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     Volume 7 Issue 13 | March 28, 2008 |

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Special Feature

War Criminals
Forum to Fight

Elita Karim

There was a curfew all over the country on March 26, 1971, when the Pakistani army was burning down the homes of innocent people in Nakhal Para. As the frightened and screaming families ran out of their homes to save themselves, the Pakistani army opened fire on them. They were instructed to open fire on anybody outside their homes during the curfew, such was the justification that they provided for their heinous act. Shockingly enough, a group of Bangali collaborators, who were against the liberation of the nation, had directed the Pakistani army to the colony. While their fellow country people were burning and being machine-gunned to death, these Bangalis were watching the scene gleefully. Air Vice-marshal (retd) AK Khandakar Bir Uttam, back then, the Group Captain of the Pakistani Air Force, was present during the massacre. "How can there even be a slight possibility of these anti-liberation activities not taking place?" he says. Last year in October, Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojahid, Secretary General of Jamaat-e-Islami shocked the country when he blatantly stated that they had not worked against the Liberation War in 1971 and claimed that there are no war criminals in the country. In fact according to Mojahid, anti-liberation forces had never existed. Since then, the urge to bring these war criminals to justice has grown stronger amongst the people.

Sector Commanders Forum, a platform built to fight the war criminals.

The Sector Commanders Forum's (SCF) is a platform of the commanders who led the liberation war against the Pakistan army in 11 sectors of the country. The SCF national convention, which was supposed to be held much earlier, finally took place on March 21. According to Lt. General (retd) Harunur Rashid Chowdhury Bir Pratik, the convener of the convention, the forum had applied for permission to the government late in November last year. "It took a while for the permission to get through," he says.

Even though it took some time for the forum to finally come up with a platform, this organisation had already gained popularity amongst many in the country. "It was a wonder to see the hundreds of people who had come to join us and support the cause at the Bangladesh China Friendship Centre. The response was overwhelming," he adds.

It was indeed a reunion of the hundreds of freedom fighters, who had come from all over the country at the convention centre. The centre, decorated with colourful banners, festoons, poems and the national flags created a motivating atmosphere where everyone joined hands together regardless of their social class, religion or political background. Some of the freedom fighters were also ill with age and were undergoing treatment at hospitals in their respective cities. However, none of them wanted to miss the chance of creating history once again and fighting for the nation's independence.

Freedom fighters from all over the country had come together to support the SCF.

At the daylong event, the sector commanders, on behalf of all the freedom fighters, demanded the creation of a special tribunal by the state to try the war criminals of 1971. They also stipulated that the international community and the United Nations be involved in the trial. Justice Muhammad Habibur Rahman, former chief justice, also former chief adviser, was the chief guest at the convention; he spoke about amending the International Crimes (tribunal) Act-1973 in this regard. He further demanded the boycott of war criminals and anti-Liberation War elements socially and politically and bar political parties of anti-liberation war forces from the elections.

“It is very sad that none of the political parties have been able to work on the trial of the war criminals,” says Air Vice-marshal AK Khandakar. “After General Zia had repealed the Collaborators Act, it became very difficult to initiate the process of the trial of the war criminals in the later years.”

The wounds inflicted more than three decades ago are still fresh

Tofail Ahmed, presidium member of the Awami League, however, says that his party wholeheartedly supports the initiative taken by the Sector Commanders Forum and believes that the trial will progress smoothly. “Firstly, there is no question of taking revenge on the part of the political parties, since the care taker government is in power,” he explains. “Secondly, the Sector Commanders, who were on the field in 1971, have initiated this process. This is also a major reason as to why the forum will get a lot of support from the people. Thirdly, all the political parties, who want the nation to be rid of the war criminals, have come together under one roof to encourage and support this forum to work properly.”

“All we demand for is a healthy society, where people will be able to move around without fear,” explains Air Vice-marshal AK Khandakar. “If the war criminals had been punished earlier by the law, we would have had a corruption free society. In spite of being an independent country, we still do not have a culture where the wrong doer is punished accordingly for his or her illegal actions. Today, people tend to opt for the quicker and the unethical way out, since it is widely believed that the legal system in this country is not strong enough to penalise offenders.”

The SCF has already begun the Victims' Forum, where people who were victimised by the war criminals and collaborators back in 1971 will be recognised and brought in the forefront. “We are asking all the victims to speak up and identify themselves,” says Lt. General Harunur Rashid Chowdhury. “These victims will be identified, whereupon their accounts and stories will be documented accordingly. We have thousands of such victims spread all over the country and also outside Bangladesh. The trial of the war criminals is a long and time-consuming process. Most victims are old and very soon there would not be anyone left to speak up against the criminals. Thus, the identification and documentation is extremely important and significant to the trial, especially for the sake of the new generation who will need to take over afterwards.”

In 1971, many so-called Bangalis had collaborated with the Pakistani army and murdered thousands of innocent people.

To create such a Documentation Centre, Air Vice-marshal AK Khandakar says that they are now working on building awareness of this forum amongst the country people. “Thousands of victims and eye-witnesses have died,” he says. “However, it is extremely important that the ones who are alive now are brought out of wherever they are and documented. This won't be an easy task, but identifying the victims and witnesses is probably the first step of the whole trial process.”

For the thousands of freedom fighters, their families and the sector commanders, the wounds inflicted on them more than three decades ago are still fresh. Unlike other organisations and forums, the Sector Commanders Forum plans to stay together for as long as it takes. “We will be fighting for this together for the rest of our lives,” says Air Vice-marshal AK Khandakar.


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