issues of war criminals and collaborators refuse to go away in Bangladesh
even after years of independence.
With the assumption in power of Awami League in 1996, various demands
about war criminals and collaborators receded for essentially two
reasons; Firstly,the party that led the liberation war in 1971,
being back at the helm of the affair, would take decision on its
own volition about the criminals and collaborators. Other reason
was, as the Awami League had to trade on very thin line to come
back to power after so many years, thus many chose not to rock the
boat at the very outset.
In many ways, the issues of liberation war and its spirit and aspirations
of independence were seen as exclusive Awami League matters. The
two major parties, BNP and JP. those alternately ruled the country,
freely did include, within their folds, persons with serious questionable
roles in the liberation war. This and other policies to change basic
ideals of independence alienated both these parties. The responsibility,
thus, have fallen on Awami League, whether rightly or wrongly.
However, as the best part of the Awami League's term in office has
passed, but the government has not even uttered a word. So, there
are again increasing talks about the war criminals and collaborators.
It, however, must be accepted that matters of war criminals and
collaborators are not on the top of the agenda of the general mass
in Bangladesh. Majority are pre-occupied with problems relating
to mere survival and to meet bare necessities. To them, prices of
daily commodities, insecurity etc, are far more important now, and
For the principal opposition, their priority now is not the country
or its economy, but chaos and hartals to make way back to power.
Moreover, for them, cohabiting as they are with Jammat-e-Islam and
Islamic Alliance, issues of war criminals and collaborators, will
never be taken-up by them; once they are back in power. For some,
war criminals and collaborators are mere history and have no bearing
Pinochet has now become an international symbol of 'justice after'
of immune perpetrators. His arrest has changed the fabric of international
law once and for all. Regardless of whether now he is returned to
his country or not, a precedent has been set that perpetrators of
genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, torture etc, are
no longer secure or immune, except perhaps in their respective countries.
Foreign trips for former dictators and criminals are no longer safe.
States, one after another, are incorporating international laws
of war crimes, torture and crimes against humanity.
Recently, United States Senate has adopted a legislation titled
"Denying Safe Havens to International and War Criminals Act of 1999".
Where for the first time, it has empowered the Attorney General,
among others, to transfer international criminals in custody for
prosecution. The Immigration and Naturalisation Service to deny
admission or remove aliens who have committed torture abroad.
In February '99, Belgium has adopted a law on crimes. Empowered
by this new legislation, on 22 November 1999, a Brussels engineer
has filed a case, seeking extradition to Belgium of Morocco's recently
sacked interior minister.
Recently, Truth Commission in South Africa, apologies of British
and Dutch Queens, prosecution of senior official of French collaborator
government Pappon, agitate minds across the world. Especially, in
Bangladesh where people were subjected to atrocities.
Thus, when General Pinochet has been arrested for torture and other
crimes, now questions are being raised about Pakistani Generals.
When International Tribunals have put people on trial, so questions
are asked, then why tribunals should not try Pakistani war criminals.
When US legislates no sanctuary law, then voices are raised from
various quarters to focus attention on criminals and collaborators
living in safe havens in USA and Canada.
Recently, discoveries of mass graves at Mirpur- Bangladesh have
forced the discourse to the fore. First came the Muslim Bazar, where
mosque extension bared the grisly past. Country's pioneer institution,
Liberation War Museum, immediately went into action to excavate
and reveal the truth.
Gradually, the Museum succeeded in exhuming some remains of genocide
victims of 1971. After the Muslim Bazar excavation,, the Museum
authority excavated nearby Jalladkhana (slaughterhouse) site, with
the help of Bangladesh Army. They recovered 70 skulls and 5,392
various human bones here.
The remains of genocide victims at Mirpur have been an "eye opener"
for many, as people visited the sights. According to Museum's Director,
"Most of those who have come forward in the actual excavation and
exhuming work or extended their support in many ways, belong to
the generation who either have not seen the liberation war, or they
were very young at the time. The Army personnel those participated
most also belonged to that generation."
In fact, the symbolic trial of Jammat chief Golam Azam on the 25th
anniversary of our independence on March 26 1992, had "triggered
a wide movement in the nation demanding the trials of war criminals
of 1971". The Mirpur mass grave discovery had been a massive reawakening
of national consciousness on Bangladesh genocide. The bones and
other effects hidden so long have come up to force their successors
to re-visit history and conclude chapters on the war criminals and
addition, December and March ceremonies have almost compelled even
the most relaxants to remember the victims of genocide and the brave
Internet also has offered possibilities to transmit and transact
information freely and fast, which has brought, almost literally,
all kinds of people together. Expatriate Bangadeshis now communicate
and contribute in ways which was never known before. Through dailies
and weeklies published in Bangladesh, expatriates regularly contribute,
thus adding the knowledge of the readers. They also daily update
news on Bangladesh, through web-based Bangladesh and other newspapers.
This also has facilitated forming of groups with special interest
among people living far apart. Naturally, in their discussion, war
crimes and collaborators often feature prominently.