UN offers assistance in Bangladesh war crimes trial
Last Updated: Thursday, April 01, 2010, 18:47
Dhaka: The UN on Thursday offered technical assistance to Bangladesh in conducting a trial into allegations of war crimes during the 1971 Liberation War against the Bengali-speaking perpetrators.

"UN is willing to provide technical assistance to the Bangladesh government to ensure an internationally accepted trial" of the perpetrators of crimes like massacres, rapes and arson, UN Resident Coordinator in Dhaka Renata Lok Dessallien told newsmen after a meeting with Law Minister Shafique Ahmed.

She said the UN would also consider sending observers to witness the trial into allegations of "crimes against humanity" as requested by Bangladesh and it expected the trial to be conducted in line with the international standard.

Later talking to newsmen the law minister said measures were taken to make the trial "transparent and internationally acceptable" and "there should not be any doubt regarding the standard of the trial".

"It would be a wrong proposition, if anyone thinks that the trial is being held to harass anybody politically. None would be brought to justice for political ideology," he said.

He said separate corners were earmarked for members of the press and the observers inside the courtroom to witness the trial as well as report it.

The government has refurbished the country's old High Court building to stage the trial under International Crimes (Tribunal) Act 1973 that suggests the highest death penalty and the lowest 10 years of imprisonment for the convicts.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government earlier this month constituted a three-member special court alongside a special investigation agency and prosecution panel to carry out the proceedings.

No official list of suspects has yet been released and officials said the investigating agency would finalise the list after a thorough enquiry byt the government has instructed immigration authorities not allow the high-profile "war criminals" leave the country.

Reports said intelligence agencies gathered evidence against 25 high-profile "war criminals" mostly belonging to fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), a crucial ally of ex-premier Khaleda Zia's main opposition BNP.

They included JI chief Motiur Rahman Nizami, secretary general Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid and BNP stalwart Salahuddin Qader Chowdhury.

The Sector Commanders Forum, a grouping of 1971 Liberation War commanders and veterans earlier said they collected documentary evidence against 50 high-profile "war criminals".

JI and several other rightwing groups had sided with the then Pakistani junta in 1971 and Nizami and Mujahid are alleged to have led the so-called elite Al-Badr forces.

Mujahid yesterday declined the war crime charges at a press briefing saying: "I am 62 now, and till this day I never even slapped anyone". He said as a student during the Liberation War: "I was engaged in educational and other organisational activities".

The JI leader also claimed he was not able to recall the total range of his activities during the Liberation War but admitted acting "according to the ideals of Islami Chhatra Sangha," the erstwhile student wing of JI.

Demands for the trial of the war criminals resurfaced two years ago after Mujahid commented that the "anti-liberation forces never existed" and his party called it a "civil war".

After the independence JI and other religion-based parties were constitutionally banned in until 1976 but they were allowed to resume activities after the August 15, 1975 military putsch in which Bangladesh's founder Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was killed.


First Published: Thursday, April 01, 2010, 18:47

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