December 2011

The Government of Bangladesh has suggested that it is going to form at least another bench to expedite the trial of the men accused of committing crimes against humanity. There are certain things that the government can do to avoid much of the controversy that is dogging the current tribunal.

  1. Have at least two judges with district court experience: In the current tribunal, Justice Fazle Kabir was a district court judge before being elevated to the High Court. Zaheer Ahmed is also a retired district court judge. District courts are the trial courts of Bangladesh’s legal system, and the judges who rise up through that system have a far greater experience regarding the minutiae of handling a trial, like evidentiary and exculpatory issues. The transcripts of the direct and cross-examination of prosecution witnesses in the trial of Delwar Hossain Saydee has made this abundantly clear. Justices Zaheer and Kabir have been extremely active in deciding whether to sustain or overrule the objections by the prosecution and the defense teams, while the chairman, Justice Nizamul Huq has mostly been a silent spectator. The new tribunal should also have at least two judges with experience at the district court level, and unlike this the current tribunal, one of these two should be made the chairman of the tribunal.
  2. Have at least two judges with at least five years of appellate experience: Justice Fazle Kabir was appointed by the BNP government in 2003. So, he had seven years of experience in the High Court under his belt before being appointed to the war-crimes trial. Justice Nizamul Huq, on the other hand, was appointed in 2001, not confirmed in 2003 (along with Shamshuddin Chowdhury Manik, what a wise decision that was), and then again reappointed in 2009. This means that he had only heard appellate cases for 3 years (2001-2003, 2009-2010) before being appointed to the Tribunal, and even that with a six-year gap in between. For the new tribunal, the government would do well to appoint judges with at least five years of uninterrupted appellate experience.
  3. Avoid controversial judges: At first glance, this may seem to be an extremely subjective measure, but the government would be wise to do all it can to appoint people who are as uncontroversial as possible. Justice Fazle Kabir is controversial because he was the other judge with then-Justice Khairul Huq when he handed down his Fifth Amendment verdict and started our court on its festival of constitution-shredding. However, that is a matter of completely different magnitude from Justice Nizamul Huq, who took part in a mock-prosecution of these same men as a private citizen, and whose presence has irreversibly tainted the whole proceedings. For the new tribunals, Awami League should avoid individuals with direct participation with the 1992 mock trials, as well as those judges who were reappointed in 2009, and some of whom have been elevated to the Appellate Division.

If Awami League really wants to finish all the trial proceedings within the 2012 calendar year, then it has no choice but to constitute new tribunals. However, the absence of interlocutory appeals makes this process quite challenging, since different tribunals could potentially rule differently on the same issues, and the prosecution would be able to take advantage of forum-shopping. While the road ahead is certainly challenging for the government, if it chooses the members of the new tribunal with some foresight (which was very much missing was constituting the current tribunal), it may make its mission slightly easier.

ব্লগ এখন অনেকটা পর্নোগ্রাফিতে পরিণত হয়েছে: Syed Ashraful Islam

“On the Internet 50 percent is porn material. Why should we refer to the Internet?”: Vladimir Putin

Prothom Alo and Daily Star have an unparallelled ability in Bangladesh to focus, day after day, on a single issue, and force some action on that issue. In the recent past, they did it about Limon, the unfortunate victim of RAB crossfire. They did it about the untimely deaths of Mishuq Munir and Tareque Masud. And lately, they had started focusing on the issue of individuals being abducted and being murdered, allegedly by law-enforcement officials in disguise.

Thus, Daily Star has run the following news-reports:

December 14: Rights violation still rampant

December 15: Seven bodies seen floating in the bay

December 16: Secret killing sponsored by the state: Fakhrul claims BNP its main victim, BNP leader killed after abduction

December 17: Disappearances and secret killings: Creating panic among common people, 5 abducted, missing for 10 days

Prothom Alo has run these:

December 14: ১৭টি সংগঠনের মোর্চার সংবাদ সম্মেলন:
‘গুপ্তহত্যা ও গণপিটুনিতে হত্যা নতুন উদ্বেগ সৃষ্টি করছে’
, ধলেশ্বরীতে আরও তিন লাশ: গুপ্তহত্যা

December 15: গুপ্তহত্যা: আরও পাঁচজন নিখোঁজ, রাষ্ট্রের সর্বোচ্চ পর্যায়ের হস্তক্ষেপ আশা করছি
সুলতানা কামাল
, মুন্সিগঞ্জে নিখোঁজ মানুষের সন্ধানে আরও স্বজন: স্ত্রীরা এসে স্বামীদের লাশ শনাক্ত করলেন

December 16: পাবনায় যুবকের লাশ উদ্ধার
, নিখোঁজ ও গুম: এএফএডির উদ্বেগ
, মুন্সিগঞ্জ পুলিশের ধারণা: বুড়িগঙ্গা দিয়ে আট লাশ এসেছে, গলায় গামছা পেঁচানো বিএনপি নেতার লাশ

December 17: ডিবির পরিচয়ে অপহরণ
ভাঙ্গার পাঁচ যুবক ১০ দিন নিখোঁজ
, ‘দলের কাউকে ধরতে হলে পুলিশকে পোশাক পরে আসতে হবে’, বাংলাদেশে নিখোঁজ ও গুমের ঘটনায় উদ্বেগ

December 18: গুপ্তহত্যার তদন্ত করবে মানবাধিকার কমিশন

December 19:
গুম ও গুপ্তহত্যার রহস্যভেদে গণতদন্ত কমিশন হোক

The response from the government about these claims, as it is about most criticism levelled their way by the opposition, was that BNP was behind all these murders and disappearances to foil the International Crimes Tribunal. Yesterday, BNP held a grand rally to honor freedom-fighters and decisively refute the charges that BNP was out to save war-criminals and foil their trials. However, this development became the second-most important story of the day after the bursts of violence that broke out all over Dhaka on the early morning of the same day.

The government claims, and both Daily Star and Prothom Alocarried this version, that BNP carried out these attacks. Daily Star went even further, and dragged out the two biggest scapegoats of recent years, Hawa Bhaban and Jamaat, as the groups allegedly behind this violence.

What is more likely, that BNP would sabotage the organizational meeting it had been concentrating on all month, or that Awami League was desparate to deny Khaleda Zia a stage surrounded by decorated war veterans? Daily Star claims that BNP Acting Secretary-General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir was in the dark about all these acts of violence. Meanwhile, Prothom Alo details show district-level leaders from all around Bangladesh were mobilizing to come to Dhaka. So this criminal master-plot was known to district-level BNP leaders all around Bangladesh, but somehow, BNP’s Acting Secretary-General did not know about it? Ridiculous.

Just like the government is running out of money to carry out its everyday duties, it is also running out of legitimate ways to stifle the entirely legitimate dissent that is bubbling up due to its numerous ill-conceived steps. One hopes that it will soon see sense, and shun the path of violence.