Considering its economic, kinship and historic ties with the UK, Bangladesh is absurdly under-reported in the British media. So you probably won’t have picked up the latest news from the country’s attempt to draw a judicial line under events that took place during its bloody birth, four decades ago.
Earlier today, the International Crimes Tribunal in Dhaka found a politician, Abdul Quader Molla of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, guilty of mass murder, crimes against humanity and other charges. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. The conviction follows that of Abul Kalam Azad, who last month was found guilty in absentia of eight charges of crimes against humanity and sentenced to death. (As Azad is currently in Pakistan, the sentence is most unlikely to be carried out.)
Anyone with memories of 1971, or who has been lucky enough to visit the Liberation War Museum in Dhaka, will cheer efforts to bringing to justice those responsible for the deaths of up to three million people.
Sadly, the so-called international tribunal, which is trying 12 individuals, is tainted. Opponents describe it as a political witch-hunt against Jamaat-e-Islami. In December, the tribunal chairman, Mohammed Nizamul Huq, resigned when a dossier of emails and telephone conversations came to light suggesting collusion between the government, prosecution counsel and judges.
British barristers assisting the defence team, such as Toby Cadman of Nine Bedford Row International, say the government of Bangladesh has proven it has neither the will nor the ability to run these trials independently or impartially.
Is this any business of ours? Beyond the obvious point that any miscarriage of justice involving the death penalty should be a matter of concern, the Dhaka tribunal raises two issues. One is the abuse of the term ‘international’, which should be reserved for war crimes proceedings under genuinely international jurisdiction. The other is the potential for political over-spill: Jamaat-e-Islami is a political force in some parts of the UK, and while I have little sympathy with its members I wouldn’t like them to be handed a victim card to play.
Shortly before taking up his post as chief prosecutor at the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, US justice Robert Jackson said it would be better to shoot Nazi leaders out of hand than pervert the process of law by setting up a sham court.
‘You must put no man on trial under the forms of judicial proceeding, if you are not willing to see him freed if not proven guilty.’ The Nuremberg trial went on to acquit (against the wishes of the Soviet judges) three of the defendants.
Friends of Bangladesh can only hope that the Dhaka ‘international’ tribunal lives up to Jackson’s ideal.
Michael Cross is Gazette news editor
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