Law Minister Shaufiq Ahmed told reporters on Thursday that the process to prosecute those guilty of war crimes in Bangladesh's 1971 War of Liberation has begun. Ahmed went on to say that the government will appoint an investigating agency and prosecutors and will form tribunals within two weeks. He was speaking after the first meeting of the committee for investigating and prosecuting war crimes committed during the 1971 Independence war. Also present at the meeting were ministers for home and liberation war affairs, the attorney general, the head of police, the director general of the Rapid Action Battalion and the chiefs of the intelligence agencies.
It is hoped that the trials will mark a final national catharsis regarding the events of the Liberation War, which saw the military forces of the Pakistan state, aided and abetted by a number of Bengalis, carry out extremely violent attacks on the population of what was then East Pakistan. Although the alleged final toll of three million Bengali dead is disputed, it is widely accepted the operations carried out by the Pakistani army during Operation Searchlight included wide scale human rights abuses and war crimes, including rape and murder.
The tribunals will aim to bring to justice those Bangladeshis, still living in the country whose existence they fought against in 1971, who carried out these crimes alongside their Pakistani allies. Not all segments of Bangladeshi society are in favour of the trials however. Most prominently, Bangladesh's largest religious party, Jamaat-i-Islami, is opposed to the trials, with several prominent party members saying that they will be used to harass and victimise opponents of the current government.
In his comments on Thursday, however, the Law Minister went on to give assurances that the process would be transparent and proper and would not be used to victimise innocents. Those charged of war crimes would be tried under the International Crimes (Tribunal) Act 1973.
Bangla New Year celebrated without incident
Last Tuesday, people across Bangladesh celebrated in style to mark the beginning of year 1416 in the Bengali calendar. The Baishakh celebrations, which were institutionalised by Mughal Emperor Akbar who conquered Bengal in 1574, saw hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshis don their smartest saris and punjabis and engage in various cultural events such as singing, dancing and reciting poetry.
Although Bangladesh observes the western calendar in most respects, Bangla New Year comes at the beginning of Bangladesh's traditional six-season year, which is linked to the harvest cycle and reflects the centrality of agriculture in the daily lives of the country's vast rural population.
Security concerns were highlighted in Dhaka by the presence of reportedly 10,000 police and security officers on the streets and the deployment of close-circuit television cameras and security checkpoints at various key points. A key area of concern was Ramna Park, which was the scene of bloody bomb attacks during New Year celebrations in 2001. The fact that this was the first New Year celebrated since last December's reassertion of democratic rule was also potentially a source of concern. Despite this, the day passed without serious incident.Ramna bombers finally charged
On Thursday, a Dhaka court framed charges against fourteen people allegedly responsible for a bomb attack in 2001 that killed ten people. Rejecting a discharge petition submitted by the presumed leader of the group, Mufti Abdul Hannan, Judge ANN Bashir of the Court of Metropolitan Session framed charges for two cases, both for bombing and murder, against the men. All of the accused, who are members of the banned extremist group Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, denied the charges. The bombing was carried out during Baishakh celebrations on 14 April, 2001 in the Ramna Batamul area of Dhaka, where typically thousands of celebrants gather to welcome in the Bangla New Year. In addition to the ten fatalities, the attacks wounded over twenty.
Alleged bomb-shop mastermind blames underlings
Faisal Mostafa, the British national currently being held for his links to a madrasa where a substantial cache of arms was recently discovered by counter-terrorism officers, has laid the blame on local associates, including the madrasa's cook. The arms were discovered on 24 March when members of Bangladesh's elite RAB counter-terrorism unit raided the madrasa in Borhanuddin upazilla in the south of the country.
Speaking on Wednesday last week, an investigator quoted Faisal as saying that, although he founded and continues to fund the Green Crescent madrasa in Bhola, he spends very little time in Bangladesh. He has blamed the presence of the firearms, which include shotguns and bomb-making equipment, on his close associate Mohammad Saifuddin Badal, also being held, and on the madrasa's cook Mohiuddin.