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“All Citizens are Equal before Law and are Entitled to Equal Protection of Law”-Article 27 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

Issue No: 51
January 12 , 2008

This week's issue:
Law Opinion
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Human Rights Analysis
Law Analysis
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Law analysis

Truth Commission
Rewarding repentance

Kazi Alauddin Ahmed

Truth Commission the emergence of such a novel term in our legal documents is bound to be at once startling and ominous. On the face of it, Truth Commission, when installed, shall be an innovative mechanism to obtain voluntary confession from the persons convicted or are about to be convicted on charges of corruption. It shall concurrently require the repentant person(s) sentenced or likely to be sentenced to imprisonment surrender all the money earned illegally to the public exchequer. In lieu, they will be set free to lead a new life.

We have on record for centuries seven deadly sins or capital sins which, jointly or severally, have been persistently playing foul with human values and morals. They are: pride, avarice, lust, anger, gluttony, envy and sloth. Each of these features contains tremendous insinuating elements as would compel every human being falling prey to their outrageous impact. Not even one in a million can resist the temptation to be proud in the first place. And once pride is instilled in any human being he can easily succumb to the other intriguing obsessions in a row. His attachments soon become so very overbearing that his greed turns out limitless. He is totally blindfolded to the 'sin' he commits. He is terribly betrayed by the so-called 'status symbol'.

Truth Commission is likely to present before the whole nation yet another highly controversial and mutually conflicting issue like 'induced' versus 'spontaneous' repentance. As things stand now the second option remains a far cry with most of the men and women now behind bars or absconding with numerous charges of corruption. So, the first option becomes the lone intervention. It wouldn't be 'repentance' by any means. It would be rather a crude mechanism offering conditional freedom. Most interestingly the proposition of 'Truth Commission' is not supposedly intended for universal application. Only the big businessmen belonging to different group of companies now in jail for corruption are reportedly the ultimate beneficiaries. Their return to normal life and to their business installations is considered very essential in the interest of national economy, it is argued.

Eminent English essayist, historian, biographer and philosopher Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) looked at repentance this way. In his considered opinion he said: "Of all acts of man repentance is the most divine. -- The greatest of all faults is to be conscious of none." Such a thought-provoking observation of a great man upholds the inimitable magnanimity of God Almighty -- His commitment in the Holy Book to forgive the sinners when they repent their misdeeds.

Words are in the air that the proposed 'Truth Commission' is intended only for the businessmen held captive on charges of corruption in different shapes. Apparently excepting the politicians the proposition doesn't specify if businessmen directly or indirectly involved in political activities will not get the benefit of the provisions in the envisaged law.

This is a very pertinent point since to our knowledge there are many businessmen in the country who are either representing one political party or the other as parliament members or as indirect activists. So, excluding this group of businessmen from the list of the probable beneficiaries of the new law, precisely the provisions in the Truth Commission package, will break the entire range of the offenders into three segments. They will be: (i) businessmen without any involvement directly or indirectly in politics; (ii) businessmen-cum-politicians and (iii) exclusively politicians. If only pure businessmen are segregated for the purpose of granting benefit of the Truth Commission dispensation, the larger part will be left out. Ad seriatim the percentage will be 20, 50 and 30 approximately. In consequence the national exchequer will get only 20 percent of the illegally earned money surrendered where 80 percent will have to be confiscated through arduous legal process.

On the face of it the proposition, however, innovative and novel, shall evoke the time-old thematic message conveyed in the Bangla perceptual saying which reads: "Compensating the killing of a cow with a pair of shoes". Nevertheless, the human element prompting the proposed Truth Commission approaches cannot be altogether ignored. Yet the factor of discrimination in the original thinking, if not excepted, will make the whole process utterly controversial. It was good to hear from the lips of the Law Adviser that the government has had a positive realisation to be incorporated in the ultimate order. He told us that the benefits would be extended to the politicians as well to make the eventual dispensation uniform in all the three groups of people stated in the foregoing paragraphs. Among others, one condition will be that the persons released from captivity will never be allowed to contest in any election in future.

Notwithstanding the possible background of such a magnanimous gesture on the part of the government there is no guarantee about the number of people who would be eventually interested in the envisaged conditional offer of clemency. Much would also depend on the process by which they would be set free. With such a very pertinent question is linked the future of the ultimate beneficiaries. Their family and social life, life of their children and dependents already in a terrible swoop, is most likely to take a worst turn.

Yet some of them might go for the option and accept the preconditions to earn freedom. And many others might prefer appeals in higher courts to prove their innocence, get bail after emergency rule is over.

Since Truth Commission is yet to be a reality those experts who are currently working out the pros and cons may like to develop the document incorporating some of the observations above subject to their relevance. In any case, it is expected that the rationale of all the provisions in the document will uphold the human element to justify its introduction.

Meantime, there is a growing demand among the non-communal political parties and intellectuals, social elites that the proposed Truth Commission takes within its ambit the cases of the war criminals as well. They have also insisted or are insisting upon the Election Commission not to register the religion-based political parties and those led by the war criminals. Even the Chief Adviser of the caretaker government has expressed his unanimity with the demand of the people at large and agreed that the war criminals can still be proceeded against in the court of law by the aggrieved.

At the latest the army personnel who led the Liberation War, such as General Shafiullah, Mir Showkat Ali, Air Vice Marshal AK Khondokar have made a renewed vow to file legal suit against the Jamaat-e-Islam leaders against whom they have enough proof of collaboration with the Pakistan Army in 1971. They have also made a firm pledge to mobilise all the freedom fighters to realise the set goal of punishing the war criminals. Their demand coincides with the suggestion that a Truth Commission be set for the purpose of taking legal measures against the known war criminals. Hopefully the present government will act accordingly to meet the popular demand.

Kazi Alauddin Ahmed is a management consultant.

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