ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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More Than Delayed Justice

The initiation of war trials has the potential to establish a secular, democratic state in Bangladesh.

Democracy in Bangladesh has been blighted by assassinations of political leaders and by military forces and extremists subverting democratic institutions. Such repeated acts – military coups, political assassinations and, worst of all, war crimes against civilians – have gone unpunished and at times have even been legimitised by those in power. Now, nearly four decades after the formation of Bangladesh in 1971, the polity led by the ruling Awami League Party has finally decided to initiate trials against war criminals involved in horrific acts against humanity during what the Bangladeshis call the Liberation War.

Within a few years of Bangladesh’s independence – after 1975 to be precise – the country saw a reversal of the progressive norms enunciated in its constitution. Military rule, assassination of political leaders and collusion between violent extremist forces and the polity increasingly became the norm. Many commentators in Bangladesh believe that not bringing the criminals of the Liberation War to justice created a culture of impunity in the nation. Perhaps that is why the Awami League’s promise to conduct war trials – part of its election manifesto – has received overwhelming acceptance in the country. Emboldened by the three-fourths majority it has in parliament, the Awami Leagueled government initiated the trial process by setting up a war crimes tribunal in March this year. Those charged were five leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami, including its chief, Matiur Rahman Nizami. Logically, the trials should have covered Pakistanis alleged to have committed crimes as well, but Shafique Ahmed, the law minister of the Awami League government, has pragmatically ruled out any such extension. For now, the trials are to cover only Bangladeshi collaborators.

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