By S. Binodkumar Singh*
On October 22, 2020, the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) issued a death warrant against Jatiya Party leader and former State Minister Syed Mohammad Qaiser over crimes against humanity he committed during the Liberation War in 1971. The death warrant was sent to the Dhaka Central Jail, Keraniganj, secretaries of the Home Ministry and Law Ministry, and District Magistrate. However, Qaiser was given 15 days to appeal the decision. Qaiser was sentenced to death on December 23, 2014, when the prosecution proved seven charges against him. On October 29, 2020, Qaiser filed a petition with the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court seeking review of its verdict that upheld his death sentence. In the review petition, Qaiser mentioned a total of 18 grounds for which the apex court may consider his prayer. His lawyer Tanvir Ahmed Al Amin argued that Qaiser was 82 years old and sick. He moves on a wheel chair. There is no precedent of sentencing such an old sick man to death in the world, he said. Qaiser is now in Keraniganj jail.
Thus far, the War Crimes (WC) Trials, which began on March 25, 2010, have indicted 125 leaders, including 50 from the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI); 27 from the Muslim League (ML); 11 from Nezam-e-Islami (NeI); five from the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP); two each from the Jatiya Party (JP) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); 27 former Razakars; and one former Al-Badr member. Significantly, out of 125 leaders indicted, verdicts have been delivered against 95 accused, including 69 who have been sentenced to death, and 26 to imprisonment for life. The latest verdict given by the ICT was on December 11, 2019, in which Abdus Sattar alias Tipu Sultan (66) was sentenced to death for crimes against humanity during the Liberation War of 1971. He was charged on August 8, 2018, with two counts of crimes against humanity. The tribunal sentenced Sattar to death for abducting Babar Mandal from Shaheb Bazar of Rajshshi city on September 26, 1971, taking him to Shaheed Samsuzzoha Hall torture camp at Rajshashi University, torturing him in confinement there, and shooting him to death at the killing ground in the eastern side of the hall at midnight on September 27, 1971. He was also sentenced to death for abducting 11 freedom fighters by attacking village Talaimari, Boalia, Rajshahi on November 2, 1971, taking them to the same torture camp of the Razakar force, torturing them in confinement there for two days and shooting nine of them to death at the same killing ground on November 4, 1971. In 1971, he was a cadre of Islami Chhatra Sangha, the then student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI), and joined the infamous Razakar force.
So far, six of the 69 people who were awarded the death sentence have been hanged. On September 3, 2016, JeI Central Executive member Mir Quasem Ali (63) was hanged at Kashimpur Central Jail in Gazipur District; on May 11, 2016, JeI Ameer (Chief) Motiur Rahman Nizami (75) was executed at Dhaka Central Jail; on November 22, 2015, JeI Secretary General Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed (67) and BNP Standing Committee member Salauddin Quader Chowdhury (66) were hanged simultaneously at Dhaka Central Jail; on April 11, 2015, JeI Senior Assistant Secretary General Mohammed Kamaruzzaman (63) was hanged at Dhaka Central Jail; and on December 12, 2013, JeI Assistant Secretary General Abdul Quader Mollah (65), who earned the nickname ‘Mirpurer Koshai (Butcher of Mirpur)’ was hanged at Dhaka Central Jail. 32 others are absconding and another 31 cases are currently pending with the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, out of 26 persons who were awarded life sentences, five persons have already died while serving their sentences – former JeI Ameer Ghulam Azam (91), who died on October 23, 2014; former BNP Minister Abdul Alim (83), who died on August 30, 2014; former JeI National Assembly member S.M. Yousuf Ali (83), who died on November 17, 2016; former JeI member Gazi Abdul Mannan (88), who died on December 19, 2016; and former ML member Mahidur Rahman (88), who died on May 21, 2018. 13 others were absconding and another eight were lodged in various jails of the country. Verdicts against 31 accused are yet to be delivered.
Recalling the support of the Government and people of India during the Bangladesh Liberation War against Pakistan in 1971, Liberation War Affairs Minister Mozammel Haque announced on August 6, 2020, that Bangladesh would construct a monument in the memory of the Indian soldiers martyred in the Liberation War. The Bangladesh Government has selected 3.5 acres of land at Ashuganj in Brahmanbaia District bordering Agartala. The site selected has historic significance as the Indian Army fought the Pakistanis in some decisive battles in 1971, along with Bangladesh freedom fighters, at Ashuganj. Nearly 2,000 Indian soldiers were killed in the 1971 war against the Pakistan Army, to liberate East Pakistan. According to the Bangladesh Government, as many as 1,984 Indian Army men were killed in the war. Earlier, on July 25, 2011, Bangladesh conferred its highest state award, Bangladesh Swadhinata Sammanona (Bangladesh Freedom Honour) to former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi posthumously for her outstanding contribution to the country’s 1971 Liberation War. Indira Gandhi made crucial contributions to the independence of Bangladesh, travelling across the world to mobilize support for the people of East Pakistan, which later became Bangladesh, amid a massive crackdown on civilians by the Pakistan Army, and supporting the Mukti Bahini (Liberation Army) and eventually injecting Indian Armed Forces to bring the Pakistani Forces to their knees.
Significantly, on August 9, 2020, at the 12th meeting of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Liberation War Affairs Ministry, a six-member Parliamentary Sub-Committee headed by Member of Parliament (MP) Shajahan Khan, was formed to prepare lists of those who collaborated with the Pakistani occupation forces during the 1971 Liberation War. The other members of the Sub-Committee are Liberation War Affairs Minister A.K.M. Mozammel Haque, Narsingdi MP Rajiuddin Ahmed, Chandpur MP Rafiqul Islam Bir Uttam, Brahmanbaria MP AB Tajul Islam and Chittagong MP Moslem Uddin Ahmed. The parliamentary team will work on enlisting and publishing the lists of anti-Liberation forces, including the Jamaat-e Islami, Razakars, Al-Badr, Al-Shams and the Peace Committee.
Further, on August 27, 2020, Minister for Liberation War Affairs Haque and State Minister for Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Zunaid Ahmed Palak, jointly inaugurated the digitization of 38 services of the Ministry of Liberation War Affairs as part of the rapid digitization activities under the Government’s “MyGov” platform at the conference hall of the Ministry of Liberation War Affairs. By launching the digitized services, the service recipients of the Ministry of Liberation War Affairs will be able to be included in the Gazette, receive the freedom fighters’ honorarium, revise information on freedom fighter certificates, and apply for any services related to payment, service progress, submission of required documents and other related activities through five access points. The access points of the services are MyGov Web, MyGov App, 333, Union Digital Center and the Liberation War Affairs Ministry website.
However, expressing frustration over the pending cases in the War Crimes’ trials, Shahriar Kabir, President of Ekattorer Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee (Committee for Resisting Killers and Collaborators of the Bangladesh Liberation War) stated on October 24, 2020,
The ICT’s cases are not normal cases like any other offence; the appeal hearing was stopped in the period of former Chief Justice Sinha and the appeals are still in the same state. The Supreme Court has to hear the appeal with the highest priority. We also suggested that the government follow other countries in the world in this regard. If the appeals are stuck in the appellate division with a backlog of other cases, they can hear appeals separately with the arrangement of the ICT set-up.
The achievements on the War Crimes Trials in Bangladesh are already remarkable. Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League-led Government has shown enormous courage in pressing ahead with the War Crimes Trail reaffirming the Government’s determination to honour its 2008 General Election pledge to bring the War Criminals of the 1971 genocide to justice. The Awami League is in its third straight term in power and its landslide victory in 2008 was precipitated by an election campaign where the war crimes trial was one of the top priorities. However, as a number of cases remain pending with the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, the eventual conclusion of the trials and appeals is far from over.
*S. Binodkumar Singh
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management