Thursday, March 26, 2009

Bangladesh to set up war crimes tribunals

Bangladesh to set up war crimes tribunals
By Parveen Ahmed
Source: Indpendent on-line

Dhaka, Bangladesh - Bangladesh is setting up war crimes tribunals for long-delayed trials of people accused of murder, torture, rape and arson during its 1971 independence war, with the death penalty possible in some cases, officials said Wednesday.

Bangladesh began war crimes trials in 1973, but they were halted in 1975 when the nation's independence leader, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was assassinated in a military coup. Subsequent governments failed to address the issue, despite repeated calls for justice from war heroes and families of those slain.

Rahman's daughter, current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, pledged during her election campaign to prosecute war criminals. In January, Parliament passed a resolution for their quick trial.

Speaking ahead of the nation's 39th Independence Day, Law Minister Shafique Ahmed said the process of holding the trials has already started. One or more tribunals would be set up for quick trials under a 1973 act outlining prosecution and punishment for people accused of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and other crimes under international law.

Last week, the government issued an order barring war crimes suspects from leaving the country.

An inter-ministerial meeting Wednesday discussed the formation of tribunals and appointments of prosecutors and investigation agencies, State Minister for Home Affairs Sohel Taj said.

"The investigation process has begun. The trials will begin soon," Taj said.

On March 26, 1971, Bangladesh - then East Pakistan - declared its independence from West Pakistan, following years of perceived political and economic discrimination.

Official figures say Pakistani soldiers, aided by local collaborators, killed an estimated 3 million people, raped about 200 000 women and forced millions more to flee their homes during a bloody nine-month guerrilla war. With help from neighbor India, Bangladesh emerged as an independent nation on December 16, 1971, with the surrender of the Pakistani army in Dhaka.

A general amnesty was declared after the war for collaborators who were not directly involved in heinous crimes. It did not cover those who had specific charges or evidence of crimes against them. - Sapa-AP

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