Azad to die for war crimes
First war crimes verdict hailed as a landmark eventTapos Kanti Das
Fugitive war criminal Abul Kalam Azad alias Bachchu Razakar was sentenced to death by an International Crimes Tribunal for committing genocide and murders during the country’s liberation war in 1971.
A three-member International Crimes Tribunal-2 on Monday handed down the historic judgment, the first ever war crimes verdict, against Bachchu, a former member of Jamaat-e-Islami, in independent Bangladesh in the crowded courtroom at Old High Court building in the capital amid tight security.
‘…he [Bachchu] be convicted and sentenced to death and be hanged by the neck till he is dead…,’ tribunal chairman Justice Obaidul Hassan pronounced the verdict at 11:50am.
A good number of intellectuals, lawyers, cultural activists, journalists and visitors crowded the courtroom to hear the verdict described by pro-liberation forces as a landmark event in the country’s glorious history of the liberation struggle.
Emerging from the tribunal after the verdict, attorney general Mahbubey Alam, along with the chief prosecutor Golam Arief Tipoo, termed the verdict as the victory of the spirit of 1971.
The state defence counsel, Md Abdus Shukur Khan, however, expressed his ‘unhappiness’ over the judgment accusing the investigation officer of not investigating the case properly. He said such a ‘result’ would not have come if Bachchu’s family had helped him with required information.
Shukur said that he had no option to go to the Appellate Division against the verdict as his client was on the run.
ICT registrar AKM Nasiruddin Mahmud, told a press briefing at his office that if Bachchu surrendered or could be arrested 30 days inside the pronouncement of the verdict, he would be able to appeal, if he so wished.
Before going into hiding after the tribunal on April 3, 2012 issued warrant for his arrest, Bachchu used to host Islamic programmes on private television channels.
On December 26, 2012, the tribunal announced that the verdict in the war crimes case would be delivered any day.
Bachchu is the lone accused to have faced trial in absentia.
Justice Obaidul, before delivering the verdict, said the 112-page judgment had 334 paragraphs and a copy would be given to the chief prosecutor but the state defence would not get any as his client was absconding.
Two other tribunal members - Justice Md Mozibur Rahman Mia and Judge Md Shahinur Islam were present.
‘In the judicial history of Bangladesh, it is indeed an historic occasion that today this tribunal (ICT-2), a lawfully constituted domestic judicial forum, after dealing with the matter of prosecution and trial of internationally recognised i.e. crimes against humanity, genocide which were perpetrated in 1971 in the territory of Bangladesh, during the war of liberation, is going to deliver its first verdict,’ the tribunal chairman began to read out the 24-page summary of the judgment at 10:45am.
Though it was a winter morning, air-coolers had to be switched on in the packed courtroom a few minutes after the delivery of the judgment began.
As the ICT-2 courtroom has space constraints, it temporarily sat in the ICT-1 courtroom for delivering the verdict.
The tribunal awarded the capital punishment, prescribed in the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act, 1973, as Bachchu was found guilty beyond reasonable doubt on four counts of crimes against humanity- a horrifying event of genocide committed at village Hasamdia and Moindia Bazar under Boalmari in Faridpur on May 17, 1971 and the killings of Sudhangsu Mohon Roy of village Kalaroa under Boalmari in Faridpur on May14, 1971, Madhab Chandra Biswas in village Purura Nampara under Nagarkanda in Faridpur on May 16, 1971 and Chittaranjan Das of village Fulbaria under Nagarkanda in Faridpur on June 3, 1971.
Bachchu was also found guilty on three counts of crimes against humanity – for abduction, confinement and torture of Ranjit Nath alias Babu Nath of Khabaspur in the first week of June, 1971 and a Hindu girl Anjali Rani Das of Uzirpur Bazarpara under Saltha in Faridpur on May 18, 1971, and rape of Devi Rani and Shova Rani of the Hindu neighbourhood in Natibdia village under Boalmari in Faridpur on June 8, 1971 - and deserves imprisonment, the tribunal said.
The charges that deserve imprisonment include charge numbers - 1, 5 and 8.
The tribunal said that it would give no separate sentence of imprisonment in charge numbers - 1, 5 and 8 as he had been awarded the sentence of death in respect of four other charges.
The tribunal acquitted Bachchu from the charge of abduction of Abu Yousuf Pakhi of Alfadanga under Kotwali thana in Faridpur on July 26, 1971, confinement and torture on him as it was not established.
The tribunal ordered that a copy of the judgment together with the conviction warrant be transmitted to the inspector general of police and another copy to the Dhaka district magistrate for information, necessary action and compliance.
Under the Act of 1973, the government formed ICT-1, investigation agency and a prosecution team on March 25, 2010 for trial of 1971 war crimes suspects. The ICT-2 was constituted on March 22, 2012 as the number of cases increased.
Bachchu of village Barakhardia (Chhaiani) under Saltha in Faridpur was born on March 5, 1947, studied at Faridpur Rajendra College and was a close associate of Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed, the then president of East Pakistan Islami Chhatra Sangha, the brief account of the accused, in the judgment, said.
It also said that till the Razakar force was formally formed, Bachchu had actively aided the Pakistani army as an armed member of volunteer Razakar force in Faridpur in committing crimes.
‘The war of liberation started following the [Pakistan army’s] ‘Operation Search Light’ on the night of March 25, 1971 and [continued] till December 16, 1971 when the Pakistani occupation force surrendered,’ the judgment’s ‘backdrop and context’ part said.
‘Admittedly, during the period of the war of liberation in 1971, parallel forces e.g Razakar Bahini, Al-Badr Bahini, Peace Committee were formed as [auxiliary] forces of Pakistani armed force who provided moral support, assistance and subsequently contributed [to] and also physically participated [in] the… horrendous atrocities in the territory of Bangladesh,’ it also said.
In the ‘historical background’ part of the judgment, the tribunal said that some three million people were killed, nearly half a million women were raped and over 10 million people were forced to flee to India to escape the brutal persecution at home during the nine-month battle and struggle of Bangalee nation.
‘Jamat-e-Islami, as an organisation, substantially contributed [to] creating the para-militia forces (auxiliary forces) for combating the unarmed Bangalee civilians, in the name of protecting Pakistan. Undeniably, the road [to] freedom for the people of Bangladesh was arduous and torturous, smeared with blood, toil and sacrifices. In the contemporary world history, perhaps no nation paid as dearly as the Bangalees did for their emancipation,’ the tribunal said.
‘….the passage of time does not diminish the guilt. Therefore, justice delayed is no longer denied, particularly when the perpetrators of core international crimes are brought to process of justice,’ the tribunal said.
The Act of 1973 is meant to prosecute and punish not only the ‘armed forces’ but also the perpetrators who belonged to auxiliary forces, or who committed the offence as an ‘individual’ or member of ‘groups of individuals’, the tribunal, addressing legal aspects, said.
The tribunal termed ‘tripartite agreement and immunity to 195 Pakistani war criminals’ as an ‘executive act’ and said it could not cause any problem in prosecuting members of the ‘auxiliary force’ or an individual or a member of a group of individuals as the agreement showing forgiveness or immunity to the persons committing offences in breach of customary international law was derogatory to the existing law i.e the Act of 1973 enacted to prosecute those offences.
On October 7, the tribunal decided to hold Bachchu’s trial in absentia and appointed state defence counsel to defend him.
The tribunal examined 22 prosecution witnesses, including the investigation officer, the victims, relatives and neighbours of victims.
This is the only case where the defence failed to produce any defence witnesses.
On July 29, 2012, the War Crimes Investigation Agency handed its report on Bachchu to prosecution after completion of its investigation from April 10, 2011 to July 25, 2012.
Bachchu is believed to have fled to Pakistan.
The prosecution on October 21, 2012 proposed formal charges on 10 counts against Bachchu but the tribunal on November 4, 2012 indicted him on eight counts.
On November 26, Bachchu’s formal trial began in his absence.
In its first session, the present parliament on January 29, 2009 unanimously resolved to hold war crimes trial, which was a major election pledge of the ruling Awami League.
In 1972, the post-liberation government formed a committee comprising the late Supreme Court lawyer Sirajul Haq and the late attorney general Aminul Huq to inquire the genocide. The committee compiled evidence and submitted a report on about 1,500 cases to the home ministry in July 1972.
The report listed war criminals in two categories: 195 members of the Pakistani army and bureaucracy, who had been taken into Indian custody in New Delhi and were subsequently handed over to Pakistan in 1974 following the Simla Agreement; and about 12,000 of their local collaborators, including members of Razakar, Al-Badr, Al-Shams and the peace committees.
This report was not followed up either.
The Bangladesh Collaborators (Special Tribunals) Order 1972, widely known as the Collaborators Order, was promulgated on January 24, 1972.
The government of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman set up 73 special tribunals, including 11 in Dhaka, to try Razakar, Al-Badr and Al-Shams members, defined as collaborators in the order.
The families of many, killed in the war, filed cases under the order. As of March 28, 1972, forty-two cases were filed, according to an announcement of the police at the time.
The number kept rising till November 1973. Several thousand cases were filed under the order.
No specific information on the fate of the cases could be known as the old files and police records could not be traced.
Only six cases had been disposed of and five persons were convicted till 1975, according to what could be gathered from the families of the martyred freedom fighters and intellectuals, the lawyers of the cases and the newspapers of the time.
The process of the trial of collaborators was, however, impeded by a general amnesty for the collaborators, declared by the then prime minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on November 30, 1973.
The Collaborators Order was revoked on December 31, 1975 and almost all the collaborators convicted were released in the early days of the regime of Ziaur Rahman, which buried the process of the trial of the collaborators.
The government of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman enacted the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act 1973 on July 19, 1973 for the trial of war criminals. Four days earlier, on July 15, 1973, the constitution was amended for the first time providing a constitutional coverage for the act so that it could not be deemed unconstitutional because of its inconsistency with the constitution.
No tribunal, however, was formed nor any case filed under the act. No investigation was initiated.
The issue of the trial of war criminals was revived in 1992 with the trial of Ghulam Azam, then Jamaat amir, in a people’s court.
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