The prime minister of Bangladesh was voted in on her promise of justice for the crimes of its foundation 40 years ago. This has not quite happened as planned, and has been the excuse for suppression of all political opposition
Bangladesh’s prime minister, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, launched a coordinated assault in January 2010 on the Islamist order that has gripped her country for 30 years. She attacked its legal foundation. In 1979, Islamists had hijacked control of the state, amended the constitution, and transformed Bangladesh from a secular country to an Islamic republic. Through the Supreme Court, Hasina retrieved it: she nullified the 1979 amendment, and the world’s third largest Muslim nation became a secular republic again.
Hasina won a landslide election in 2008 by promising a tribunal, which she constituted in March 2010. The decision has been hailed by international jurists, for good reason. Done properly, Bangladesh’s tribunal could help abate the corruption and political squabbling that have crippled Bangladesh since its creation. It could also be an important model for the Muslim world. But instead of using the court’s energy to seek out hundreds of presumed war criminals, Hasina seems to have empowered it only to harass the leadership of Jamaat-e-Islami. The witchhunt promises only more instability.
Witnesses are aging and dying. Evidence is fading. “I want a peaceful trial, and very soon,” Bablu said. “There will not be another chance.”
First published in Le Monde Diplomatique, Paris, France, 4 June 2011