Written By: TojveroulChhatra Shibir
The authorities in Bangladesh have recently carried out the death sentence of Maulana Motiur Rahman Nizami, the head of Jamaat-e-Islami, an opposition party in the country. The current regime ignored international pleas to save Maulana Nizami, a former minister and member of Parliament, from the gallows.
Maulana Nizami was the fifth opposition leader to be executed upon the orders of the highly flawed International Crimes Tribunal of Bangladesh (ICTB), a tribunal created to provide justice and accountability for international crimes but whose legitimacy has been tarnished by its procedural irregularities, political manipulation of trials and legal unfairness. He was convicted of war crimes allegedly committed during the civil war that led to the secession of East Pakistan from United Pakistan and the creation of the new state of Bangladesh 45 years ago. The execution was carried out after conducting mock trials, which lacked even the basic international criteria. The sham ICTB and its proceedings have been declared to be against international legal standards by almost all international rights bodies, such as the United Nations Human Rights Council, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, International Bar Association and British House of Lords, in addition to several global and local human rights activists, including an American ambassador-at-large and a specialist in human rights affairs.
It is unfortunate that the Bangladesh government did not pay any heed to these criticisms and appeals. It instead continued targeting opposition leaders against whom no charges of war crimes were framed by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the father of the nation of Bangladesh, during his rule from the beginning of 1972 until his assassination on 15 August 1975. Rahman even pardoned Pakistani soldiers, 195 in number, who were charged with war crimes. This amnesty was made under a tripartite agreement signed by India, Pakistan and Bangladesh in New Delhi. This pact called for reconciliation among the parties, and subsequently led to the establishment of diplomatic relations between Pakistan and Bangladesh. All of this was based on the principle of “forget and forgive”, as well as the famous words of Rahman, who said: “Let the world know how Bengalis can forgive.”
In her first tenure as prime minister of Bangladesh from 1996 to 2001, Sheikh Hasina, daughter of Rahman and leader of the Awami League party, never called for a trial of those who are now being tried and executed for war crimes. This shows that the ulterior motive of Sheikh Hasina in holding these trials is to further weaken the opposition by eliminating its leaders so that she can establish a single-party dictatorship in Bangladesh.
Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League party came to power again in 2008 in alliance with leftists who were the archenemies of her father. During this period, she established the so-called ICTB for trying suspects of war crimes allegedly committed during the civil war. In fact, there is nothing international about this tribunal except its name. Also, the tribunal does not have any international judges. Moreover, no international lawyers have been allowed to appear to defend war crime suspects.
Toby M. Cadman, a renowned international barrister and an expert on war crimes tribunals, was even denied entry into Bangladesh and was deported immediately after landing at Dhaka airport. Local lawyers were put in embarrassing situations when they came forward as defense lawyers. Charges were framed against one of these lawyers while another one was threatened and forced to withdraw his offer to defend the war crimes suspects.
Maulana Nizami, who was the holder of a higher degree in Islamic studies from Dhaka University, was elected to Parliament for two terms and served as minister of agriculture and minister of industries. His trial fell short of international standards and norms. For instance, the tribunal gave the defense lawyer only 20 days to conduct the case proceedings in favor of his client while the prosecution was given a period of nearly two years. Similarly, the court allowed the public prosecution to call as many as 26 witnesses while the defense lawyer was permitted to call only four witnesses. All of this indicates that the trials were politically motivated.
There is no doubt that those involved in this tribunal and its verdicts which have led to the execution of several innocent people will find a place in the annals of history. This tribunal has been instrumental in inflicting a severe blow not only to Bangladesh’s judiciary system but also to the reputation of the founder of the country, who pardoned war crimes suspects during his rule. He also pardoned those who collaborated with the Pakistani army on the basis of the principle of “forget and forgive.”
Finally, I would like to draw attention to the observations of Toby M. Cadman, posted on the website of Huffington Post, in which he emphasized that Maulana Nizami was executed in an absolutely unfair way. Cadman says in the article: “A simple reading of the sentences by the ICTB and the Supreme Court permits one to conclude that Nizami, like the other defendants before him, was not afforded a trial consistent with international standards of justice. This is the position adopted by a number of leading international legal scholars in a public statement issued two days before the execution in which it stated that by ‘explicitly removing constitutional and fair trial protections from those due to appear before the BICT,’ the government had ‘undermined its effectiveness and its legitimacy from the outset, and further, set the tone for what was then to develop.'” The statement was signed by an independent group of prosecutors, judges and academics.
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