Bangladesh goes for 1971 war criminals, and restores democratic aims
RAHMAN NIZAMI, charged as Bangladeshis don't forget
IT may be justice long delayed, but the authorities in Bangladesh are finally going after some of the men who committed major crimes against their fellow-citizens during the war for liberation from Pakistan.
The War Crimes Tribunal has issued arrest warrants for four senior leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islam party, already in custody on other charges. During the 1971 war for independence, when what had been called East Pakistan since India's partition fought to become a Bengali state, Jamaat e Islami sided with Pakistan. Some three million Bangladeshis were killed during the war, either by Pakistani troops or their allied militias, and whether for being patriotically against the occupation, or part of the Hindu minority
The move to bring Ja'amati leaders to justice goes with steps to restore the ideals for which the Bangladeshi people strove in the liberation war. Bangladesh's Supreme Court has restored ’secularism’ as one of the basic tenets in the country’s 1972 constitution. In an 186-page ruling announced yesterday, the appellate division of the apex court said: “Preamble and the relevant provisions of the Constitution in respect of secularism, nationalism and socialism, as existed on August 15, 1975, will revive.”
It was on August 15, 1975 that the country's leader, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, of the Awami party, was assassinated. This ushered in a series of military-led governments, ready to collude with Western imperialism and religious reaction, ignoring the progressive parts of the constitution. It also put an end to preparations for trying war criminals. In recent years Jama'at e Islam even served in coalition governments.
Since regaining government in 2008 elections the Awami League had promised to pursue justice against the 1971 criminals. Those charged with committing genocide and crimes against humanity and peace during the 1971 War are Motiur Rahman Nizami, the Jamaat-e-Islam chief and his Secretary General, Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid and two lower ranking assistant secretaries general.
During the 1971 war Nizami advocated total expulsion of Hindus as the solution to Bangladesh's problems. The militia linked with Nizami and Mujahid were also implicated in the December 14, 1971 massacre of academics, writers, musicians and artists. This date became known as Bhuddijibi Dibos, the Killing of Intellectuals day.
During the first years of independence the authorities under Mujib Rahman seemed readier to move against left-wing dissidents than against the pro-Pakistan leaders, who benefitted by an amnesty. The International Crimes Tribunal Act of 1973 brought about a legal procedure to prosecute war criminals, but with the assassination of Sheikh Mujib two years later, followed by decades of maneuvre and indemnity, it seemed to remain a dead letter, until now.
Here in London, Jamaat e Islam representatives appear to have been warned that the long-awaited arm of the law was reaching for their leaders. They held a meeting with lawyers on June 30 to discuss the International Crimes Tribunal Act and its implications.
Left-wing Bangladeshis have long complained of the way Jama'a e Islami has been allowed to establish itself in the community here, around the East London mosque, with even alleged war criminals obtaining positions where they can miseducate young people. Jama'at is not on the British or US government's "terror" lists, and it has allegedly enjoyed official recognition through the Muslim Council of Britain, as well as co-operation from supposedly left-wing elements such as George Galloway's Respect.
Should the Bangladeshi government decide to seek anyone's extradition, it could prove embarrassing for some people, or would if embarrassment was an emotion they ever displayed.