War Criminals of 1971: Time to Take Action
Dr. Abdul Momen
October 29, 2007
It is highly misleading that Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman government pardoned all the war criminals and he did nothing during his ‘war ravaged reconstruction period’. The fact shows otherwise. In fact, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman government started prosecuting the perpetrators of 'crime against humanity' or ’war criminals’ immediately after independence and he also passed the Collaborators Act (1972) and the International Crime Act of 1973 that barred re-entry of any collaborators to Bangladesh. Sheikh Mujib promulgated the Special Tribunal Order on January 24, 1972 (PO No 8 of 1972) after 14 days of his return from Pakistani jail to try those Pakistani collaborators/ Razakers/ Al-Badrs and other stooges of the Pakistani army. Under this order he arrested 37,000 collaborators amidst of strong opposition by left-leaning journalist like Enayetullah Khan [see his write-up titled ’75 million Collaborators’ , the Holiday, 1972]. Out of them as no grievous criminal charges were filed against 26,000, therefore they were pardoned and released in a general amnesty. However, nearly 800 cases were completed and given jail sentences. Another 11,000 were in jail including Nizami, Abbas Ali Khan of the Jamat-e-Islam Party (JI), and their prosecution was at various stages of completion. In addition, those that were involved in ‘crime against humanity’ and against Bangladesh, they were denied of Bangladesh nationality and passport.
On November 4, 1972 all religion-based politics were abolished as per sections 12 and 38 of the Bangladesh Constitution of 1972.
Unfortunately, when General Ziaur Rahman, a valiant Mukti-judda emerged as a ‘strong man’ in 1975, he abrogated the Collaborators Act and released all the prisoners including those that were sentenced. For political/ personal reasons he allowed religion-based parties to operate and started reinstating and rehabilitating them. No wonder, those who were guilty of ‘crime against humanity’ and collaboration with enemy (Pakistan) state started returning from abroad especially Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and they were given Bangladesh citizenship and passport. Example, Golam Azam of the JI Party.
On those days I was working with the Bangladesh government and many individuals and their relatives that had no Bangladesh passport approached us for consideration. However, once General Zia took over, all of them were issued Bangladesh passport or ‘travel documents’ to return to Bangladesh.
It is sad that few vested quarters including Abdul Mannan Bhuiya, the ousted BNP Secretary General and current Law Advisor Barrister Moinul Hussein are misleading the public and the nation by stating that Sheikh Mujib pardoned them or shifting the responsibility by blaming why they did not prosecute them. In fact, Sheikh Mujib started the prosecution and he pardoned only those that did not have criminal cases against them. He did not pardon those (Razakers, Al-badr or Al-Shams) that had ‘criminal cases’ and those that committed ‘crime against humanity or war criminals’ such as rape, murder, and the like. Thousands of criminals were in prison during his time; however, many were absconding abroad including Golam Azam, the leader of the JI party and they were involved in anti-state activities abroad. He did not get time to complete the prosecution because of abrupt massacre.
After the massacre of Sheikh Mujib and his family plus his closed associates; Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmed, Acting President Syed Nazrul Islam, Secretary General AHM Qamruzzaman and Home Minister Monsur Ali, the founders of independent and sovereign Bangladesh in 1975, one after another civil-military- technocratic or cantonment-based governments ruled the country basically till 1996. In 1996, when pro-people and pro-liberation government of Sheikh Hasina came to power after 21 years with marginal votes; it neither could reinstate the Collaborators Act nor could revive the original constitution of 1972. Secondly, it followed ‘judicial process and rule of law’ and therefore, it did not set up any ‘kangaroo court or special tribunal’ to prosecute the criminals. One can debate that as a weakness of the Hasina government or not.
Therefore, it failed to punish the war criminals and the culprits. But that does not justify that the criminals of ‘crime against humanity’ or war criminals should not face justice. It would be unfair if they are allowed to go free or untouched. Fortunately, now is an opportune moment to revive the clause that ‘no religion-based political party can register or contest in Bangladesh election’ and those found guilty of ‘crime against humanity’ to be fully prosecuted. Unless the criminals and murderers are fully prosecuted, you can neither establish ‘rule of law’ nor can stop political killing in Bangladesh.
More importantly, the International Crime Act of 1973 of Bangladesh is still active and Article 47, Section 3 of the Act allows trial of war criminals. Therefore, the military-backed government of Fakhruddin Ahmed that has started many essential reforms can try the war criminals and punish them provided it has the mindset and commitment. It is unfortunate that its Law Advisor is trying to guillotine the golden opportunity.
Secondly, Islami activist S. A. Hannan, a retired bureaucrat following the JI party line of argument tried to mislead the public by stating that there was ‘no genocide’ in East Pakistan in 1971.
Genocide is the deliberate and systematic destruction of an ethnic, religious or national group. While precise definition varies among genocide scholars, the legal definition of it is found in the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG). Article 2 of the CPPCG defines genocide as "any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."
In 1971 the Pakistan occupation army plus their collaborators like the Jamat-e-Islam, the Islami Chatra Sangho (currently renamed Islami Chatra Shibir) and their militant killing squads; the Al-Badr and the Al-Shams tried their utmost to apprehend and kill those that demand an ‘independent Bangladesh’. Since majority of Bengali speaking East Pakistanis (Sheikh Mujib got 167 out of 169 seats in East Pakistan) or ethnic group favored an independent Bangladesh, they waged a war with intent to destroy that ethnic group. The Pak army systematically opened fire on un-armed masses of Bengali ethnic group on the midnight of March 25th 1971 indiscriminately resulting which, as per various reports 19,000 to 25,000 Bengali ethnic people died on that dark night alone and over a period of 10 months, 3 million reportedly killed, 30 million were dislodged from their homes and 10 million had to take refuge in neighboring India due to cleansing operation, fear and repression. As per global ranking, Bangladesh genocide is second to that of Nazi genocide of Jews.
In order to cripple the whole ‘bangali nationalism and nationhood’ the Pak army in collaboration with the Jamat-e-Islam and few other such parties and their affiliates systematically and calculatedly murder the Bengali intellectuals, writers, doctors, journalists, educators and their political leadership. In addition, in order to cleanse the society of Hindu population, the Pak army and its collaborators calculatedly killed and/or uprooted them. No wonder, over 10 million East Pakistanis (out of 75 million) mostly Hindu minority took shelter in the neighboring India. When army captured me on April 20, 1971, they tested me whether I could recite ‘kolema’ (the 1st pillar of Muslim faith) and then they checked whether I had my circumcision, a symbol of being Muslim in the subcontinent. In addition, when the army forced us to lead them in their operations, they repeatedly asked two questions; find ‘Mukti’ (liberation fighter) and Hindu. If such are reported, they would immediately open their fire, weapons and mortars. Such is a testimony of cleansing of a religious group, a clear evidence of genocide.
Abdul Momen, Boston