INTERNATIONAL SUPPORT FOR BANGLADESH WAR CRIMES TRIBUNAL
Set up in 2010 by the Awami League (AL) government, Bangladesh’s International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) is mandated to investigate and prosecute Bangladeshi nationals who collaborated with the Pakistan military regime during the liberation war. Bangladesh broke away from Pakistan 42 years ago after a war which saw killings on a mass scale, the exodus of more than 10 million refugees and military intervention by neighbouring India. The government set up the special court to deal with those accused of collaborating with Pakistani forces who attempted to stop East Pakistan, as Bangladesh was then, from becoming an independent country. It was with the return of the Awaami League to power in December 2008 that the official effort to bring the war criminals to justice was revived. The process was set in motion in 2009 with the amendment of the ICTA, 1973, paving the way for the setting up of the ICT in 2010. A second court was set up in 2012. The ICT indicted eleven persons on charges ranging from abduction to arson, rape, mass murder, war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. It has convicted eight so far and sentenced five of them to death.
After the announcements, the ICT has received considerable international support. The UN agreed to help Bangladesh in the planning stage. On 8 April 2009, the United Nations stated that some of its top war crimes experts would advise Bangladesh on how to try those accused of murder and rape during its bloody 1971 liberation struggle. The head of the United Nations in Bangladesh, Renata Lok Dessallien at that time mentioned that this was the first time Bangladesh was conducting war crimes tribunals and therefore it was important for it to understand how other countries held them in the past. The UN’s move to support the War Crime Trials was also welcomed by Amnesty International. Amnesty International, too, supported the establishment of the Bangladesh tribunal to end the “mass-scale crimes” that were “committed by members of Pakistani armed forces, as well as by members of all armed groups. On 13 January 2011, Stephen Rapp, US Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues stated that “The US government will help Bangladesh hold an open and transparent war crimes trial with the rights of defense for the accused”. Rapp said that American officials would advise how to ensure the right to defense and would also help investigators gather evidence.
The European Union too supported the trials. It passed three resolutions supporting the trials. The motion for resolution on the situation in Bangladesh put forward in the European Parliament on March 12 2013 acknowledged the need for accountability and justice for the crimes committed during the 1971 war of independence as necessary steps to achieve reconciliation and the important role which the International War Crimes Tribunal. The resolution strongly condemns the violence of Jamaaat-e-Islami supporters against law enforcement officers and against those who supported the verdicts of the war crimes tribunal. European Parliament member Jean Lambert, who forwarded the resolution had mentioned about EU’s support to Bangladesh efforts to try war criminals and expected that trials would confirm to the highest standards possible. Peter Custers, president of International Committee for Democracy in Bangladesh, reminded that the EU had passed at least three resolutions supporting the war crimes trial and hoped that the EU would continue its support to bring justice.
It needs to be mentioned here that War Crimes Tribunals have faced criticisms over its functioning in recent times. The lack of international standards in Bangladeshi journalism, the media bias against alleged war criminals and the lack of freedom of speech for the critics of the ICT are common allegations of the critics. However, such critics should remember that the atrocities and number of victims in Bangladesh have largely been overlooked by the rest of the world for four decades. The attempt by the Bangladeshi government to create a domestic tribunal for such grave crimes could set a valuable international precedent. The International Crime Tribunals (ICTs) currently being conducted in Bangladesh are fulfilling their mission of exposing genocide, preserving human rights and securing justice for those who were wronged.
February 17, 2014