Sunday, January 27, 2013
Bangladesh: Between Justice and Politics
So published in June 1971 that chronicled for the first time the atrocities committed by the Pakistani army and its cohorts to prevent the secession of East Pakistan, now
Long before the doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) began to evolve
in the 1990s, the article by Pakistani journalist Anthony Mascarenhas in the UK’s turned international public opinion against Islamabad and prompted India to intervene and end the war.
On Monday, a
tribunal delivered its first verdict, , a Bangladeshi Islamic
cleric and former student leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, to death for
crimes against humanity. Eleven other suspects are awaiting trial. in absentia on numerous charges, including genocide, murder
and rape. A former TV presenter, . As a member of the Razakar Bahini, an auxiliary force that
supported the Pakistani army, Azad helped to crush local resistance in East Pakistan.
The scale of the killings would normally have shaken the conscience of the international community. However, unlike the UN-backed International Criminal Tribunals instituted to try war crimes in the former
and Rwanda, the Bangladesh
genocide has received scant international attention. This lack of awareness has
persisted, even as victims’ families and human rights groups have spent decades
fighting for justice.
are partly to blame. Pakistani troops were let off the hook as part of a broader post-war peace deal between
Moreover, the Bangladesh Liberation War occurred at the height of the Cold War
when the United States, allied with Islamabad, overlooked Pakistan’s atrocities
as it sought the nation’s help as a conduit to establish diplomatic ties with
But this is now changing thanks to the tribunals. However, these tribunals— referred to as the International Crimes Tribunal— . The U.S.-based Human Rights Watch has repeatedly expressed concerns over the efficacy of the trial, saying that the law under which the accused are being tried does not meet international standards of due process. Critics, including the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) headed by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, have called the trials a “farce” and see them as a witch-hunt.
The accusation is not unfounded. Zia and current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina are bitter political rivals and have often used state institutions to undermine one another. The Jamaat-e-Islami is an ally of the BNP, which sees the trial as an attempt by Hasina’s Awami League to undermine the BNP-Jamaat alliance.
The court’s standing received a further blow in December when Mohammed Nizamul Huq resigned as chairman of the tribunal. Nizamul left the post by and having private emails published in
cast doubt on the tribunal.
the risks of new injustices occurring are very real. However, the conviction of
a high-profile war criminal is the first tentative step towards closing a
deeply haunting chapter in Bangladesh’s
turbulent history. The opportunity must not be allowed to wither away.
First appeared in The Diplomat, January 25, 2013