Distorting Historical Facts About War Crimes

11 February 2016

By Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi

Mahfuz Anam, editor in chief of the Bangladeshi newspaper The Daily Star, recently wrote an editorial titled ''Another step toward justice,'' in which he praised the recent execution of two leading opposition leaders convicted of war crimes. He also lauded the decision taken by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to try the so-called war criminals, who purportedly committed war crimes during the civil war that resulted in the secession of East Pakistan and the creation of the new state of Bangladesh 44 years ago.

In the article, Anam deals with a number of topics in an illogical way, which has nothing to do with objectivity and what really happened. First of all, he denies the fact that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman gave a general amnesty to any of those accused of war crimes.

I agree with him that only 195 Pakistani soldiers where accused of war crimes at the time and that these soldiers were among the prisoners of war taken to India following the war. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who took over as the prime minister of Pakistan after the creation of Bangladesh, managed to secure the release of these men along with other Pakistani soldiers on the basis of the Shimla Agreement that was signed with the Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. There is, therefore, no question of whether Sheikh Mujibur Rahman pardoned them or not.

However, what happened later was that some of the opposition leaders were put behind bars after a gap of 44 years. Charges of war crimes were framed against them. Some of them have been executed while others face trial for war crimes. There were no charges of war crimes framed against them during the period of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman when he ruled the country from the beginning of 1972 until mid-1975.

In the article, Anam alleges that it was General Ziaur Rahman, who released over 11,000 people who had been put behind bars on charges of war crimes. I do not know where he obtained these figures? The charges of war crimes framed during the 1970s were only against 195 Pakistani soldiers and there were no charges made against any Bangladeshis. General Zia might have released some political prisoners whom Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had jailed after they accused the latter of attempting to undermine democracy through dissolving political parties and transforming the country into single party rule and curtailing freedom. Most of these prisoners were freedom fighters.

Anam's other argument is that the first significant voice demanding the trial of war criminals was raised by Jahanara Imam, whose son Shafi Imam Rumi was arrested and tortured to death. She took the initiative to constitute and convene a Gono Adalat or People's Court and to hold the first ever public ''trial'' of war criminals. It is to be noted that there is no basis for her claim from a legal point of view. How can Anam justify the killing of senior opposition political leaders in the name of war crimes allegedly committed 44 years ago on the basis of a demand raised by a woman who emerges on the scene after a gap of several years. This woman might have some psychological reasons for her claims which have no credibility from a legal point of view.

How is it possible for Anam, who speaks about enforcing justice, to remain silent about the plight of the stranded Pakistanis or Biharis? These people have been subjected to killing, looting and rape and they have been driven out of their homes. They have been forced to live in squalid and crowded camps without having even the basic amenities of life.

In the last part of the article, Anam admits that the war crime trials have been criticized. ''Whatever flaws were pointed out went through corrective measures with the final process going through all the legal steps foreseen in our constitution,'' he says. But he did not say who is responsible for these flawed trials and who has criticized them.

In fact, these critics include the United Nations Human Rights Council, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other international and local human rights bodies. All these organizations have reiterated on several occasions that these trials do not meet even the basic international standards and prerequisites of international law.

Anam also did not mention the scandals involved in the war crimes trials, such as the Skype scandal. The British magazine The Economist published the Skype conversations involving the Tribunal's presiding judge which subsequently resulted in his resignation. There was also another scandal in which a prosecution witness, who became a defense witness, disappeared mysteriously from the court premises. It was latter found that he had been kidnapped and taken away in a secret police vehicle. After six months, he was found in an Indian jail in Kolkata.

Historical facts must not be distorted and no human being should perish unjustly. The ongoing Bangladesh war crimes trial is politically motivated and its aim is to liquidate political rivals which will only lead to further injustice.

Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs. He can be reached at algham@hotmail.com


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