Thursday, February 12, 2009

Does Bangladesh military deserve impunity?

Does Bangladesh military deserve impunity?
By Rater Zonaki
Source: UPI Asia On-line
February 10, 2009

Hong Kong, China — Bangladeshi members of Parliament and the media have been speaking out against the former military-controlled emergency government, now that a new elected government is in place. They are demanding the prosecution of members of the military forces responsible for arresting and detaining high-ranking politicians, and subjecting them to physical and mental torture in custody.

Abdul Jalil, general secretary of the Awami League, which is now the ruling party, has demanded a parliamentary probe into such detentions. The veteran politician could not help crying while describing the torture he underwent in a detention center operated by the armed forces. He said around eight armed men had come to his office, blindfolded him and taken him away in a waiting car. They identified themselves as members of the Joint Forces.

Jalil was detained in custody where he was physically and psychologically tortured for five consecutive days. He was later paroled for treatment abroad, and after returning to Bangladesh, managed to get bail from the Supreme Court.

Another member of Parliament, Mahiuddin Khan Alamgir, has also described his arrest and torture in a number of articles, interviews and talk shows. He has declared his intention to sue the chairman of the Anti-Corruption Commission, Lt. Gen. Hassan Mashhud Chowdhury, and other members of the armed forces for torturing and treating him inhumanely in detention.

Barrister Moudud Ahmed – who was minister of law during the former Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led regime and lost his seat in Parliament in the recent election – has also been trying to convince people through the media that he was a victim of brutal torture and degrading treatment in the custody of the armed forces. Moudud also announced that he is writing a book on his life in prison.

However, Moudud’s hue and cry about custodial brutality appears to be aimed at personal or political gain. In fact, Moudud was law minister when the government validated actions of the armed forces during Operation Clean Heart, an 86-day crackdown on political dissenters in late 2002, which resulted in 58 deaths in the custody of the armed forces. The government termed all these deaths as "heart attacks."

More than 10,000 ordinary citizens were illegally arrested, arbitrarily detained and brutally tortured under fabricated charges by the military-dominated law-enforcement agencies. Moudud, as the minister for law, justice and parliamentary affairs, issued an ordinance to ensure blatant impunity to the perpetrators in January 2003, which was then enacted by Parliament.

Moudud and his government ignored the people's fundamental rights, especially the right to life and liberty. Later, he was a victim of the same treatment.

Talking about human rights, as Jalil, Alamgir and Moudud are now doing, is rare in Bangladesh’s political circles. This discussion conveys a message to ordinary victims that some politicians now understand the taste of pain. At the same time, their stories support claims made by human rights defenders that the armed forces and law-enforcement agencies operate torture cells.

The real picture of brutality by the armed forces and the police is much more severe than the stories of these three politicians. Ordinary citizens have long suffered immeasurable atrocities at the hands of the military during the state of emergency and the police during previous regimes.

Now the incumbent law minister, Barrister Shafique Ahmed, is talking about the "doctrine of necessity" as a means of justifying the actions of the military-controlled emergency government. Speaking of the armed forces, he told the media, "You cannot say all their actions or activities were within the bounds of the Constitution …Whatever they did, they did responding to the necessity of the time. So we are not giving legal cover to all their actions, we're not validating all their ordinances."

This raises the question as to whether the illegal arrests, detentions, torture and killings were a "necessity of the time." Are the present politicians ready to accept the armed forces' actions even though they defied the Constitution? Isn’t the so-called "doctrine of necessity" merely an excuse to once again grant impunity to the perpetrators of injustice, with the permission of the present government and at the demand of the armed forces?

It is not convincing that those now in power can accept and explain the former government’s brutal and unconstitutional actions under the "doctrine of necessity." Why can’t people like Moudud and Shafique face the truth behind the recurrent take-over of power by the armed forces?

Will the current batch of politicians also surrender to the armed forces instead of taking effective action to stop such brutality forever? Why is there no effective resistance to keep the soldiers in their barracks?

The door must be closed forever on the armed forces’ ability to take over and abuse power. The ruling party could start now by using its absolute majority in Parliament to criminalize torture and repeal Article 46 of the Constitution, which allows Parliament to grant impunity to state officers for any action, however brutal, taken to “restore order.”

The demand for justice by a few senior members of Parliament has aroused the interest of the people. But ordinary people will treat such demands as mere political rubbish unless the politicians follow through and effectively punish the perpetrators.

(Rater Zonaki is the pseudonym of a human rights defender based in Hong Kong working at the Asian Human Rights Commission. He is a Bangladeshi national with a degree in literature from a university in Dhaka. He began his career as a journalist in 1990 and engaged in human rights activism at the grassroots level in his country for more than a decade. He also worked as an editor for publications on human rights and socio-cultural issues and contributed to other similar publications.)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

War criminals barred from leaving country

War criminals barred from leaving country

Govt alerts agencies concerned but no list prepared

Source: New Age
January 31 2009

The government on Friday ordered all agencies concerned to bar the suspected war criminals from leaving the country. ‘All relevant information about the war criminals have already been sent to the agencies concerned asking them to guard all points so that the war criminals cannot flee the country,(The Newage)

home minister Sahara Khatun told reporters after attending the 23rd annual conference of Bangladesh Law Association at the Annex Complex on the premises of the law faculty of Dhaka University.

The home minister came up with the statement after Jatiya Sangsad on Thursday night approved unanimously a resolution seeking speedy prosecution of the 1971 war criminals.

The minister refused to give the list of the war criminals barred from leaving the country.

‘Why ask for details,’ Sahara told reporters and walked away.

A high official of the home ministry, however, said that the ministry was yet to prepare a list of the war criminals.

After 1972, the government has not prepared any list of the war criminals, said another high official.

Immigration officials at the Zia International Airport and Benapole Land Port told New Age Friday evening that they had not yet received any such instructions.

A home ministry official said a general instruction was issued to the authorities concerned not to allow any suspected war criminals to leave the country. He, however, added that no list was sent to the authorities.

Law minister Shafique Ahmed also said that the home ministry had issued instructions to the authorities concerned in this regard after being asked to do so.

The government in 1972 prepared a list of 37,000 war criminals and they were also sued.

The process of trial and conviction was, however, impeded by a general amnesty for the collaborators, declared by the then prime minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on November 30, 1973.

Under the general amnesty, about 26,000 of the 37,000 people held or convicted under the Bangladesh Collaborators (Special Tribunals) Order 1972 were released. While the amnesty did not apply to those charged with murder, rape or arson, most of the collaborators, especially the bigwigs involved in abduction and other general collaboration charges, were released. A large number of persons charged with murder, rape or arson, including known collaborators, were also released.

The collaborators order was finally revoked on December 31, 1975 and almost all of the collaborators convicted or indicted were released in the early days of the regime of Ziaur Rahman.

The War Crimes Facts Finding Committee, a research organisation, on April 3, 2008, unveiled a list of 1,597 war criminals responsible for genocide, rape and other atrocities during the Liberation War.

Of those on the list, 369 are members of Pakistani military, 1,150 are their local collaborators, including members of Razakar and Al Badr [forces formed to aid the occupation army] and Peace Committee, and 78 are Biharis.

On December 23, 2008, Bangladesh Muktijoddha Sangsad published a list of 600 war criminals responsible for mass killing, rape and other misdeeds during the country’s Liberation War.

Sector Commanders Forum, a platform of war veterans, on November 4 made public their preliminary list of 50 war criminals, which includes Jamaat-e-Islami amir Matiur Rahman Nizami and its secretary general Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojahid. It also demanded trial of war criminals under the International Crimes Tribunal Act, 1973.

The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party on Friday said that the party would back trial of war criminals if it was ‘properly’ done and was not politically motivated.

BNP secretary general Khandaker Delwar Hossain said the demand for trial of war criminals had their moral support and none should have any objection to it.

Grassroots level leaders of Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami on Friday asked the leadership of the party to take ‘legal protection’ against the government’s move for trial of war criminals.

When asked if the members of the central Majlish-e-Shura, highest decision making body of the party, had discussed the parliament’s decision on the ‘immediate trial of war criminals’, a central secretary admitted, ‘A number of delegates raised the issue. They advised the Jamaat leaders to take legal protection.’

Addressing a law association conference, state minister for law, Quamrul Islam sought cooperation from the members of the Bangladesh Law Association and the countrymen, especially lawyers, in the trial of the war criminals, a major election pledge of the present government.

‘This move of the government would be successful through a bold and unique role of the judges and the lawyers,’ he said.