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Bangladesh: Long-delayed Justice
  • statue of Justice
    statue of Justice
On October 15, 2019, the International Crimes Tribunal-1(ICT-1) handed down the death penalty to Abdul Jabbar Mondal (89), Jachijar Rahman (67), Abdul Wahed Mondal (65), Montaz Alia Bepari (71) and Ranju Miah (62), for committing crimes against humanity during the Liberation War in 1971. All of them are from the Gaibandha Sadar upazila (sub-District) of Gaibandha District and were involved with Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI), an anti-liberation party, during the Liberation War. They were tried on four counts of crimes against humanity. The tribunal found all the five convicts guilty on the first charge and gave them death penalty. According to this charge, the five, along with Pakistan Army personnel and fellow Razakars (a prominent pro-Pakistan militia) attacked the Hindu-dominated Bishnapur village in Gaibandha Sadar upazila in the first part of June 1971 and caught and tortured several people, killed two Hindus and forced 300 to 400 other Hindus to leave the country. Four of the accused, excluding Ranju, were also sentenced to death on the second charge, according to which the convicts, along with Pakistan Army personnel and other Razakars launched an attack in Nandina village of the same upazila on October 18, 1971, and shot eight people dead and destroyed 40 to 50 houses. According to the third charge, the same four convicts with their fellow Razakars and Pakistan Army carried out an attack in Daulatpur village of the same upazila and killed five persons, on the same day. They were awarded the death penalty on this charge as well. On the same day, the five convicts caught a non-combatant freedom fighter, Abul Kashem from Nandina village of the same upazila, and tortured him by hanging him from a tree. Later, he was shot dead. All five were handed down the death penalty on this charge as well. 

On August 27, 2019, ICT-1 sentenced Abdus Samad Musa aka Firoz Khan (62), a JeI man to death for committing crimes against humanity during the Liberation War. The tribunal found him guilty on four charges and sentenced him to death on each. According to the first charge, the convict was sentenced to death for abduction, confinement, torture and murder of four pro-liberation persons at Damdoma, Shukdebpur, Banshbari and Gotia villages in the Rajshahi District on April 19, 1971. Samad got the second death sentence as he was found guilty of abduction, confinement, torture and murder of six villagers at villages Gondogohali, Chakpolashi, Bairagibazar and Banshbari in Rajshahi District on the same day. He got another death sentence for genocide by committing murder of four Santal ethnic minority people, looting, arson and torture at Santal Para of village Paschimbag in the same District, on the same day.The war criminal got the fourth death sentence for murdering a man at Dhokrakul village in the same District on April 20, 1971, after confining the victim.

So far, the War Crimes (WC) Trials, which began on March 25, 2010, have indicted 125 leaders, including 50 from the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI); 27 from the Muslim League (ML); 11 from Nezam-e-Islami (NeI); five from the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP); two each from the Jatiya Party (JP) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); 27 former Razakars; and one former Al-Badr member. The latest one indicted by the ICT-1 on October 16, 2019, is former Director General (DG) of the National Security Intelligence (NSI) Muhammad Wahidul Haque (69), for genocide committed in Rangpur District where he had been serving with the Pakistani occupation Army during the Liberation War. The tribunal indicted him for killing 500 to 600 pro-liberation people who gathered near Rangpur Cantonment on March 28, 1971, to stage a demonstration in favour of independence and protesting against the barbaric atrocities committed on the night of March 25, 1971. On the night of March 25, the Pakistani Army had launched ‘Operation Searchlight’ and an estimated 7,000 people were killed and another 3,000 were arrested in a single night.

Significantly, out of 125 leaders indicted, verdicts have been delivered against 94 accused, including 68 who have been sentenced to death, and 26 to imprisonment for life. So far, six of the 68 people who were awarded the death sentence have been hanged. On September 3, 2016, JeI Central Executive member Mir Quasem Ali (63) was hanged at Kashimpur Central Jail in Gazipur District; on May 11, 2016, JeI Ameer (Chief) Motiur Rahman Nizami (75) was executed at Dhaka Central Jail; on November 22, 2015, JeI Secretary General Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed (67) and BNP Standing Committee member Salauddin Quader Chowdhury (66) were hanged simultaneously at Dhaka Central Jail; on April 11, 2015, JeI Senior Assistant Secretary General Mohammed Kamaruzzaman (63) was hanged at Dhaka Central Jail; and on December 12, 2013, JeI Assistant Secretary General Abdul Quader Mollah (65), who earned the nickname ‘Mirpurer Koshai(Butcher of Mirpur)’ was hanged at Dhaka Central Jail. 32 others are absconding and another 30 cases are currently pending with the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, out of 26 persons who were awarded life sentences, five persons have already died serving their sentences – former JeI Ameer Ghulam Azam (91), who died on October 23, 2014; former BNP Minister Abdul Alim (83), who died on August 30, 2014; former JeI National Assembly member S.M. Yousuf Ali (83), who died on November 17, 2016; former JeI member Gazi Abdul Mannan (88), who died on December 19, 2016; and former ML member Mahidur Rahman (88), who died on May 21, 2018. 13 others were absconding and another eight were lodged in various jails of the country. Verdicts against 31 others are yet to be delivered.

Significantly, on October 17, 2019, ICT-1 kept the judgement of a war crime case in Rajshahi District Curia Advisari Vult [under the consideration of the Court"> after both the prosecution and defence counsels completed their closing arguments. Confirming the matter, Prosecutor Muklesur Rahman Badal stated,

The prosecution has brought two charges against Abdus Sattar alias Tipu alias Tipu Sultan, 66, a member of Islami Chhatra Sangha, the then student wing of anti-liberation force Jamaat-e-Islami and a member of the Razakar Bahini during Liberation War.

According to the charges, the accused was involved in the killing of at least 10 people, torture of two and looting and arson attacks on twelve houses in areas under Boalia Police Station of Rajshahi District. The tribunal framed charges against him on August 8, 2018.

Announcing the Government’s effort to better the condition of freedom fighters, Liberation War Affairs Minister AKM Mozammel Haque on August 26, 2019, noted “The facilities of freedom fighters will be mentioned in the digital ID cards. About 22,000 freedom fighters will get a house each in 2020.” On June 29, 2019, the Liberation War Affairs Minister declared that the graveyards of the freedom fighters across the country would be preserved in the same pattern to show homage to them. According to the War Crimes Fact Finding Committee, Bangladesh, there are about 5,000 mass graves across the country, where the victims of the Pakistan Army and its collaborators’ genocide of 1971 are buried.

Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League-led Government has shown enormous courage in pressing ahead with the War Crime Trials. The latest verdicts against the guilty have once again reaffirmed the Government’s determination to honour its 2008 General Election pledge to bring the War Criminals of the 1971 genocide to justice. However, as a number of cases are pending with the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, a long process remains before the trials and appeals can be brought to their eventual conclusion.
S. Binodkumar Singh Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management