against him. He filed an appeal with the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court (SC) on August 12, 2013. However, the Appellate Division on June 16, 2015, upheld the death sentence for Mojaheed. Similarly, on October 1, 2013, ICT-1 sentenced Salauddin who was arrested on December 16, 2010, and was indicted on April 4, 2012, to death finding him guilty on nine of 23 charges. He lodged appeal with the Appellate Division on October 29, 2013, and the Appellate Division in its verdict on July 29, 2015, upheld the death sentence for him.

Remarkably, the Appellate Division on September 30, 2015, released its full verdicts upholding the death penalty of Mojaheed and Salauddin, leaving them with the option of seeking review of the verdicts. Expectedly, both Mojaheed and Salauddin filed their respective review pleas on October 14. Again, the Appellate Division after all the four judges including Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha, Justice Nazmun Ara Sultana, Justice Syed Mahmud Hossain and Justice Hasan Foyez Siddique signed on November 18 dismissed their review petitions, leaving only the President mercy as last resort of the two condemned war criminals to avoid execution. As expected, on November 21, Mojaheed and Salauddin submitted their separate mercy petitions to the President. On the same day, their pleas were rejected by the President.

Certainly, Salauddin and Mojaheed were the two most high-profile war crimes convicts who walked to the gallows. Salauddin is the first BNP leader to have walked to the gallows for war atrocities. He was the Parliamentary Affairs Adviser to the then Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia, enjoying the rank of a Cabinet Minister. Earlier, he was Minister of Health during the Hussein Muhammad Ershad’s regime. Meanwhile, Mojaheed was Minister of Social Welfare of the then BNP-led coalition Government between 2001 and 2006. He is the third JeI leader to have died for war crimes, after JeI Assistant Secretary Abdul Quader Mollah (65), who earned the nickname ‘Mirpurer Koshai (Butcher of Mirpur)’ was hanged at Dhaka Central Jail on December 12, 2013 and JeI Senior Assistant Secretary General Muhammad Kamaruzzaman (63), the third most senior figure in the JeI, was hanged at Dhaka Central Jail on April 11, 2015.

Thus far, the War Crimes (WC) Trials, which began on March 25, 2010, have indicted 44 leaders, including 27 from JeI, six from the Muslim League (ML), five from Nezam-e-Islami (NeI), four from BNP and two from the Jatiya Party (JP). Verdicts had been delivered against 24 accused, including 17 death penalties and seven life sentences. Each judgment resulted in violence unleashed by fundamentalists, led by the BNP, JeI and its student wing Islami Chattra Shibir (ICS) combine. According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), the country has recorded at least 481 Islamist extremist violence-related fatalities since March 25, 2010, including 267 civilians, 29 Security Force (SF) personnel and 185 extremists (data till November 26, 2015).

Expectedly, protesting the SC verdict of November 18, JeI called a countrywide dawn-to-dusk hartal (general strike) for November 19. Soon after the SC handed down the verdict, Makbul Ahmed, acting ameer (chief) of JeI, at a press statement said “The government has made a farce in the name of justice by filing false and fabricated cases against party leaders to make the party devoid of leadership. Mujahid is a victim of government’s conspiracy.” But, the countrywide hartal, unlike the previous hartals called by JeI protesting at the war crimes verdicts against the party leaders, was ignored largely across the country on November 19 without any violence. Again, protesting Mojaheed’s hanging on November 22, JeI called another countrywide dawn-to-dusk hartal for November 23. The daylong hartal concluded with almost no response from people.

Meanwhile, the BNP, not paying much heed to the trial and execution of its leader Salauddin did not consider any protest programme. Surprisingly, BNP Chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia at a high-level party meeting on November 25, 2015, did not allow her party colleagues to discuss Salauddin Quader Chowdhury’s execution. After the meeting, Jamiruddin Sircar, a Standing Committee member of the party said “The issue of Salauddin’s execution was raised at the meeting. Madam [Khaleda Zia] offered her condolence at his death. There was no more discussion on it as it was not on the agenda. We now want to make it clear that we are not in favour of war criminals. By not discussing Salauddin, she has saved her party from the accusation of patronizing war criminals.” Earlier, on November 19, 2015, when a correspondent of Prothom Alo (First Light), a major daily newspaper published from Dhaka city in the Bengali language, contacted seven BNP leaders, including three members of its Standing Committee members, a Standing Committee member, preferring anonymity, said “Salauddin Quader’s execution will have no impact on BNP. The party is not also discussing this much.”

In the meantime, on November 22, 2015, different political parties and organizations hailed the execution of Salauddin and Mojaheed. Hailing the execution of the convicts, Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB) in a statement demanded a ban on the politics of JeI and ICS to root out extremism from the country forever. Similarly, demanding immediate execution of the all other war crime convicts, Bangladesh Chhatra Federation (BCF), the student front of Ganasanghati Andolon, another left leaning political party, in a statement expressed their satisfaction over the verdict and said it was a reflection of people’s expectations. Sammilita Sangskritik Jote, a cultural organization, in a statement also expressed satisfaction over the execution of condemned war crimes convicts. In the same way, Gonojagoron Mancha (People’s Resurgence Platform), a youth platform seeking death sentence for all war criminals brings out a procession at Shahbagh in the capital Dhaka city.

Further, calling for confiscation of all the properties of the convicted war criminals and distribution of the wealth among the families of insolvent freedom fighters and rape victims of the 1971 Liberation War, Shahriar Kabir, Acting president of Ekatturer Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee, an anti-war crimes platform on November 26 said “The properties of Jamaat-e-Islami including its business firms, factories, NGOs, and educational and social institutions should come under the government’s control. These institutions have to give compensation as well.

Separately, criticizing former Presidents Ziaur Rahman and HM Ershad, and BNP Chairperson Khaleda for rehabilitating those involved in war crimes in 1971, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed on November 23, 2015, said “Ziaur Rahman did not try the war criminals. We tried and executed the war criminals. I think through the trial and execution of the war criminals the victims’ family members will at least get some consolation. If we cannot end the trial of war criminals, the nation will never be freed from curse.”

Indeed, the implementation of the verdicts of the War Crimes Trials in each case, as it was on November 22, is a step towards the long sought-after justice, a step towards establishment of a society under law, accountability and democracy. Moreover, the trial, judgment and verdict is a lesson to all that crimes committed against humanity will not go unpunished whoever the perpetrators may be, and that the law will catch up with them eventually. Nevertheless, the significant support base of the radical Islamist formations in the country, as well as of the BNP which allies with them, retains the potential to cause extreme harm within the country, and it will require both an iron will and political sagacity to carry the War Crimes Trials process to its logical conclusion.

*S. Binodkumar Singh is a Research Associate at the Institute for Conflict Management, New Delhi. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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