Bangladesh: In­ter­na­tional crimes tri­bunal

Pakistan Observer - - EDITORIALS & COMMENTS - Abid Hus­sain Chattha

Hu­man Rights Watch, ini­tially fully sup­ported and backed the cre­ation of ICTB and even of­fered help and as­sis­tance to the Bangladesh Gov­ern­ment with the caveat that such tri­als must be fair, just and con­form to best in­ter­na­tional stan­dards both in terms of pro­ce­dural and sub­stan­tive law. Thus, to be­gin with, the idea of ICTB had a global recog­ni­tion and ac­cep­tance and was gen­er­ally viewed as le­git­i­mate.

Pak­istan ob­vi­ously is caught in a pre­car­i­ous sit­u­a­tion be­ing a di­rect party to the is­sue. But the fact is that no one can re­write his­tory. Pak­istan is not the only coun­try to have been ac­cused of war crimes. His­tory is re­plete with such ex­am­ples in­volv­ing other coun­tries of the world. The only choice is to ac­knowl­edge the mis­takes of the past, of­fer con­di­tional apol­ogy to the peo­ple of Bangladesh in par­tic­u­lar and the world in gen­eral over the ac­cesses com­mit­ted, re­dress the is­sues to the ex­tent pos­si­ble and move for­ward for a fresh be­gin­ning.

The ‘Tri-Par­tite Agree­ment of Bangladesh-Pak­istan-In­dia’ (1974 Agree­ment) signed in New Delhi on April 09, 1974 was a hum­ble and right­ful be­gin­ning. In the 1974 Agree­ment, Pak­istan con­demned and deeply re­gret­ted any crimes that may have been com­mit­ted in re­sponse to Bangladesh’s as­ser­tion that ac­cesses and man­i­fold crimes were com­mit­ted and per­sons charged with such crimes as 195 Pak­istani pris­on­ers of war should be held to ac­count and sub­jected to the due process of law. Fur­ther­more, em­pha­siz­ing rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, repa­tri­a­tion and to have a fresh start for peace and progress, the Gov­ern­ment of Bangladesh agreed not to pro­ceed with the tri­als as an act of clemency and agreed to repa­tri­ate 195 Pak­istani pris­on­ers of war. The 1974 Agree­ment noted that it pro­vided a firm ba­sis for the nor­mal­iza­tion of re­la­tions and the es­tab­lish­ment of durable peace in the sub-con­ti­nent.

The ques­tion is when the found­ing fathers of Bangladesh had agreed in the 1974 Agree­ment not to pro­ceed with the tri­als, what le­git­i­macy can be at­trib­uted to the ICTB set up in 2009 and is it a bla­tant vi­o­la­tion of the 1974 Agree­ment? At the di­plo­matic front, it also re­quires in­tro­spec­tion as to where the spirit of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion was lost in the bi­lat­eral re­la­tions be­tween Pak­istan and Bangladesh? Both coun­tries may be at fault even though a per­fect plat­form was pro­vided to build the ed­i­fice of the fu­ture.

The War Crimes Fact Find­ing Com­mit­tee with the man­date to in­ves­ti­gate and find ev­i­dence iden­ti­fied 1600 sus­pects in its re­port com­pleted in 2008. This was it­self strange be­cause un­der the Bangladesh Col­lab­o­ra­tors (Spe­cial Tri­bunal) Or­der 1972 es­tab­lished by the then AL Gov­ern­ment, 100,000 per­sons were ar­rested and in­ves­ti­gated. Out of these only 752 peo­ple were found guilty for col­lab­o­ra­tion and were given sen­tences for dif­fer­ent pe­ri­ods. If so, how af­ter 40 years, the sus­pects have in­creased to 1600 al­though many peo­ple since then have died and ev­i­dence lost? If the col­lab­o­ra­tors were tried and sen­tenced, then how, the same crimes are be­ing pros­e­cuted once again un­der a dif­fer­ent for­mat?

It ap­pears the ICTB is be­ing widely em­ployed against lead­ers of Ja­maat Is­lami and for some other po­lit­i­cal ri­vals. Is any col­lab­o­ra­tor ar­rested or tried who is as­so­ci­ated with the AL or other po­lit­i­cal par­ties in al­liance with the AL? Since the start of the tri­als, se­ri­ous ques­tions have marred the independent and im­par­tial func­tion­ing of the ICTB. There are wide­spread al­le­ga­tions. The 1973 Act falls short of in­ter­na­tional stan­dards stip­u­lated in the Uni­ver­sal Dec­la­ra­tion of Hu­man Rights, In­ter­na­tional Covenant on the Civil and Po­lit­i­cal Rights, Geneva Con­ven­tions on War Crimes and the Rome Statute of In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court. There are se­ri­ous al­le­ga­tions that wit­nesses and de­fense coun­sels are be­ing threat­ened and ha­rassed. In­ves­ti­ga­tors, pros­e­cu­tors and judges are not im­par­tial and un­bi­ased. Gov­ern­ment in­ter­fer­ence and in­volve­ment is rampant. Rules of ev­i­dence and fun­da­men­tal rights are be­ing vi­o­lated. Pro­ce­dure for due process is be­ing com­pro­mised.

On ac­count of such se­ri­ous con­tro­ver­sies and lapses of in­ter­na­tional stan­dards, the ICTB has be­come ex­tremely con­tro­ver­sial and has quickly los­ing its ini­tial sup­port from the world com­mu­nity. The UN, the West, the hu­man rights or­ga­ni­za­tions, in­ter­na­tional ju­rists of ac­claim and stature and other coun­tries of the world are in­creas­ingly and con­sis­tently crit­i­ciz­ing the hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions, po­lit­i­cal vic­tim­iza­tions, gov­ern­men­tal in­ter­fer­ences, lack of due process, fair­ness and im­par­tial­ity as­so­ci­ated with the tri­als con­ducted by ICTB. The in­jus­tices are be­ing raised and calls made to stop bla­tant abuse of hu­man rights tak­ing place. It’s high time that Pak­istan may place the facts be­fore the world and take af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion to re­dress the wrong at­trib­uted to the peo­ple of Bangladesh in its name. — The writer is for­mer mem­ber of Pun­jab Assem­bly and a Supreme Court lawyer.

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