Now it's their turn to pay the price for what they had done to others. Yes, I'm talking about two notorious war criminals --- the Jamaat supremo Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed and BNP leader Salauddin Quader Chowdhury, who are on the verge of being sent to the gallows. The Appellate Court has returned the full and final verdict upholding the death penalty for them in connection with their crimes against humanity during the Liberation War of Bangladesh in 1971. The apex court has found Mojaheed guilty of the occurrences of the killing of the intellectuals in 1971. As the concerned judge(s) put it 'Considering all documents, we have no hesitation to hold that the ruthless Al-Badr Bahini, under the leadership of the appellant (Mojaheed), and being instigated, suggested, aided, provoked and incited by him, had kidnapped and killed the intellectuals just before the victory,' The SC also observed that Mojaheed's crime was a 'cold-blooded savagery?[a] barbaric, gruesome and brutal crime? comparable with Hitler's gas chamber genocide?' the motive of which was 'a deliberate design in order to cripple the future of this new born country .'
SQ Chy was convicted of persecuting innocent civilians and unarmed people, causing their disappearance and torturing them to death with 'highest ruthlessness and extreme atrocity' done in 'a synchronized plan' in collaboration with the occupation army with the motive of eliminating a religious community for political vengeance.
Both the convicts have gained notoriety as war criminals and been condemned as the enemies of the nation and the condemnation have become legalistic after the SC verdict is returned. They have joined the ranks of the infamous war criminals prosecuted by the Nuremberg, Tokyo and Manila international war crimes tribunals. Not only Mojaheed and SQ Chy, but also all, who have been and will be found guilty of the same crime, would suffer the same fate. Bangladesh has set examples of trying the war criminals/criminals against humanity in right earnest.
What we today call 'war crime' has a long history. In fact, perfidy has existed in human societies over the centuries. It has been tried under customary laws. In the Hague Convention of 1899 and 1907, these customary laws were clarified. The modern concept of 'war crime' however, has developed through the Nuremberg trials, which were held basing on the definition of the London Charter published in 1945. The customary law defines 'war crimes' as crimes against humanity and peace.
Over the last century, many other treaties also introduced positive laws that put constraints on belligerents in light of which the nature of war crime can be determined. War crimes include mistreatment of prisoners of war or civilian and mass murder or genocide. Under the Nuremberg principles, the supreme intentional crime is that of waging a war of aggression. In addition, the war crimes that are defined in the statute, which established the International Criminal Court, include a) breaches of the Geneva Convention, such as deliberate killing or causing great suffering or serious injury to body or wealth; b) torture or inhuman treatment; and c) unlawful deportation, confinement, or transfer.
The people who killed or helped to kill the people of Bangladesh are war criminals by all implications of the term. They were in breach of the Geneva Convention, and crossed all limits of simple human decency in their treatment of peaceable population. They were accused of aiding and abetting the heinous crimes against humanity, i.e. killing, rape, arson, plunder, abduction etc. They joined hands with Pakistan occupation force that wilfully launched an armed war of aggression against the innocent people and unarmed civilians. They caused untold sufferings, irrecoverable physical and economic harm to them, and wanton destruction to national wealth. They made the abducted the intellectuals undergo cruel confinement and barbaric torture in the torture chambers, until they were killed, which can be compared to the torture in Auschwitz concentration camp of the Third Reich during World War II.
This is how they have successfully fulfilled all the criteria for being war criminals.
They should have been brought to justice much earlier on the sovereign soil of independent Bangladesh. But quite unfortunately for us, they were seemingly beyond the reach of the law. The long arm of the law could not even touch the tuft of their hair for long. Little by little, they had gained ground. Backed by the opportunist power hunters of the right-wing coalition, they too, had been able to have the taste of power. So, naturally, they had enjoyed the culture of impunity and did not give a damn about the censure from the pro-liberation folks. Not only that, the war criminals went to the extent of passing most derogatory remarks on the Liberation War itself, and denied the existence of the anti-liberation forces. This well becomes them to belittle the image of the Liberation War.
Though much later, they have been brought to justice on the sovereign soil of independent Bangladesh. But it has come halfway to reaching the goal, for many verdicts have not yet been executed, many sentences have not been dealt out, and even many criminals have not been brought to trial. This is highly dangerous to tread on the tail of the venomous snake that should be hit in the head. To stay half-done about the war crime trial is like dicing with death. The government, who launched the trial, should not forget this, nor should the people, who want to see the trial and the execution of all war criminals, not only of Mojaheed and SQ Chy, over and done with.
The execution of the convicted war criminals may terminate this long-awaited issue and work as a slap on the wrist of the champions of the war criminals, and dampen their enthusiasm. However, we are sometimes confused by the delay in the prosecution process, which gives birth to a whole host of questions. People, who want to see the ugliest blot smeared on our nation's forehead to be completely wiped out, are very excited at the prospect of the execution of the convicts any moment now. They would love to see Bangladesh free from war criminals. They take it as the rebirth of the nation. It was quite reassuring for them to see that the verdicts of the tribunals hitherto had lived up to public expectations. That sounds great on paper, but it will not take much time to turn worse, if we do not get it to execution.
Public fear would never have come true, if all people had had the same stance on the war crime trial issue. This is unfortunate for us that our views and notions about the facts and figures of our national history are miles apart from one another. So there is every reason to believe that the whole legal procedure of the war crime trial would be bungled if the state power is changed. There is a growing feeling of apprehension that criminals such as these may be allowed to get away scot-free if their political allies are in the ascendant. The execution of the war criminals would be a far cry from reality. The pro-liberation people should awake to this fact, and keep holding kind of a candle-lit vigil to guard against the coming of anti-liberation forces into power. We should not be oblivious to this grim reality. The true spirit of our Liberation war can be protected by punishing the war criminals and promoting the pro-liberation peoples and ideals. There lies the true meaning of the victory in the Liberation War.
The biggest success of Hasina Government or the people who voted them to power is the bold move to bring the war criminals to trial. Those who have lost their beloved ones at that war would realize the real magnitude of this trial. Although the slow progress of the trial is little concerning them, they are happy to see the perpetrators of crime against humanity are standing trial after four decades of the Liberation War (1971). If this attempt fairly succeeds, and the top brass are punished in this government's tenure, the pro -liberation folks would heave a big sigh of relief.
Dr Rashid Askari writes fiction and columns, and teaches English literature at Kushtia Islamic University.
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