Opinion: Pending verdicts reaffirm value of Bangladesh War Crimes Tribunal

| June 23, 2014 | 0 Comments

ICT_noticeBy Tureen Afroz

Soon the world will learn the fates of some of history’s most notorious war criminals — two men who are finally facing justice for their role in the 1971 genocide unleashed by Pakistan on Bangladesh, as that country fought for its independence.

 

These men – Motiur Rahman Nizami and Delwar Hossain Sayeedi – were personally responsible for the murders of hundreds of Bangladeshi citizens, and the torture and systematic rape of hundreds more. After nearly half a century of eluding justice, these dangerous men faced Bangladesh’s International Crimes Tribunal (ICT), a body set up in 2009 to right decades-old wrongs. The ICT will issue verdicts on Nizami’s 16 charges. Sayeedi was found guilty of war crimes last year and sentenced to hang; Bangladesh’s Supreme Court will rule on his appeal.

 

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Tureen Afroz is a prosecutor with the International Crimes Tribunal in Bangladesh.


As we await these highly-anticipated outcomes, it is worth emphasizing how imperative the tribunal’s existence is to a nation and a people haunted by bloodshed that the world has overlooked for too long. When it became clear to Pakistan in 1971 that it could not win Bangladesh’s War of Liberation, the Pakistani Army and its vital Bangladeshi collaborators — including Nizami and Sayeedi — attempted to strangle the infant Bangladesh democracy in its crib.

 

They waged genocide, targeting Bangladesh’s intellectuals, killing and torturing doctors, lawyers, professors, artists and the like, attempting to eliminate the nascent country’s brainpower. Bangladesh prevailed in the nine-month war, but at a high cost – as many as 3 million Bangladeshis were slaughtered.

 

In 2009, the ICT was established in Bangladesh to investigate and prosecute those suspected of leading the genocide. The long passage of time to achieving justice is shameful, but now, with the ICT, Bangladesh is finally making things right.

 

During this long delay for justice, not only did war criminals such as Nizami and Sayeedi escape justice, they actually managed to become part of Bangladesh’s political system. Thanks to the sectarian and sometimes chaotic political history of the young country, Nizami and Sayeedi rose to leadership roles in a domestic terror organization called Jamaat-e-Islam, which has a political arm.

 

Because of this accident of history, there has been pushback against the ICT from the media, which either does not understand the horror of Bangladesh’s genocide, or is choosing to ignore it. The position taken by some members of the media – that these trials are a way for Bangladesh’s ruling Awami League party to punish its opponents – is blatantly uninformed and, even more appalling, directs attention away from the victims and denies justice to their families.

 

The political affiliations of the perpetrators are completely irrelevant in the eyes of the ICT. Rather, the atrocious crimes these individuals committed against innocent Bangladeshi civilians are the focus of the tribunal’s proceedings.

 

Snapshots of Nizami and Sayeedi’s activities during the 1971 war are enough to convince the world that the ICT is operating entirely within a justice-seeking, rather than politically-motivated, mission. Charges against Nizami include genocide, murder, torture, rape and property destruction; much of the evidence is based on eyewitness accounts. Sayeedi is charged with similar crimes, which he specifically targeted at Hindu communities.
Their crimes are as heinous now as they were in 1971 and would be seen in the same light had they been committed by a supporter of the Bangladesh Government. In the cases of Nizami and Sayeedi, along with the other nine perpetrators the ICT has already convicted, politics played no part. Only the facts are needed to underscore the value of the ICT to Bangladesh and to the world.

 

War criminals that murdered, raped, looted and inflicted destruction in 1971 are still living today and walking free. This circumstance is unacceptable and is finally being put to rest by the ICT and its supporters.

 

The ICT is putting Bangladesh on a path toward healing. Without these trials, the world would have long forgotten the dark shadow that will forever linger over Bangladesh, a shadow filled with the perpetrators and their atrocious crimes, and more importantly, the pain and suffering of the victims and their families. The ICT’s presence on the world stage communicates a strong message that genocide and war crimes will not be tolerated, and that’s justice in itself.

 

Tureen Afroz is a prosecutor with the International Crimes Tribunal in Bangladesh.

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