I had two classmates in my hometown college; we were activist of the same student party (no Islamic Chattra Shangha at that time). Over the years, they changed their political belief and in 1971, we were on the opposite sides. As leaders of the infamous Badar-Bahini, they assisted the occupation forces in carrying out genocide on our people. One of them became a cabinet minister during the last BNP-led alliance government and flew the hard-earned green-red flag of my country whose creation he opposed tooth and nail. Had I been in Bangladesh, I would probably be bound by protocol to salute him. Would I be able to do that? This query is because he was instrumental in torturing and killing our people, while I was risking my life to save them at the most critical juncture of our nation.
I have quoted the above paragraph from a piece I wrote for The Daily Star on March 4, 2004 when distortion, deception, destruction, deviation and dichotomy took centre-stage in every sphere of national life vis-à-vis the golden chapter of our history. The two persons I am referring to are no other than Ali Ahsan Mujaheed, whose trial is still in progress, and Abdul Quader Mollah who was spared on February 5 from the much-expected capital punishment by the honourable judges of the International Crimes Tribunal.
It was 1:08 am Toronto time. I was glued to Bangla TV, changing one channel after another, in case I missed the momentous announcement of the verdict of the case against Quader Mollah. The breaking news shattered all my expectations, exactly like it did the expectations of millions of my fellow compatriots at home and abroad. The news was extremely upsetting, more so for the fact that I knew all about what Quader did in 1971.
When I left Bangladesh in early 1973, I had a no knowledge Quader's whereabouts. In 1979, when I was visiting Bangladesh, I was walking in a Dhaka street when he suddenly came from behind, grabbed me and said: “Are you not Mozammel? I am Quader.” My immediate response was: “Quader, are you alive?” His response was: “Yes, I am very much alive and am currently executive editor of the Sangram. This is our country now. Your Joy Bangla is dead; our zindabad has come back and is very much alive.” Since what Quader said was right, I had no response. A few months later, when I returned to the US, I read that Quader was a special guest in a Victory Day seminar in Dhaka's Press Club, what an irony!
However, no matter what Quader and Mujaheed had been rewarded with in independent Bangladesh, their classmates did not forget or forgive their felonious past and barred them from joining the reunion of the class of '64 of that college.
Aside from emotionally upsetting the millions, which might not receive cognisance in the eyes of law, the severity of the punishment does not conform to the severity of the crimes committed. According to the verdict, five of the six charges brought against Quader have been proven beyond any reasonable doubt and each of the proven charge warrants the maximum penalty, which is the death penalty. 350 people had been killed by Quader or on his initiative, and a girl was raped while her parents and three siblings were killed. As defined in the Rome Statute, premeditated murder, extermination, torture, rape and political persecution are crimes against humanity if they are part of a widespread or systematic practice, which is what Quader Mollah did and for which he has been found guilty.
In their judgment, the honourable judges also noted: “We have taken due notice of the intrinsic magnitude of the offence of murders as crimes against humanity being offences which are predominantly shocking to the conscience of mankind." That the judges failed to read the conscience of the nation and refrained from awarding the ultimate punishment is absolutely perplexing. Even in societies where capital punishment is absent, there are constant debates on whether crimes against humanity should be isolated from other offenses and warrant death penalty.
In the midst of this emotional disenchantment, there are rays of hope emanating from the outburst of outrage from Bangalis residing in every nook and corner of the globe, the nucleus of which is Dhaka's Shahbag square, where sentiments of liberation were rekindled as tens of thousands are refusing to leave the street and go home until their demand for capital punishment for war criminals are met. It is especially heartening for those of my generation who lived through the Liberation War to see the youth of the current generation carry on the fight that we started 43 years ago.
The writer is Convenor of the Canadian Committee for Human Rights and Democracy in Bangladesh.