A Different Effort to Try War Criminals
Photos: Ranak Martin
Trying the perpetrators of 1971 Liberation War is a demand of time and to show the world that trying them is possible under the existing laws of Bangladesh, 25th March 2010 saw a different event. Under the initiative of the students and teachers of Department of Law, University of Dhaka (DU) and with the participation of law students from different universities of the country, a “War Crimes Mock Trial” took place at the Teacher Student Centre (TSC) Auditorium of DU.
Held under the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act 1973, the trial, first of its kind in Bangladesh, was graced by the presence of valiant Freedom fighters, leading intellectuals, prominent jurists and judges, members of different professions as well as teachers and students at large. Two imaginary war criminals were sentenced to death by this make-believe tribunal in the mock trial for carrying out and aiding and abetting genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity among others during the Liberation War of Bangladesh in 1971.
The defendants were tried under the 1973 Act as the tribunal declared the act adequate for trying the war crimes of 1971, when army from an imaginary country “Moonland” (Pakistan) invaded “Adhikar Bhumi” (Bangladesh). The condemned convicts were Ali Butchery, the commander-in-chief of Al-Badr, and Karim, a commander of Razakar. The three-member tribunal was led by Justice AK Badrul Haque who pronounced the death sentences of Butchery and Karim. Additional Attorney General MK Rahman, and former Dean of the Faculty of Law at DU Prof Dr M Badruddin were the other two judges.
“No sentence other than death can and should be delivered to them for their crimes like mass killings and wholesale destruction,” Justice Haque said. In the case, Butchery was convicted of genocide, crimes against humanity and peace, war crimes, and violation of international law, while Karim was convicted of aiding and abetting genocide and war crimes, and crimes against humanity.
The prosecution argued that the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act 1973 is sufficient to try the war criminals. As the court asked whether the prosecution had any specific allegation against the accused, the latter informed the court that Butchery had committed the offences in a village named Dhalhara (imaginary name), while Karim had aided and abetted Butchery and his accomplices.
The defense however argued that it would not be logical to try the collaborators who had been the “second line perpetrators” while the real invaders who had been the “first line perpetrators” of the crimes were not being tried. The defense also raised questions about the trial's acceptability as it was being held under the International Crimes (Tribunal) Act 1973, but their appeal went in vain. Barrister Amirul Islam, who was appointed as the amicus curiae, said a crime is always a crime, which must be tried. Terming different other incidents like the killing of Bangabandhu and his family, and the August 21, 2004 grenade attack on an Awami League rally as different manifestations of genocide, he said war crimes should be tried in order to put an end to such crimes.
Rokeya Chowdhury and Tanjina Sharmin of DU, this writer from University of Chittagong, and Sanjeeb Hossain of Brac University were the prosecution counsels, while Mahmuda Sajjad of Stamford University was the researcher. On the other hand, Manzur Rabbi, Rashedul Haque, Syeda Nasrin, and Gazi Sangita Farzana of DU were the defense counsels while researchers were Arpeeta Shams Mizan and Amrin Khan of DU.
Dr Mizanur Rahman, Professor of the Department of Law at DU, leaders of Sector Commanders Forum, Freedom fighters, DU Pro-VC Harun-Or-Rashid and some students also spoke at the event. The trial was telecasted live on Desh TV.
It has been a different experience and undoubtedly a great opportunity for those students who were the lawyers in this trial. The organizers believed that this unique initiative on the eve of the Independence Day certainly helped people to believe that perpetrators would be tried and justice would be ensured.