Bangladesh 1971 war crimes trial begins

Last Updated: Sunday, November 20, 2011 - 22:47

Dhaka: Bangladesh on Sunday began the
controversial war crimes trial with a top Islamist party
leader Delwar Hossain Sayeedi being the first suspect to go on
trial for allegations of genocide, rape, murder and arson
committed during the country`s 1971 Liberation war.

Chief Prosecutor Ghulam Arieff Tipu and senior prosecutor
Syed Rezaur Rahman read out a lengthy statement before the
three-judge International Crimes Tribunal at the Supreme Court
complex where Sayeedi stood in the dock.

"We brought 20 charges of ‘crimes against humanity’
including genocide, rape, murder, arson and looting committed
during the Liberation War," Rezaur Rahman said.

He said the opening statement, including 61 of the
90-pages, described the brief general history of the crime
against humanity and the major suspects.

‘We expect to read the entire statement tomorrow when the
hearing would resume," he said.

Court officials said the tribunal was expected to hear
the defence argument from December 7 after recording the
prosecution side.

Sayeedi, the leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), a key
ally of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist
Party, is the first suspect to be charged with atrocities
including genocide, rape and religious persecution.

Jamaat leaders and several other rightwing groups are
accused of siding with the then Pakistani junta in 1971. Five
of Jamaat`s top leaders, including its chief Motiur Rahman
Nizami and Secretary General Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojahid and
Sayeedi have been detained along with a BNP lawmaker
Salahuddin Qader Chowdhury.

On March 25, 2010, the Awami League government set up
a special tribunal for the trial of "war criminals" accused of
genocide and those who sided with the Pakistani military
during the bloody `Liberation War`.

71-year-old Sayedee, who has been detained to face 20
charges of crimes against humanity, including genocide, rape,
murder, arson and looting committed during the Liberation War,
could face death by hanging if found guilty by the ICC.

He has denied the charges being looked into by the ICC,
which is a domestic set-up with no United Nations oversight or
involvement.

A former BNP minister Abdul Alim has also been accused of
comitting crimes against humanity during the bloody freedom
struggle.

Bangladesh`s Attorney General Mahbubey Alam sat with the
prosecution team as the hearing began today. The defence team
drew a number of senior lawyers, mostly belonging to main
opposition BNP.

The defence lawyers included former parliamentary speaker
Jamiruddin Sircar and former law minister Maudud Ahmed,
Supreme Court Bar Association president Khandker Mahbub
Hossain.

Witnesses said the defence lawyers wanted the hearing to
be suspended until the tribunal gave an explanatory statement
on an earlier ruling on their plea questioning the legal
authority of the chair of the court of trying the suspects.

It is alleged that he was involved in a "mass enquiry
commission" for a "symbolic and mock trial" of the war
criminals in 1993.

"The law does not empower us to make a ruling ordering
the removal of a fellow judge," said the tribunal in a brief
order last week after a hearing during which chairman of the
panel of judges Justice Nazamul Huq was absent.

The tribunal, however, ordered the hearing on the main
charge against Sayeedi to continue saying an explanatory order
on their earlier ruling would be given on November 23.

The tribunal asked the defence lawyers to submit a list
of their "defence witnesses" by December 7.

Under the International Crimes Tribunal Act, the convicts
could file appeals only before the Appellate Division of the
Supreme Court.

Other top leaders of the Jamaat, Nizami and Mojahid have
been accused of leading the so-called Al-Badr forces, which is
widely believed to have been involved in genocide, rape and
murder of frontline intellectuals in an effort to cripple the
emerging nation.

The BNP and Jamaat have dismissed the tribunal as a
government "show trial". Questioning the court`s legality,
Sayeedi`s lawyer has described the trial as "politically
motivated".

According to official figures, Pakistani troops, aided
by local collaborators, killed an estimated 3 million people,
raped about 200,000 women and forced millions more to leave
their homes during the bloody nine-month guerrilla war.

On March 26, 1971, Bangladesh - then East Pakistan -
declared its independence from West Pakistan.

PTI



First Published: Sunday, November 20, 2011 - 22:47

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