Monday, August 18, 2008
Bangladesh's Unfinished Revolution
With the general elections in the offing, the demand for trying the war criminals is gaining momentum
The trial of those who actively opposed Bangladesh's liberation by taking up arms to fight for the occupying Pakistani army has been one of the unfinished legacies of our history. In 1971, Jamaat-e-Islami, Muslim League and the Nejam-e-Islami -- formed different paramilitary groups such as Shanti Committee, Razakar Bahini, Al Badr and Al Shams that killed hundreds and thousands of innocent Bangalis and raped hundreds. Siddiq Salik, who was serving the Pakistan army as a major in Bangladesh in 1971, in his book 'Witness to Surrender' recounts, (TheDaily Star, 2007-10-28) “The only people who came forward (to help the Pakistani army butcher and rape innocent people) were 'the rightists like Khwaza Khairuddin of the Council Muslim League, Fazlul Qader Chaudhry of the Convention Muslim League, Khan Sobur A Khan of the Qayyum Muslim League, Professor Ghulam Azam of the Jamaat-e-Islami and Maulvi Farid Ahmed of the Nizam-i-Islam Party.”
The Al Badr is thought to be behind the massacre of the intellectuals on December 14, 1971 when a hundred intellectuals were picked up to be slaughtered. As the newspapers suggest, the top leadership of the Jamaat has been involved in the rape and killing during the war of liberation, and the party was banned immediately after the country's independence. In fact, the process of trying the war criminals has started as early as January 24, 1972 when the Collaborator's Act was promulgated. Lieutenant General (rtd) M Harun-Ar-Rashid, a valiant freedom fighter and former chief of Bangladesh army recalls: “The act was later changed twice to make the process easier. By October 1973, over 37, 000 collaborators were arrested.” Contrary to the misconception that all the war criminals have been pardoned, he says, “That year a general amnesty was declared in which the accused against whom there was no clear evidence of killing, rape and arson were given clemency. There was this clause that even those who were pardoned if new allegations of killing, rape and arson turned up against them they could be tried.”
There were 11,000 prisoners against whom there was clear evidence of killing, rape and arson. By December 31, the trials of 752 war criminals were finished, even death penalties were handed down, and one war criminal walked the gallows. Actually, the first death penalty that has been executed in the history of Bangladesh is in fact that of a war criminal.
The situation turned upside down after the murder of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. “In December that year, the Collaborator's Act was repelled and the trial and investigation process was stopped. Even those who had been punished were freed. The Fifth Amendment of the constitution ratified it. When democracy was established in 1991, a movement was launched to try the war criminals; a people's investigative commission was later formed under the leadership of Sufia Kamal,” Harun says.
Harun coordinates the Sector Commanders' Forum (SCF) that has brought the long-standing trial of the war criminals to the fore. This year the organisation has held a convention in which the demand was raised. It is significant for the caretaker government has launched a war on corruption and is set on reforming the country's politics. Many like Harun believe the government should form a commission to start the trial of war criminals. Harun says, “Corruption is related to the looting properties of the state and its citizens. War crime is an even bigger crime for it is done against the state. If a society that allows the war criminals to roam around free for so many years, it is not at all surprising that such a society will become a breeding ground for criminals. Until we are able to try the war criminals, anarchy and lawless will remain pervasive in our country. Moreover, those who have been affected during the Liberation war, those who have been raped, killed or lost their property, have suffered because of the birth of this state. We are now the members of the army of a nation or the journalists of an independent country, and those who have sacrificed their lives or suffered for the birth of the country, we have some responsibilities towards their souls. The most important thing is, it makes no sense at all that we will try the petty criminals, and form different bodies to try the corrupt whereas we do not want to do anything against those who have actively opposed the independence of this state.”
The Chief Adviser of the current Caretaker Government has already termed the participation of the war criminals in the next general election unacceptable. The current chief of the army has also supported the move of bringing the war criminals to justice. Air Vice Marshall (rtd) AK Khandker, former air chief and the deputy supreme commander of the Muktijuddo also thinks that as “We are going through a very important phase of our national life, and from that point of view the coming elections at various levels are going to be of tremendous importance. “ Khandhker, also chief of the SCF thinks that only honest, able and patriotic people should come through the elections. “We want those who committed crimes during the liberation war and those who opposed the very independence of our country to be barred from participating in the election. It is the expectation of the entire nation that the present government starts the process of trying the war criminals and also bar those who opposed the independence of our country, from all elections,” he says.
It is high time that the government sets up a fact-finding commission to probe into the war crimes of 1971. Our new journey towards a bright democratic future will lose its proper direction if war criminals make it into the next parliament.