B'desh war crimes tribunal refuses 'recusal' of its chairman



Dhaka: The Bangladesh war crimes tribunal has left it to its chairman the choice to continue or leave while disposing of a petition questioning his neutrality and his holding the position.

"The law does not empower us to make a ruling ordering removal of a fellow judge," said a member of the International Crimes Tribunal, announcing its decision on the petition by top suspect of war crimes in 1971.

He said the tribunal was "disposing of" the application for "recusal" of its chairman justice Nizamul Huq leaving up to him to decide if he wanted to hold the office.

Two-member tribunal led by Justice ATM Fazle Kabir issued the ruling on the petition by accused Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, a senior leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami that opposed Bangladesh's 1971 independence.

Huq was not present in the court as the ruling was issued while his chair was moved aside as it remained empty.

Sayedee filed the petition on October 27 saying that Chairman of the tribunal Justice Nizamul Huq might be biased as he was a member of the secretariat of People's Enquiry Commission which had investigated the allegations against the Jamaat leader in 1994 for a "symbolic trial".

The commission, formed in 1993 as part of a campaign for trial of the war criminals, had investigated allegations against Sayedee and several other prime war crimes suspects.

Sayedee is now detained to face 20 charges of crimes against humanity including genocide, rape, murder, arson and looting committed during the Liberation War but he denied the accusations as the tribunal earlier indicted him and now set to try him.

Bangladesh last year constituted a high-powered three-member tribunal headed by High Court judge along with a special investigation agency and a prosecution cell in line with the election pledges of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s ruling Awami League to expose to trial the war criminals.

The prosecution is also set to seek an arrest warrant from a special tribunal against top 1971 warcrimes suspect and ex-provincial minister Golam Azam under the then Pakistani junta as investigators found "sufficient proof" of allegations against him and four other detained leaders of Jamaat.

The other Jamaat leaders who were arrested last year are incumbent chief of the party Motiur Rahman Nizami, Secretary General Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid and assistant secretaries general Muhammad Kamaruzzaman and Abdul Quader Molla.

The six high-profile suspects are in jail to face the charges of crimes against humanity while the lone detainee beyond the Jamaat leaders is Salahuddin Qader Chowdhury, MP of main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).

If convicted, they could face the death penalty or 10 years of imprisonment.

PTI