Space For Rent
Monday, April 11, 2016, Chaitra 28, 1422 BS, Rajab 3, 1437 Hijri

UN shouldn't speak for war criminals
Syed Badrul Ahsan
Published :Monday, 11 April, 2016,  Time : 12:00 AM  View Count : 336

In recent days, two spokespersons from the United Nations have focused on developments in Bangladesh.
One has condemned the murder of yet one more blogger and has demanded that the government of Bangladesh take the steps necessary to provide protection to bloggers from the threats to their lives. It is a sentiment the people of Bangladesh share with the UN, indeed with all civilized societies across the globe. We are happy that the United Nations has taken cognizance of the problem.
The second spokesperson has asked that Bangladesh call a halt to all executions, including those handed down to two war criminals following their trial by the International Crimes Tribunal. The UN, she has pointed out, opposes the death penalty in all its forms and that despite the severity of the crimes for which those convicted have been sentenced.
One does not argue with the principle the UN has followed and continues to follow in respect of capital punishment. But, again, it is a principle which not many societies and nations around the world may agree or be comfortable with, for the particular reason that the circumstances behind the provision of the death penalty are of a kind that admit of no leniency. The UN banks its principle on the existence of an ideal world. Unfortunately, for a majority of nations, an ideal world is yet an illusion. Sinners refuse to confess their sins. Murderers do not think they have committed any wrong by killing people.
The UN, as also some governments in the West, has been loudly critical in its view of the trials and executions of the war criminals of 1971 in Bangladesh. That ought not to have been the case, for there is all the evidence --- and not just that presented at the trials but also that which is yet to be found in newspaper archives all over the globe --- that has underscored the criminality of these men. The unfortunate part of our history has been the gross manner in which the war criminals, rather than facing the consequences of their acts at the end of the war in 1971, went through a sure and systematic process of rehabilitation, with some of them even ending up as ministers in the governments of the very country whose birth they had violently opposed in conjunction with the Pakistan occupation army.
The trials of the war criminals, despite taking place more than four decades after the liberation of Bangladesh, have been welcomed by the people of the country. It is not that there has been any gloating at the pronouncement of the death sentences on these murderous collaborators of the Pakistan army. The reason why Bangladesh's people have welcomed the trials and the resultant penalties imposed on the war criminals has to do with their firm belief that justice, though belated, has finally been done. Perhaps the UN and everyone else upset with the trials failed to take note of the feelings of our people on the issue? Perhaps they did not take into account the pains and long wait for justice by the families of the victims of the war criminals?
The issue of a proper trial of the war criminals has repeatedly been raised by the UN and western governments. In giving expression to their reservations, they do not appear to have noticed, or have simply ignored, the fact that the trials were open and provided opportunities to the accused for their defence and then for a review of their cases. It is also a matter of record that none of the war criminals, in the course of the trials, expressed any contrition for their crimes beyond a standard denial of guilt.
Like the UN, we are not happy about capital punishmaent being part of the process of justice in these times. But more important than that has been our awareness of the enormity of the crimes committed in 1971 by the war criminals as also the fact that they were rehabilitated in politics by illegitimate military and quasi-military regimes in Bangladesh. Besides, the trials and the judgments will, we believe, have had a salutary effect on would-be criminals in future anywhere around the world.
The trials of Bangladesh's war criminals, we might add, have been a whole lot fairer than those in the case of the Nazis in Nuremberg or the Japanese militarists in Tokyo at the end of the Second World War. Unlike Nuremberg and Tokyo, Bangladesh did not opt for summary trials and executions of its war criminals. Surely there was civilized behaviour and respect for law here? And surely the fact that the judiciary recently pulled up two serving ministers over their unwarranted comments on the course of the war crimes trials says something about the conduct of the trials?
Finally, let everyone --- and that includes the UN --- know that we as a nation have unqualified respect for human rights. At the same time, we know what we must do about ensuring justice in the matter of those who pushed tens of thousands of Bengalis to their deaths more than four decades ago in their crude defence of a state that happily went around carrying out genocide on an unarmed population.
If we fail to ensure justice about 1971, we will be undermining the cardinal principle ingrained in the concept of human rights. We are not willing to do that. We believe the UN, which champions human rights globally, will respect the right of the people of Bangladesh to try those who committed crimes against humanity in 1971. This nation expects that the world body will not speak for war criminals. The reason is morality.

Editor : Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury
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