Haroon Habib

Socio-political and cultural organisations have extended support to the forum

DHAKA: A national campaign to bring to trial the war criminals who committed genocide and rape during Bangladesh’s Liberation War 36 years ago, is getting intensified.

The campaign is being led by a non-political platform, “Sector Commanders Forum”, comprising seven of 11 (others have died) regional military commanders of the Bangladesh Liberation Army .

After several months of campaign, which apparently got support from war veterans as well as the younger generation of Bangladeshis, the forum convened a national convention in the capital to start a new phase of the movement.

The well-publicised meeting, holding of which the caretaker government had earlier refused under the state of emergency but was allowed later, made it clear that the campaign would not stop until the war criminals of 1971 are prosecuted and punished under national and international laws.

“As the government itself realised that war criminals should be prosecuted and people from different strata voiced the same, the demands for trial of the war criminals seem very logical,” Justice Muhammad Habibur Rahman, a former Chief Justice and head of the 1996 caretaker government, told the convention.

All leading socio-political and cultural organisations of Bangladesh have expressed solidarity with the forum’s demand for forming a war crimes tribunal and an inquiry commission to bring the perpetrators of the genocide to book with support from the U.N. and the international community.

The forum of war veterans brought the issue to the forefront through a renewed nationwide campaign after key leaders of the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami claimed last year that there were no war criminals in the country and that the 1971 conflict was a “civil war” and the freedom fighters were “Indian stooges”.

Amid demands from various quarters, the head of the interim government, Fakhruddin Ahmed, had remarked that the 1971 war criminals should be brought to justice. The Chief Election Commissioner, as also the Chief of Army Staff spoke in favour of trying the suspects. But later, Mr. Ahmed expressed his inability to begin the process as his government was “burdened with many other pressing things”.

The trial of war criminals was first initiated in 1972, months after Bangladesh’s independence, but was stopped abruptly after the August 1975 political changeover that saw the country’s founding father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, killed.

However, all the Pakistani war criminals listed by the new Bangladesh government were allowed to leave after Islamabad promised to prosecute them at home following the signing of the historic tripartite Simla Agreement. Pakistan did not honour the commitment.

A total of 37,000 Bangladesh perpetrators of war crimes were arrested between 1972 and 1975, said Air Vice-Marshal (Retd) A.K. Khandaker, who was the deputy chief of the Bangladesh Liberation Army and is the chairman of the forum.

About 26,000 of the detenus with minor offences were freed under a general amnesty offered by the then Mujib government. But the trial process of 11,000 others, who were directly linked to killing, rape, arson and looting, was going on.