B'desh to set up 2nd tribunal for war crimes trial

Dhaka: Bangladesh will set up a second tribunal to speed up the trial of those accused of "crimes against humanity" during the country's 1971 'Liberation War' against Pakistan.

"Works are underway to set up the second tribunal by next month to reduce pressures on the existing one and expedite the trial process," Law Minister Shafique Ahmed told agency today.

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 nine months struggle.

Ahmed said the Old High Court Building has been earmarked entirely for war crimes tribunals, relocating other offices elsewhere.

"We need to expedite the trial process, reducing pressure on the lone International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) as investigations of several cases were completed and ready for trial," he said.

The minister’s comments came as trial of seven high-profile suspects belonging to the country's largest Islamist party, Jamaat-e-Islami and main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) was currently underway.

Jamaat party chief Motiur Rahman Nizami, Secretary General Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid and assistant secretaries general Muhammad Kamaruzzaman and Abdul Quader Molla have been detained for alleged crime against humanity. The two BNP leaders are Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury MP and former minister Abdul Alim.

They have been charged for ordering or carrying out mass killings, arsons and lootings and rapes.

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.

The Jamaat leaders have been accused of opposing Bangladesh's independence and siding with the Pakistani troops.

Officials said they expected a court order for arrest of the fifth suspect, Ghulam Azam, who was the then head of East Pakistan unit of Jamaat and a provincial minister under the Pakistani government.

If convicted, the accused could face the highest death penalty for war crimes.

Even as Ahmed underlined the government’s decision to speed up the trial, he declined to predict the timeline needed to finish the trial of the seven suspects. However, he said the progress suggested several of them could be completed by June this year.

Sources at the special Investigation cell of the ICT earlier said investigations were underway against more war crime suspects.

"Many more accused could be included in the list after investigations and therefore another tribunal would be needed to expedite their trial," Ahmed said.

The BNP and Jamaat have dismissed the tribunal as a government "show trial". Questioning the court's legality, lawyers of the Jamaat have described the trial as "politically motivated".

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