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  Asia-Pacific
Govt Constitutes Tribunal to Try Heinous Crimes
By Ataur Rahman
Bangladesh Correspondent
The Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971 was an armed conflict pitting West Pakistan against East Pakistan (two halves of one country) and India, that resulted in the secession of East Pakistan as the independent nation of Bangladesh.

DHAKA, Bnagladesh — The government of Bangladesh constituted a special tribunal to try the Bengali speaking perpetrators of crimes against humanity during the 1971 Liberation War on the eve of the 39th anniversary of the Independence Day.

"The tribunal was set up today under the section six of the International Crimes (Tribunal) Act 1973 with honourable High Court Division judge Mohammad Nizamul Haque as its chairman," Law Minister Shafique Ahmed told a crowded press conference at the home ministry conference room.

He said High Court judge ATM Fazle Kabir and retired district judge AKM Zahir Ahmed were members of the three-member tribunal while the special court was constituted in consultation with Chief Justice Fazlul Karim.

Under the same law, he said the government also simultaneously formed a special investigation agency comprising four former and three serving government officials including an ex-additional secretary. The others belonged to police and military services.

Ahmed said a 12-member panel of prosecution team was also constituted with senior Supreme Court lawyers naming Advocate Golam Ali Tipu as the chief prosecutor.

The minister said no time frame was fixed for completion of the investigation of the crimes or the trial hinting that it might take a longer period to ensure the transparency but added that the tribunal or the investigation agency would start functioning "immediately" and might start arresting the alleged culprits.

He evaded a direct answer how many suspected "criminals" would be exposed to justice saying "the figure will be determined only after the investigations" while the investigation process would require gathering of evidence from different corners of the country and external sources abroad alongside local and international media reports at that time.

Ahmed also said that the panel of investigators would fix the modus operandi of the probe process while they might only depend on the evidence including media and other reports and documents at that time and could also seek the concerned people to lodge their complains against the suspects.

The International Crimes (Tribunal) Act 1973 suggests the highest death penalty and the lowest 10 years of imprisonment for crimes like massacres, murders, arsons and rapes and allows convicts to file appeals only before the apex Appellate Division of the Supreme Court.

The International Crimes (Tribunal) Act 1973 suggests thehighest death penalty and the lowest 10 years of imprisonment forcrimes like massacres, murders, arsons and rapes and allowsconvicts to file appeals only before the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court.

Planning Minister and chairman of the Sector Commanders Forum, the grouping of 1971 Liberation War commanders and veterans, retired Air Vice Marshal AK Khondker, Home MinisterAdvocate Sahara Khatun, state minister for law Advocate Quamrul Islam and state minister for home Advocate Shamsul Islam Tuku attended the briefing.

Home secretary Abdus Sobhan Sikdar, acting law secretary Anwarul Haque and members of the prosecution team were alsopresent.

According to the gazette notification, the prosecution panel comprises Syed Rejaur Rahman, Golam Hasnayen, Rana Dasgupta, Zahirul Haque, Nurul Islam Sujon, Syed Haidar Ali, Khondakar Abdul Mannan, Mosharraf Hossain Kajal, Ziad Al-Malum, Sanjida Khatun and Sultan Mahmud Semon.

The seven-member investigation team comprises former additional secretary Abdul Matin, former additional inspector general of police Abdur Rahim BPM, former deputy inspector general of police Kutubur Rahman, retired major Shamsul Arefin, additional inspector general of police (CID) Mir Shahidul Islam, CID Inspectors Mohammad Nurul Islam and Mohammad Abdur Razzak Khan.

The government announcement came amid an intensified campaign for exposing the 1971 "war criminals" to justice while the ruling Awami League had also pledged to try the Bengali- speaking perpetrators of crimes against humanity during the Liberation War in its election manifesto ahead of the landmark December 29, 2008 general elections.

The law minister said Bangladesh witnessed no opposition in staging the trial from the international community while only Pakistan tried to create a "confusion" saying a 1974 tripartite treaty between Dhaka, New Delhi and Islamabad had resolved the 1971 "war crime" issue.

"We are not trying them for war crimes" but exposing them to justice for their atrocities during the Liberation War, Ahmed said.

"Pakistan thinks the issue (of war crimes) was duly resolved for good in that treaty," Islamabad's new envoy to Bangladesh Ashraf Qureshi told newsmen after a courtesy call on Foreign Minister Dipu Moni on February 26.

Moni at that time, however, told the envoy that Bangladesh would try its own citizens for war crimes through a fair judicial process "adhering to highest international standards" under a policy decision and expressed her belief that this would not, by any means, affect its bilateral relations with Pakistan.

The government earlier refurbished the city's old High Court building to stage the trial under the International Crimes Tribunal Act while authorities last year ordered a ban on several suspected high profile 1971 war criminals, mostly belonging to fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami travel abroad.

"The government has ordered some people (suspected war criminals) not to leave the country as the process is underway for their trial," Law Minister Shafique Ahmed earlier said without naming the suspects.

Jamaat-e-Islami, an ally of opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) of Begum Khaleda Zia, and several other rightwing groups had sided with the then Pakistani junta in 1971.

Jamaat chief Motiur Rahman Nizami and secretary general Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojahid led the so-called elite Al- Badr forces in 1971 while the Gestapo like outfit is widely believed to have killed frontline intellectuals, after brutal torture, abducting them from their homes visibly in an effort to cripple the emerging nation intellectually.

Mojahid earlier were barred from leaving the country as he planned to visit Saudi Arabia to join a conference, when authorities cited pending graft cases against him for the ban.

Demands for the trial of the war criminals resurfaced two years ago after Mojahid commented that the "anti-liberation forces never existed" as he denied his party's role in 1971 while the party called it a "civil war" intensifying the public
outrage.

After independence Jamaat and other religion-based parties were constitutionally banned in Bangladesh till 1976 but they were allowed to resume activities after the August 15, 1975 military putsch toppled his post-independence Awami League government.

The post-independence government had announced a general amnesty to those who opposed the independence keeping the persons accused of arson, rape and killings out of its purview.



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Mr. Ataur Rahman serves as Bangladesh Correspondent for The Seoul Times. He earned his Master of Commerce degree from Dhaka University in 1985. Mr. Rahman has vast journalistic experience including his stints at "The Daily Janata" and "The Dainik Bangla."

 

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