"Anything good for people, which will bring peace,
we will stand for that"
Barrister Shafique Ahmed, the Minister for Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, has recently (12 December 2009) talked to the ICRC about the humanitarian organization's role in 1971 and prospects of future cooperation. He also discussed some issues such as ratification of the Rome Statute, as Bangladesh is a signatory to that treaty. The idea of trying suspected war criminals also came up during the interview with him. The ICRC's acting Head of Mission Jerome Fontana and Bangladesh Office's Communication Officer Rumana Binte Masud were also present during the meeting. Law and Our Rights is producing the glimpses of the talk.
ICRC: How do you recognize the ICRC's role during the War of Liberation of Bangladesh in 1971?
Shafique Ahmed: The International Committee of the Red Cross played a commendable role during the War of Liberation in 1971 and its aftermath. And in addressing some of the issues, which required immediate attention of this type of humanitarian organization, so far I remember starting from the year of the war and after, the role of the ICRC was very helpful to the people, particularly to those who were directly affected by the war. That was highly appreciated by the people and the government. It is also true that the ICRC took some steps for transferring the people, who were made captive here during the time of war. Carrying on such activities, as it always does across the world, was very much necessary for the affected.
Bangladesh has not only benefited from the provisions of International Humanitarian Law, it has also played an historic role in contributing to its development. We may recall the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act, 1973, and the active participation of Bangladesh in the drafting of the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court in 1998. Is Bangladesh still willing to play this important role for the development of IHL, for example ratifying the Rome Statute by next March allowing Bangladesh to participate fully in the review of the Rome Statute at the review conference in May 2010 in Uganda?
Shafique Ahmed: The Rome Statute 1998, which constituted the International Criminal Court, Bangladesh is a signatory to that, but now comes the point of its ratification. We expect that Bangladesh government will ratify the Rome Statute by March 2010.
What are you doing to continue national implementation of international treaties, particularly which involve upholding human rights?
Shafique Ahmed: Bangladesh always is in favor of rule of law and upholding the human rights. As a step forward, you might be interested to know that in the meantime we have already passed the National Human Rights Commission Act in the Parliament. Representatives from various groups including minority and disadvantaged communities will be included in the commission, so that they are represented through their members. We will continue to do so if such things involve the people's welfare.
The government is pledge-bound to try the suspected war criminals involving 1971, and the government has already taken some steps to that end. Bangladesh has already announced the establishment of a war crime tribunal. How are you going to do that? And there is concern that it may be used to weaken political opponents. Also, many people commonly believe that impunity for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide impedes the course of reconciliation and fuels the cycle of retribution and revenge. What do you think?
Shafique Ahmed: Our idea is that we have to do it ourselves, and definitely any crime, which has been committed, should not go unnoticed, perpetrators must be brought to justice. I strongly believe in this for maintaining peace and stability in the society, and without this a society cannot exist. The society depends on the preservation of peace and stability. If the person who committed crimes is still at large, or not facing the justice, or not brought to justice; then his act will encourage others to commit such crimes, there will be a repetition. That's why the philosophy of jurisprudence is to bring the criminals before justice so that others take a lesson. So our aim is to try the people who were involved in war crimes, and we want to do that with full transparency. After coming to power we have amended the International Crimes (Tribunal) Act 1973, which was passed in the Parliament that time, when the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was alive.
We have made some changes to the Act to make it internationally accepted. We have made it absolutely clear by amending the law that the tribunal will be an independent one in discharging its function. It will ensure fair justice to all and give full opportunity to the accused to defend themselves, to engage lawyers of their own choice, and we also made a provision that will allow any convict to appeal in the highest court of the country. I want to make one thing very clear that trying the suspected war criminals is no way related to any political party or opponent; we just want to try the criminals. If they take shelter of any political party, or any political party gives a criminal shelter, people will not accept that. And everything will be done on the basis of evidence; we think we have enough evidence to prove their misdeeds. That's why we have amended the war crimes law to make it contemporary and acceptable to all including the international community. The tribunal will solely be of a civilian nature under the amended provisions.
Does Bangladesh intend to establish a national International Humanitarian Law Committee as 91 countries have done so? Also, what are the next priorities for Bangladesh in terms of national implementation of international humanitarian law treaties into its domestic legislation, for example, concerning the national implementation of the Biological Weapons Convention, the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols, and the Ottawa Treaty banning all anti-personnel mines?
Shafique Ahmed: Of course, it (national international humanitarian law committee) is a good idea. The ICRC is also welcome to this effort with its resources to help us form such a committee. We can work together. My notion is anything good for people, which will bring peace, we will stand for that.
I have also talked to the Foreign Affairs Minister and the Home Affairs Minister to find out which other international treaties should be ratified by Bangladesh, and which should be taken to the Parliament. And about the treaties and conventions you mentioned, Bangladesh will definitely go for it if and when situation arises, and in principle Bangladesh will support anything like this. Bangladesh considers these treaties as very important to ensure long-standing peace.
In addition to the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, the ICRC has been cooperating for many years in disseminating international humanitarian law to all including the armed forces and other ministries, and students and journalists in Bangladesh through various trainings and workshops. How do you assess the result of this cooperation? Would you like this cooperation to be further strengthened?
Shafique Ahmed: I believe the ICRC's work with different groups and authorities will definitely bring a good result, and the effort by the ICRC should be strengthened further. We must give the idea to each of these bodies that the ICRC in the past had done something, which were acceptable to all, and were good for the people of Bangladesh. Also in the future it wants to continue to play the same role, which will be beneficial to the country. Such impression to the government is also important. Since Bangladesh regularly faces disasters like cyclones and floods, the ICRC has a very important role to play in this area too.
There's a concern about rampant misuse of emblem of the ICRC in Bangladesh. How can we work in dealing with this?
Shafique Ahmed: I think awareness is the key in dealing with such thing.
Thanks for giving us time.
Shafique Ahmed: Thanks.