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Conflict Justice

Justice in Bangladesh: What to Expect

Photo: Vashkar Abedin/flickr

Bangladesh appears to be powering ahead with its war crimes tribunal, established to try those who collaborated with the Pakistan army in committing war crimes during the 1971 independence war. On Nov. 20th, its first suspect, Delwar Hossain Sayedee wascharged. I wrote here about the historical context in which the tribunal was established. The Bengali government has also now upped its ante by demanding a formal apology from Pakistan, although it is not clear whether this is forthcoming.

The tribunal has been welcomed by many as a late but useful tool to “set the record straight”, so to speak. Nevertheless, though many were killed or suffered in other ways that year, the fact still remains that the tribunal is thought to be a kangaroo court.

A major criticism relates to case selection. Although the tribunal claims comprehensive jurisdiction to “try and punish any individual or group of individuals, or any member of any armed, defence or auxiliary forces, irrespective of his nationality, it is not prosecuting Pakistani soldiers or members of the Bangladesh military. It is chasing only easy targets, members of the opposition parties comprising the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Jamaat-e-Islami – indeed all seven defendants who are currently under investigation are elderly members of the opposition, some of whom were clearly against the creation of Bangladesh, but membership in itself does not, of course, make one necessarily guilty.