Tuesday, November 29, 2011

U.S. seek to ensure fair, transparent trial of Bangladesh war criminals

SALEEM SAMAD

THE MOST talked about trial of the war criminals, which occurred during the bloody war of independence of Bangladesh from Islamic Pakistan in 1971 needs to be accessible to all.

The visiting US Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Stephen J Rapp on Monday said after he reviewed to assess the standard and progress of the war crimes tribunal.

A former prosecutor for courts for Sierra Leone, and the International Crimes Tribunal of Rwanda, Rapp said the war crimes tribunal should define "crimes against humanity" at the soonest to clear any confusion.

US Ambassador regretted that many of his suggestions he made in March were not incorporated into the International Crimes Tribunal Rules of Procedure to ensure a fair and transparent trial.

The International Crimes Tribunal detained five key suspects who belong to pro-Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami and main opposition Bangladesh Nationalists Party. Several other suspects are under investigation and would be arrested to face the music.

Bangladesh would be first Sunni Muslim majoritarian nation to have the war crimes suspects on the docks, which is likely to mitigate the longstanding demands of the survivors and family members seeking justice for the three million deaths and another 400,000 sexually abused women by the Islamic militia, henchmen of the Pakistan army.

Rapp said it is important that the judges at the first opportunity define what “crimes against humanity” means. The term “crimes against humanity” has been defined in the statues and cases of international courts but it has not been defined in Bangladesh, to avoid credibility of the war crimes trial, he said.

He said it is not clear whether the prosecution must prove whether the alleged murders and rapes were committed as part of a widespread and systematic attack against a civilian population, whether they were committed on a racial, religious or political basis, or whether the alleged perpetrators would need to have knowledge of the larger attack.

Ideally the trial sessions should be broadcast on television or radio, or weekly reports be aired that would show key testimony, arguments, rulings, he argued.

If this is not possible in Bangladesh, he said neutral observers should be permitted to follow the trials and produce daily and weekly reports that would be available through the internet and other media.

Rapp said these trials are of great importance to the victims of these horrible crimes. What happens here will send a message to others who would commit these crimes anywhere in the world that it is possible for a national system to bring those responsible to justice.

Rapp, who came here for a third time in connection with the war crimes Trial, said the focus of his current visit is on how the International Crimes Tribunal will conduct these trials.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes on Islamic terrorism, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile from Canada after return of democracy. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com