Answer to few Questions about Shahbag Movement (Movement for punishment of War Criminals)   Leave a comment

There are some questions raised in the international media about the demand of capital punishment for the war criminals, its political motive, the quality of the trial and the objectivity of the tribunal set up for the trial. The public opinion internationally is mostly shaped through these media coverage; which sometimes is important for even the domestic issues in this globalised world. Therefore, this is an effort to clarify some of the points being discussed currently.

About the Shahbag movement, I think, firstly, the international media has under reported  it and when they did report, did it only very superficially; even often misrepresented it- as they usually do.

Secondly, I think, looking at the issue of punishment from a universal point of view is not correct; I am, by principle, also not a supporter of capital punishment, but for those war criminals, I see no other alternative because of the socio-political context of Bangladesh. The matter of justice, trial and punishment should be considered contextually. I know for sure, almost all of the people in the country are asking for capital punishment for the war criminals and many of them will not, in principle, prefer capital punishment. (I also wrote in alalodulal blog).

Thirdly, questioning the legitimacy of the ICT qualifies nothing other than as colonial era snobbish western scheme against the southern world. The ICT has given every chance of defense to the war criminals. It is far more elaborate than Nuremberg trial and far more fair and ‘civilised’ than Guantanamo trials or trails of so called ‘Al Qaeda’ or ‘terror’ suspects in US or other countries of the north. Not, to say about the trial of Julian Assange. In fact, the defendants were enjoying far more rights to appeal against a judgement than the prosecution or the plaintiff. And there is all indications that the judges are working independently, judiciously and not bending to any political or popular will. I agree with the chairman of our human rights commission who rightly said that having one or two western judge in the panel could not be a per-condition of fair trial and would like to add that showing sympathy to cold blooded war criminals for their deliberate and carefully planned genocide and mass-rape could not be a per-condition of fair trial- fair trial is getting due punishment for the gravity of crime with the chance of defending own-self. I would also like to say that the media in Bangladesh enjoys more freedom than most of the countries in the world and less prone to self-censorship that the western media.

Fourthly, I disagree with the concept that this movement is very ‘new’ or ‘new type’ or similar to Tahrir Square or Arab spring. In reality, we have been doing this for a very long time. We did it in 1952, 1969, 1971, 1991, 1996 and now doing it again. There were mass protest for the trial of war criminals throughout the 1990s. We are habituated with such uprising from a period when Arabs could not even dream about it. As a nation, people in Bangladesh are very much politically conscious, and when they have seen a right cause, they rose up. And many of the movements I mentioned were also mostly led by the students, youth and people who were not linked with political parties. In some cases, they went against the so called ‘leaders’ or ‘organizers’ to carry forward the movement- as it happened in 1952 language movement.

This movement is being continued by the mass- not any single group- people from all wakes of life are carrying it forward, no political party or group has the ability to organize such movement- it is the demand (hanging of war criminals) in the heart of people and they are ready to go a great length for that. (see my blog for that –

Finally, why the question of capital punishment? people know from their experience, form their family, parents about the gravity of the crime of the war criminals. All the historical research and books published on it in the previous years also confirmed the known facts. Besides, the activities, public statements, media reports in 1971 were so self-evident about their crimes and so widely known from 1971 that the people think questioning about their crimes in a trial to find them guilty is a farce. Not only that even after the independence, when those war criminals were rehabilitated in politics by military dictators, they never expressed any regret for their evil deeds, continued their atrocities against the people and country in many forms- their terrorist student wing Chatra Shibir, occupied the higher education institutes and established reign of terror and repression; the other student organizations were not allowed to operate, cultural activities were suppressed, students were forced to take part in their activities; those who opposed were beaten, dismembered, even killed with complete impunity. Besides, they controlled admission of students and appointment of teachers to ensure the entry of their cadres to sustain dominance. The whole generation of ours who attended the public universities and colleges lived through their terror and repression. In the game of murky politics they enjoyed significant economic benefit establishing businesses, NGOs, media and educational institutes and used those including public facilities for consolidating and expanding power. Not only that they are also accused of patronizing ‘fundamentalist Islamist’ groups who ran a country-wide campaign of bombing and widespread repression against the ethnic and religious minorities. All those angered people for years. Subsequent governments ignored the demand of their trial and punishment. So, people want ultimate justice now. People do not want to take chances, and let these slippery criminals to slip through the mucky political water again.

The key reason behind the landslide victory of the current government in last general election was the pledge of trial of the war criminals. They have no other alternative but to try the criminals. The reaction of life sentence of one of the war criminals- the movement in Shahbag- shows that people are in no mood to cater the bent argument of law and procedure but to see the justice. They have waited too long. The justice is human rights, not the getting away with gravest of crimes.

(This piece was actually written on Feb.16, in response to questions and comments from some friends and people abroad linked in the web; then I forgot to post it in the blog; I think it is still relevant.)


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