The Trial of War Criminals: A Case Study of Bangladesh

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The Trial of War Criminals: A Case Study of Bangladesh

1. Introduction

Crime, although committed against a person, is an offence against law and order of a State and that is why it constitutes a crime against a State and State prosecutors (public prosecutors) pursue a criminal case. War crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity are offences against humankind because it denigrates human dignity. That is why every country has an obligation under international law to try individuals who allegedly perpetrated such crimes, irrespective of the fact whether such crimes were committed in that State or not. Moreover, the trial of the war criminals is a demand of humanity and human civilization. If injustice and war crimes are allowed to go without fair and proper trials, there will remain question regarding the continuity, integrity and humanist elements of human civilization and its existence. The recent upsurge, however, poses more questions than answers. Bangladesh earned its long-cherished independence following a nine-month battle with West Pakistan . The mainstream discourse on this battle is very long on narratives, but short on facts. The narratives are so deeply rooted and embedded in the mainstream political and social discourse that search for facts is sometimes regarded as a crime. Many facts on the battle therefore remain as fictions. One of the conspicuous fictions is “war criminals.”

2. Definition of war crimes

Article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention defines war crimes as: “Willful killing, torture or inhuman treatment, including… willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, unlawful deportation or transfer or unlawful confinement of a protected person, compelling a protected person to serve in the forces of a hostile power, or willfully depriving a protected person of the rights of fair and regular trial, …taking of hostages and extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly.”At the heart of the concept of war crimes is the idea that an individual can be held responsible for the actions of a country or that nation’s soldiers. Genocide, crimes against humanity, mistreatment of civilians or combatants during war can all fall under the category of war crimes. Genocide is the most severe of these crimes.

The body of laws that define a war crime are the Geneva Conventions and the statutes of the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague (ICTY).

3. History of war crimes trial through out the world

War Crimes Trials, trials of persons charged with criminal violation of the laws and customs of war and related principles of international law.

The first war crimes trials in modern times were held after World War II (1939-1945) by the victorious Allied nations to prosecute German and Japanese war criminals. In 1993 and 1994 the United Nations (UN) established war crimes tribunals to prosecute those who committed crimes during the civil wars in the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda. In 2002 the UN and the government of Sierra Leone established a jointly administered war crimes tribunal to prosecute atrocities committed during Sierra Leone’s civil war. A similar court has been proposed to prosecute war crimes committed in Cambodia during the 1970s.

In July 1998 UN delegates approved a statute creating a permanent International Criminal Court (ICC) to try people accused of genocide (systematic extermination of a group), war crimes, crimes against humanity, and crimes of aggression. The ICC was designed to replace ad hoc tribunals of limited jurisdiction, such as those created to address the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda. The ICC, with headquarters in The Hague, The Netherlands, officially came into being on July 1, 2002.

The most important war crimes trials following World War II were held in Nürnberg, Germany, under the authority of two legal instruments. One, the so-called London Agreement, was signed by representatives of the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in London on August 8, 1945; the other, Law No. 10, was issued by the Allied Control Council in Berlin on December 20, 1945.

The London Agreement provided for the establishment of the International Military Tribunal, composed of one judge and one alternate judge from each of the signatory nations, to try war criminals. Under the London Agreement, the crimes charged against defendants fell into three general categories: (1) crimes against peace—that is, crimes involving the planning, initiating, and waging of aggressive war; (2) war crimes—that is, violations of the laws and customs of war as embodied in the conventions adopted at the Hague Conferences (international peace conferences of 1899 and 1904); and (3) crimes against humanity, such as the extermination of racial, ethnic, and religious groups and other large-scale atrocities against civilians.

On October 18, 1945, the chief prosecutors lodged an indictment with the tribunal charging 24 individuals with a variety of crimes and atrocities, including the deliberate instigation of aggressive wars, extermination of racial and religious groups, murder and mistreatment of prisoners of war, and the murder, mistreatment, and deportation to slave labor of hundreds of thousands of inhabitants of countries occupied by Germany during the war.

Among the accused were Nationalist Socialist leaders Hermann Göring and Rudolf Hess, diplomat Joachim von Ribbentrop, munitions maker Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, Grand Admiral Erich Raeder, and 18 other military leaders and civilian officials. Seven organizations that formed part of the basic structure of the Nazi government were also charged as criminal. These organizations included the (Schutzstaffel, German for “Defense Corps”), the Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei, “Secret State Police”), the SA (Sturmabteilung, “Storm Troops”), and the General Staff and High Command of the German armed forces.

The trial began on November 20, 1945. Much of the evidence submitted by the prosecution consisted of original military, diplomatic, and other government documents that fell into the hands of the Allied forces after the collapse of the German government.

Conclusion of the First Trial

The judgment of the International Military Tribunal was handed down on September 30-October 1, 1946. Among notable features of the decision was the conclusion, in accordance with the London Agreement, that to plan or instigate an aggressive war is a crime under the principles of international law. The tribunal rejected the contention of the defense that such acts had not previously been defined as crimes under international law and that therefore the condemnation of the defendants would violate the principle of justice prohibiting ex post facto punishments. It also rejected the contention of a number of the defendants that they were not legally responsible for their acts because they performed the acts under the orders of superior authority. According to the tribunal, “the true test … is not the existence of the order but whether moral choice (in executing it) was in fact possible.”

With respect to war crimes and crimes against humanity, the tribunal found overwhelming evidence of a systematic rule of violence, brutality, and terrorism by the German government in the territories occupied by its forces. Millions of persons were destroyed in concentration camps, many of which were equipped with gas chambers for the extermination of Jews, Roma (Gypsies), and members of other ethnic or religious groups. Under the slave-labor policy of the German government, at least 5 million persons had been forcibly deported from their homes to Germany. Many of them died because of inhuman treatment. The tribunal also found that atrocities had been committed on a large scale and as a matter of official policy.

Of the seven indicted organizations, the tribunal declared criminal the Leadership Corps of the National Socialist Party, the SS, the SD (Sicherheitsdienst, German for “Security Service”), and the Gestapo.

Twelve defendants were sentenced to death by hanging, seven received prison terms ranging from ten years to life, and three, including the German politician and diplomat Franz von Papen and the president of the German Central Bank Hjalmar Horace Greeley Schacht, were acquitted. Those who had been condemned to death were executed on October 16, 1946. Göring committed suicide in prison a few hours before he was to be executed.

After the conclusion of the first Nürnberg trial, 12 more trials were held under the authority of Control Council Law No. 10, which closely resembled the London Agreement but provided for war crimes trials in each of the four zones of occupied Germany.

About 185 individuals were indicted in the 12 cases. Those indicted included doctors who had conducted medical experiments on concentration camp inmates and prisoners of war, judges who had committed murder and other crimes under the guise of the judicial process, and industrialists who had participated in the looting of occupied countries and in the forced-labor program. Other persons indicted included SS officials who had headed the concentration camps, administered the Nazi racial laws, and carried out the extermination of Jews and other groups in the eastern territories overrun by the German army; and high military and civilian officials who bore responsibility for these and other criminal acts and policies of the Third Reich. A number of doctors and SS leaders were condemned to death by hanging, and approximately 120 other defendants were given prison sentences of various durations. The tribunals acquitted 35 defendants.

Another war crimes trial was held under international authority in Tokyo. The International Military Tribunal for the Far East was constituted under the authority of a charter promulgated on January 19, 1946, by General Douglas MacArthur, supreme commander for the Allied Powers. Many provisions of the charter were adapted from those of the London Agreement.

The Tokyo trial opened on May 3, 1946, and held its final session on November 12, 1948. The conclusions reached by the 11-nation tribunal were generally parallel to those embodied in the judgment given in Nürnberg. Of the 28 defendants named in the indictment, seven were condemned to death by hanging, and all but two of the others were sentenced to life imprisonment. The trial of Japanese general Yamashita Tomoyuki was important in establishing the principle of “command responsibility”—the duty of a military or civilian commander to prevent military personnel from committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. This principle resurfaced more than 50 years later in the trial of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Miloševi?.

Many other trials of alleged war criminals were held by tribunals constituted by the governments of the countries that had been occupied in whole or in part by Germany or Japan during World War II. In addition, military tribunals in the British and American zones of occupation in Germany tried Germans under the laws of war. Numerous trials of Japanese military officers were held also in the Philippines and Australia and by American military courts on Japanese territory. For the most part, these trials were based on alleged violations of the laws and customs of war, and did not involve the crimes against peace and crimes against humanity that had constituted an important part of the Nürnberg proceedings.

Alleged World War II criminals were brought to trial under national laws long after the end of the war. In 1960 the Nazi official Adolf Eichmann, who had been a member of the German SS and an organizer of anti-Semitic activities, was captured as a war criminal in Argentina by Israeli agents (see Anti-Semitism). Taken to Jerusalem, he was tried and condemned the following year and executed in 1962. In 1987 a French court convicted Klaus Barbie, a notorious German Gestapo officer, of crimes against humanity and sentenced him to life imprisonment. Other trials of French collaborators with Nazi Germany followed in the 1990s. In 1999 Polish-born former police officer Anthony Sawoniuk was convicted under the British War Crimes Act of 1991 of murdering Jews in Nazi-occupied Domachëvo, now in Belarus, during World War II. Sawoniuk was sentenced to life in prison.

The United Nations established the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in May 1993 to prosecute individuals responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide committed in the territory of the former Yugoslavia. Originally set up to prosecute crimes resulting from the wars of Yugoslav succession (1991-1995), the tribunal also has addressed crimes occurring in the late 1990s as the result of a separatist movement in Kosovo, a province in southwestern Serbia. The tribunal convenes at The Hague, Netherlands. It consists of 14 judges from different nations and has the power to impose a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

War in the former Yugoslavia began in July 1991 after Slovenia and Croatia—two of six republics in the country—declared their independence. Other republics followed, touching off a conflict that lasted for more than four years. During the war, between 100,000 and 250,000 people were killed and an estimated 200,000 were wounded. Evidence surfaced that many were the victims of ethnic cleansing—efforts to remove all members of a particular ethnic group from territories occupied by other ethnic groups. Thousands of people were found in mass graves near Srebrenica, a town in eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina; Vukovar, a city in eastern Croatia; Prijedor, a city in northwestern Bosnia and Herzegovina; and Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. There was also evidence of rape and other atrocities.

The separatist movement in Kosovo began in 1991 when ethnic Albanians, who made up more than 90 percent of the province’s population, started to agitate for secession from Serbia. In 1992 Serbia and Montenegro proclaimed themselves the successor state to the former Yugoslavia and took the name Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY). In 1996 a militant separatist group known as the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) began attacks on Serbian police forces in an attempt to gain independence. In early 1998 the Serbs, with the help of FRY army units, began a major crackdown on the separatists. In March 1999, after settlement negotiations proved unsuccessful, members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) began a campaign of air strikes on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians were displaced from Kosovo and many refugees reported mass killings and other atrocities.

Among the many individuals indicted by the ICTY have been several high-ranking members of the Bosnian Serb leadership, including Radovan Karadži?, former president of the Bosnian Serb Republic, and Serbian army general Ratko Mladic. However, the work of the tribunal has been hampered by lack of cooperation from most of the governments in the region where the conflicts occurred, making it difficult for the tribunal to apprehend the people it indicted. The first trial of the tribunal opened in May 1996. In 1998 the tribunal became the first international court to find an individual accountable for rape as a war crime.

In mid-1999 the tribunal set another first by indicting an active head of state, President Slobodan Miloševi? of the FRY. The tribunal charged Miloševi? and four other top Serbian or Yugoslav officials with war crimes and crimes against humanity based on alleged atrocities in Kosovo. Specifically, the indictment charged the five individuals with conducting a “campaign of terror and violence directed at Kosovo Albanian civilians.” In 2001 the Serbian government, responding to international pressure, extradited Miloševi? to the war crimes tribunal, despite a ruling by the Yugoslav Constitutional Court to stop his handover.

Later that year the tribunal found a former Bosnian Serb regional commander, General Radislav Krstic, guilty of genocide for his role in the massacre of thousands of Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995. The conviction was the first time the tribunal established that genocide was committed during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. An appeals chamber of the tribunal overruled that verdict in 2004, changing Krstic’s conviction to “aiding and abetting genocide.” The 2004 ruling also established beyond doubt that the massacre at Srebrenica was an act of genocide, conclusively laying to rest all claims that no genocide had occurred in Bosnia.

In 2001 the tribunal also convicted three former Bosnian Serb soldiers of systematically raping and torturing Bosniak women and girls, the first time individuals were convicted of rape as a crime against humanity. The court found that Bosnian Serb soldiers used rape as “an instrument of terror” and convicted two of the men of enslavement for forcibly detaining women and girls as sex slaves and loaning or selling them to others for sexual abuse. The trial established sexual enslavement as a war crime.

In late 2001 the tribunal charged Miloševi? with additional war crimes for his role in the forcible removal of the majority of non-Serbs from parts of Croatia in 1991 and 1992 and from large areas of Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1992 to 1995. He also faced a charge of genocide in connection with the killing or inhumane confinement of thousands of Bosniaks, Bosnian Croats, and other non-Serb civilians during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Miloševi?’s trial before the tribunal began in February 2002 but was repeatedly delayed because of his poor health. Miloševi? died in March 2006 before the trial could be completed.

Rwanda Tribunal

In November 1994 the Security Council of the United Nations adopted Resolution 955 creating the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. The tribunal was authorized to prosecute individuals responsible for genocide and other serious violations of humanitarian law during the 1994 civil war in Rwanda. Another express purpose of the tribunal was to encourage the process of national reconciliation in Rwanda and the maintenance of peace in the region. The tribunal is based in Arusha, Tanzania, and consists of nine trial judges from different nations, elected by the UN General Assembly. The tribunal shares appellate judges with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

The civil war in Rwanda began in 1994, after the death of Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana sparked fighting between the nation’s two chief ethnic groups, the Hutu and Tutsi. Habyarimana was a Hutu. An estimated 500,000 to 1 million people, mostly Tutsi, were killed during the war. The Hutu-dominated Rwandan army was accused of genocide against the Tutsi.

The first trial started in October 1996. In May 1998 former Rwandan prime minister Jean Kambanda pleaded guilty to multiple charges of genocide and crimes against humanity and was sentenced to life imprisonment. Jean-Paul Akayesu, who was tried and found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity, was also sentenced to life imprisonment. Another man, Omar Serushago, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for similar crimes. These convictions marked the first instances of an international court finding individuals guilty of the crime of genocide.

After a six-year trial that began in 2002, one of the masterminds of the Rwandan genocide, Colonel Theoneste Bagosora, and two other military officers were convicted in December 2008 of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. They were sentenced to life imprisonment. Bagosora was the highest-ranking authority in the Rwandan Defense Ministry at the time the genocide began and personally ordered the murders of leading government officials, including the prime minister and the president of the Constitutional Court.

Sierra Leone Tribunal

In 2002 the UN and the Sierra Leone government jointly established a war crimes tribunal, the Special Court for Sierra Leone, to try individuals who had committed atrocities during Sierra Leone’s civil war, which lasted from 1991 to 2000. Unlike the tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, which are administered by the UN and composed of UN-appointed judges and prosecutors, the Special Court is jointly administered by the UN and the Sierra Leone government and contains a mix of Sierra Leonean and international judges. The court has jurisdiction over serious violations of international humanitarian law and certain Sierra Leonean criminal laws. To avoid placing an undue burden on the court, its jurisdiction is limited to crimes committed since November 30, 1996.

Sierra Leone’s civil war began in 1991 when a rebel group, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), launched a violent campaign against the government. Tens of thousands of people were killed in the ensuing war, in which rebel forces terrorized the country by raping and mutilating thousands of civilians, often hacking off their limbs. Rebels also abducted children and forced them into combat. The RUF was reportedly supported by the government of Charles Taylor in neighboring Liberia. The civil war ended in 2000.

In 2003 the Special Court issued its first indictments. The court charged seven people, including rebel leader Foday Sankoh and Internal Affairs Minister Sam Hinga Norman, with murder, rape, extermination, sexual slavery, conscription of children into an armed force, and other crimes. Sankoh died in July 2003 while in UN custody. The same year Taylor lost power in Liberia and went into exile in Nigeria. In 2006 Nigeria deported Taylor to The Hague to face charges before the Special Court. The charges included murder, sexual violence, using children as soldiers, enslavement, and terrorizing the civilian population of Sierra Leone. The prosecution alleged that Taylor had supplied the RUF with training, money, arms, and ammunition with the goal of sharing power over Sierra Leone and gaining access to its diamond trade. Taylor’s trial began in June 2007, but he refused to attend the proceedings.

The Nürnberg and other war crimes trials were a notable step in the evolution of international penal law. The standing of the trials suffered sharply, however, because the proceedings were carried out under auspices of victorious powers and the charges were brought only against the nationals of vanquished Germany and Japan. Nevertheless, the principles applied in the Nürnberg and Tokyo trials helped to strengthen international law and the judicial mechanisms for its enforcement. Also, the United Nations has ratified the general principles of the trials.

The use of international war crimes tribunals in the former Yugoslavia, in Rwanda, and in Sierra Leone extends the principles that were the basis of the other war crimes trials to the treatment of civilians in conflicts involving only one nation. Recent war crimes trials have also established the principle that even the victors in a violent conflict are subject to criminal prosecution

4. Atrocities occurred in Bangladesh, 1971

Beginning with the start of Operation Searchlight on 25 March 1971 and continuing throughout the Bangladesh Liberation War, there were widespread violations of human rights in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) perpetrated by the Pakistan Army with support from local political and religious militias. Time reported a high U.S. official as saying “It is the most incredible, calculated thing since the days of the Nazis in Poland.” Genocide is the term that is used to describe the event in almost every major publication and newspaper in Bangladesh. Apart from that all international publications on genocide and human rights abuses classify the atrocities of 1971 as an act of genocide by West Pakistan. On 16 December 2002, the George Washington University’s National Security Archive published a collection of declassified documents, consisting mostly of communications between US embassy officials and USIS centers in Dhaka and India, and officials in Washington DC.<href=”#cite_note-sajit-gandhi-8 title=””> These documents show that US officials working in diplomatic institutions within Bangladesh used the terms selective genocide and genocide (see The Blood Telegram) to describe events they had knowledge of at the time. The complete chronology of events as reported to Nixon administration can be found on Department of State website. Telegrams from Nixon archives released by United States Department of State detail some of the atrocities.

Bangladeshi authorities claim that 3 million people were killed, while the Hamoodur Rahman Commission, an official Pakistan Government investigation, put the figure as low as 26,000 civilian casualties. The international media and reference books in English have also published figures which vary greatly from 200,000 to 3,000,000 for Bangladesh as a whole. A further eight to ten million people fled the country to seek safety in India. A large section of the intellectual community of Bangladesh were murdered, mostly by the Al-Shams and Al-Badr forces, at the instruction of the Pakistani Army. There are many mass graves in Bangladesh, and more are continually being discovered (such as one in an old well near a mosque in Dhaka, located in the non-Bengali region of the city, which was discovered in August 1999). The first night of war on Bengalis, which is documented in telegrams from the American Consulate in Dhaka to the United States State Department, saw indiscriminate killings of students of Dhaka University and other civilians. Numerous women were tortured, raped and killed during the war. The exact numbers are not known and are a subject of debate. Bangladeshi sources cite a figure of 200,000 women raped, giving birth to thousands of war-babies. The Pakistan Army also kept numerous Bengali women as sex-slaves inside the Dhaka Cantonment. Most of the girls were captured from Dhaka University and private homes. There are reports of sectarian violence not only perpetrated and encouraged by the Pakistani army, but also by Bengali nationalists against non-Bengali minorities, especially Biharis.


The number of civilians that died in the Bangladesh War is not accurately known. There is a great disparity in the casualty figures put forth by Pakistan on one hand (25,000, as reported in the Hamoodur Rahman Commission) and India and Bangladesh on the otherhand. (From 1972 to 1975 the first post-war prime minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, claimed on several occasions that at least three million died). The international media and reference books in English have also have published figures which vary greatly: varying from 5,000–35,000 in Dhaka, and 200,000–3,000,000 for Bangladesh as a whole. It is believed in certain quarters that the figure of three million has its origins in comments made by Yahya Khan to the journalist Robert Payne on 22 February 1971: “Kill three million of them, and the rest will eat out of our hands.”

The Office of the Historian of the United States Department of State held a two-day conference in late June 2005 on U.S. policy in South Asia between 1961 and 1972. The State Department invited international scholars to express their views on declassified documents recently published in the Foreign Relations of the United States series. According to a newspaper report published in both Pakistani and Bangladeshi newspapers, Bangladeshi speakers at the conference stated that the official Bangladeshi figure of civilian deaths was close to 300,000, which was wrongly translated from Bengali into English as three million. Ambassador Shamsher M. Chowdhury acknowledged that Bangladesh alone cannot correct this mistake and suggested Pakistan and Bangladesh should form a joint commission to investigate the 1971 disaster and prepare a report.<href=”#cite_note-USSD2005-06-32 title=””>[33]<href=”#cite_note-dawn-33 title=””>[34]

In October 1997 R. J. Rummel published a book, which is available on the web, titled Statistics of Democide: Genocide and Mass Murder Since 1900. In Chapter 8, Statistics Of Pakistan’s Democide – Estimates, Calculations, And Sources, he states:

Rummel goes on to collate what he considers the most credible estimates published by others into what he calls democide. He writes that “Consolidating both ranges, I give a final estimate of Pakistan’s democide to be 300,000 to 3,000,000, or a prudent 1,500,000.”

Operation Searchlight

Operation Searchlight was a planned military pacification carried out by the Pakistan Army to curb the Bengali nationalist movement in erstwhile East Pakistan in March 1971. Ordered by the government in West Pakistan, this was seen as the sequel to Operation Blitz which had been launched in November 1970.

The original plan envisioned taking control of the major cities on 26 March 1971, and then eliminating all opposition, political or military, within one month. The prolonged Bengali resistance was not anticipated by Pakistani planners. The main phase of Operation Searchlight ended with the fall of the last major town in Bengali hands in mid May. The operation also began the 1971 Bangladesh atrocities. This systematic killings only served to enrage the Bengalis which ultimately resulted in the secession of East Pakistan later in the same year.

Killing of intellectuals

During the war, the Pakistan Army and its local collaborators carried out a systematic execution of the leading Bengali intellectuals. A number of professors from Dhaka University were killed during the first few days of the war. However, the most extreme cases of targeted killing of intellectuals took place during the last few days of the war. Professors, journalists, doctors, artists, engineers, writers were rounded up by Pakistan Army and the Razakar militia in Dhaka, blindfolded, taken to torture cells in Mirpur, Mohammadpur, Nakhalpara, Rajarbagh and other locations in different sections of the city to be executed en masse in the killing fields, most notably at Rayerbazar and Mirpur. Allegedly, the Pakistani Army and its paramilitary arm, the Al-Badr and Al-Shams forces created a list of doctors, teachers, poets, and scholars. Some sources also allege the role of the CIA in devising the plan.

On 14 December 1971, only two days before surrendering to the Indian military and the Mukhti Bahini forces, the Pakistani army with the assistance of local collaborators systematically executed an estimated 991 teachers, 13 journalists, 49 physicians, 42 lawyers, and 16 writers, artists and engineers. Even after the official ending of the war on 16 December there were reports of firing from the armed Pakistani soldiers or their collaborators. In one such incident, notable film-maker Jahir Raihan was killed on January 30, 1972 in Mirpur allegedly by the armed Beharis. In memory of the persons killed, December 14 is mourned in Bangladesh as Shaheed Buddhijibi Dibosh (“Day of the Martyred Intellectuals”).

Several noted intellectuals who were killed from the time period of 25 March to 16 December, 1971 in different parts of the country include Dhaka University professors Dr. Govinda Chandra Dev (Philosophy), Dr. Munier Chowdhury (Bengali Literature), Dr. Mufazzal Haider Chaudhury (Bengali Literature), Dr. Anwar Pasha (Bengali Literature), Dr M Abul Khair (History), Dr. Jyotirmoy Guhathakurta (English Literature), Humayun Kabir (English Literature), Rashidul Hasan (English Literature) and Saidul Hassan (Physics), as well Dr. Hobibur Rahman (Professor of Mathematics at Rajshahi University), Dr. Mohammed Fazle Rabbee (Cardiologist), Dr. Alim Chowdhury (Ophthalmologist), Shahidullah Kaiser (Journalist), Nizamuddin Ahmed (Journalist), Selina Parvin (Journalist), Altaf Mahmud (Lyricist and musician), Dhirendranath Datta (Politician) and RP Saha (Philanthropist).

Violence against women

Numerous women were tortured, raped and killed during the war. Again, exact numbers are not known and are a subject of debate. Bangladeshi sources cite a figure of 200,000 women raped, giving birth to thousands of war-babies. The Pakistan Army also kept numerous Bengali women as sex-slaves inside the Dhaka Cantonment. Most of the girls were captured from Dhaka University and private homes.

Among other sources, Susan Brownmiller refers to an even higher number of over 400,000. Pakistani sources claim the number is much lower, though having not completely denied rape incidents. Brownmiller quotes:

Khadiga, thirteen years old, was interviewed by a photojournalist in Dacca. She was walking to school with four other girls when they were kidnapped by a gang of Pakistani soldiers. All five were put in a military brothel in Mohammedpur and held captive for six months until the end of the war.

Another work that has included direct experiences from the women raped is Ami Birangona Bolchhi (“I, the heroine, speak”) by Nilima Ibrahim. The work includes in its name from the word Birangona (Heroine), given by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman after the war, to the raped and tortured women during the war. This was a conscious effort to alleviate any social stigma the women might face in the society. How successful this effort was is doubtful, though. In October 2005 Sarmila Bose (a Harvard-educated Bengali Indian academic related to the Indian Freedom Struggle leader Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose), published a paper suggesting that the casualties and rape allegations in the war have been greatly exaggerated for political purposes. This work has been criticised in Bangladesh and her research methods have been attacked by expatriate Bengalis as shoddy and biased because of the work’s heavy reliance on Pakistani sources and for discrediting victims’ testimonies based on their lack of formal education.Violence against minorities

The minorities of Bangladesh, especially the Hindus, were specific targets of the Pakistan army. There was widespread killing of Hindu males, and rapes of women. More than 60% of the Bengali refugees that had fled to India were Hindus. It is not exactly known what percentage of the people killed by the Pakistan army were Hindus, but it is safe to say it was disproportionately high. This widespread violence against Hindus was motivated by a policy to purge East Pakistan of what was seen as Hindu and Indian influences. The West Pakistani rulers identified the Bengali culture with Hindu and Indian culture, and thought that the eradication of Hindus would remove such influences from the majority Muslims in East Pakistan.

Violence against Biharis

The period also saw a wave of sectarian violence carried out by Bengali nationalists against non-Bengali minorities, especially Biharis, in the period of December 1970 — March 1971, when Biharis were subject to systematic persecution. It is estimated that between 15,000 and 50,000 Biharis were killed in this period, and is believed by some that both Mujibur and Ziaur Rahman, and actively supported by the Indian military, intentionally incited and then failed to stop the violence against the Biharis.

After the defeat of the Pakistani forces, Bangladeshi nationalist forces, most notoriously the Kader Bahini militia led by Abdul Kader Siddique, exacted revenge on those who had been viewed as ‘collaborators’ of the Pakistani forces. In particular, Biharis, some of whom had formed Razakars and Al Shams Islamist militias in support of the Pakistani Army, were subjected to massive reprisal attacks. A large numbers of Biharis were killed by Mukti Bahini soldiers, while hundreds of thousands were placed in refugee camps where they languished for many years. Fearing continued persecution in the new state of Bangladesh, they sought refuge in Pakistan, however the Pakistani government was reluctant to recognize their citizenship, making them effectively a stateless people.

5. Genocide debate

After the minimum 20 countries became parties to the Genocide Convention, it came into force as international law on 12 January 1951. At that time however, only two of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council were parties to the treaty, and it was not until after the last of the last five permanent members ratified the treaty in 1988, and the Cold War came to an end, that the international law on the crime of genocide began to be enforced. As such, the allegation that genocide took place during the Bangladesh War of 1971 was never investigated by an international tribunal set up under the auspices of the United Nations.

Although both Pakistan and its primary ally USA have denied genocide allegations, the word ‘genocide’ was and is used frequently amongst observers and scholars of the events that transpired during the 1971 war. Within Bangladesh, ‘genocide’ is the term used to describe the event in almost every major publication and newspaper. It is also used in some publications outside the subcontinent for example The Guinness Book of Records lists the Bengali atrocities as one of the top 5 genocides in the 20th century.

On 16 December 2002, the George Washington University’s National Security Archives published a collection of declassified documents, mostly consisting of communications between US officials working in embassies and USIS centers in Dhaka and in India, and officials in Washington DC. These documents show that US officials working in diplomatic institutions within Bangladesh used the terms ‘selective genocide’ and ‘genocide’ (Blood telegram) to describe events they had knowledge of at the time. They also show that President Nixon, advised by Henry Kissinger, decided to downplay this secret internal advise, because he wanted to protect the interests of Pakistan as he was apprehensive of India’s friendship with the USSR, and he was seeking a closer relationship with China, who supported Pakistan.

In his book The Trials of Henry Kissinger, Christopher Hitchens elaborates on what he saw as the efforts of Henry Kissinger to subvert the aspirations of independence on the part of the Bengalis. Hitchens not only claims that the term genocide is appropriate to describe the results of the struggle, but also points to the efforts of Henry Kissinger in undermining others who condemned the then ongoing atrocities as being a genocide.

6. Who were war criminals

After beginning the Bangladesh liberation war, Pakistani military forces required military support who wants still to live with Pakistan as well as non-bangali muhajirs in order to abolish the independence fighters of Bangladesh.

There were three types of war criminals:

a) Razakars: Refugees who were came from others parts of India, during separation of India and Pakistan, and settled in East Pakistan

b) Al-badar: Bengali muslim student from colleges, universities and madrasah ,who were loyal to jamat-e-islami

c) Al-shams: Bengali muslim students, teachers, and supporters of Islamic parties other than jamat-e-islami.these smaller parties included in Nejam-e-islami and various functions of Muslim league

7. List of Major war criminals

War Crimes Facts Finding Committee (WCFFC), a research organization, yesterday unveiled a list of 1,597 war criminals responsible for the mass killings, rapes and other atrocities during the Liberation War. Of those on the list, 369 are members of Pakistan military, 1,150 are their local collaborators including members of Razakar and Al Badr [forces formed to aid the occupation army] and Peace Committee, and 78 are Biharis.

The fact-finding committee said this is not the final list, and they would soon come up with another one with more evidence and documents.

The local collaborators according to the list who played major role are as follows:

* Maulana Dawood

* Golam Azam

* Abdul Mannan

* Matiur Rahman Nizami, head of Chhatra Sangha, the students’ organization of Jamat-e-Islami

* Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid – president of Al-Badr

* Delwar Hossain Saidi

* Moinuddin Chowdhury

* Anwar Zahid

* Fozlul Quader Chowdhury & Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury

* Abbas Ali Khan

* Mohammad Kamaruzzaman

* Abdul Alim

* Abdul Kader Mollah

* ASM Solaiman

* Maulana Abdus Sobhan

* Maulana AKM Yousuf

* Moulana SM Fazlul Karim

* Mohammad Ayen ud Din

* ABM Khalek Majumder

* Ashrafuzzaman Khan

* Dr. Syed Sazzad Hossain

8. The evidences against those accused

Abbas Ali Khan

ABBAS ALl KHAN currently holds the second-highest position in the Jamaat-e-Islami, the largest and most powerful fundamentalist political party in Bangladesh. Until Golam Azam was officially declared to be the Ameer (or Leader) of the party, Khan acted as the chief.

Khan’s role in 1971 was against the independence of Bangladesh, and against the spirit of Bangalee nationalism. At the time he was the deputy chief of Pakistan Jamaat-e-Islami. Khan gave leadership to para-military forces such as the Razakars, Al-Badrs and Al-Shams, all formed by the Jamaat and like-minded parties in cooperation with the Pakistan army.

The principal aim behind formation of these three forces was to provide battle-field support to the military, gather intelligence about local resistance groups, identify and eliminate Bangalee nationalist elements, and carry out raids on villages involving mass killings, rape, arson and lootings. The Pakistan army enjoyed direct assistance from these para-military forces in its campaign of genocide, which resulted in the death of three million unarmed people of Bangladesh.

Abbas Ali Khan abetted and encouraged the Pakistan army’s genocide through speeches at countless rallies, statements to and articles in newspapers etc. Khan also played a leading role in the central “Peace Committee”, which was set up to directly and indirectly assist the Pakistan army’s campaign in Bangladesh. The “Peace Committee” formed branches all over the country, manned by local leaders of Jamaat and camp-followers. These committees acted as the political wing of the three para-military forces and played an active role in assisting Pakistan army’s attempt to brutally suppress the Bangalee people’s struggle for freedom in 1971.

Members of the Razakar force under Khan’s leadership were given powers equal to those of the regular armed forces. The Razakars, after a short course of training, carried out widespread killings, rapes and looting in villages.

According to reports in the press during 1971, Khan became a minister in the cabinet of Quisling governor M A Malek, after taking part in a series of stage-managed parliamentary by-elections. The seats put up for by-elections were all held by members of the Awami League, the nationalist party which won a landslide victory in the 1970 general elections. The seats were declared vacant by the Pakistan military junta after the Awami League was banned on Mar 26, 1971.

Khan assumed the office of the minister for education in Malek’s puppet government on Sept 17, 1971. Golam Azam, one of the principal war criminals of 1971, congratulated this cabinet and said, “I hope this cabinet will be able to do more than what the ‘Peace Committees’ have been able to do so far” On page 47 of the same book of compilations, Raushan quotes Azam as saying at a reception given by Dhaka city branch of the Jamaat in Hotel Empire that, “Jamaat-e-Islami considers Pakistan and Islam one and the same. So, Jamaat members would not consider life worth living if there was no Pakistan. That’s why Jamaat is working to bring back confidence and sense of security among the people by working through “Peace Committees”, by sending leaders to join Razakar and Al-Badr forces, and through other means. With this aim in mind, Jamaat workers have compelled two senior leaders to become ministers”.

On Nov 25, Abbas Ali Khan said in a statement, “I have no doubt that the Indian army has began a shameless aggression in several fronts under the guise of the Mukti Bahini with the despicable aim of swallowing East Pakistan (The Mukti Bahini or liberation army, formed by Bangalee nationalist civilians and Bangalee members of the Pakistan army who rebelled after the military crackdown began on the night of Mar 25, 1971). Our armed forces alone cannot carry on this war. It is the duty of every citizen to strengthen the hands of our soldiers and help save the dignity of our dear Pakistan”

In the same statement, with an oblique reference to Bangalee intellectuals and freedom fighters, he called on people to “stay alert against people engaged in anti-state and destructive activities. Help the armed forces and the ‘Peace Committees’ to eliminate these elements”.

On Dec 10, just four days before the killings of intellectuals reached its peak, he said in another speech, “In the Battle of Badr, only 313 Muslim troops faced over 1,000 Kuraish, and were victorious. Today, 130 million people (the then population of West Pakistan and Bangladesh combined) are fully prepared to defend this sacred land. Our enemies are the rumour-mongers, the agent-provocateurs and those who propagate in favour of India or that imaginary country Bangladesh. You have to beware of these enemies. Smash their poisonous fangs at the first opportunity. Join hands with our Razakar, Al-Badr and Al-Shams forces and dedicate yourself to the task of saving the country” (ibid, Raushan).

Governor Malek formed several sub-committees in December to strengthen the war effort. Khan was put in charge of the information sub-committee, along with A S M. Solaiman.

Khan continued to propagate against Bangladesh even after 1971. In 1980, while addressing his first post- 1971 press conference, Khan showed no remorse for what he or his party had done. Instead, he said, “We did the right thing in 1971”.Even today, Khan continues to conspire against the independence of Bangladesh and against the Bangalee national identity of the people. He continues his efforts to turn Bangladesh into a second Pakistan.

Maulana Matiur Rahman Nizami

MAULANA MATIUR RAHMAN NIZAMI of Pabna district in the north-west of Bangladesh, is currently the secretary general and leader of the parliamentary party of the Jamaat-e-Islami.

Nizami carried out a wide range of activities against the war of independence in 1971. At the time he was president of Jamaat’s youth front, the Islami Chattra Sangha (ICS, or Islamic Student’s Organisation). Under his direct supervision, and leadership, the Al-Badr force was set-up to eliminate freedom fighters. Nizami was the commander-in-chief of the Al-Badrs.

The principal aim of the Al-Badr, as a para-military force auxiliary to the Pakistan army, was to turn the Bangalee people into a populace, which would believe in Pakistan and the Islamic philosophy of life from a cultural and political viewpoint.

Leaders of the Al-Badr drew-up the blue-print for the murder of hundreds of Bangalee intellectuals across the country. On their orders, hundreds of such prominent men and women of letter and crafts were murdered throughout Bangladesh including Dhaka. Horrifying tales of these killings by the Al-Badr under Nizami’ s command have been published in many newspapers and journals at home and abroad.

Nizami exhorted his followers through speeches as well as articles in newspapers. In one such article in the party mouth-piece daily Sangram, he wrote, “The day is not far away when the young men of Al-Badr, side by side with the armed forces, will defeat the Hindu force (enemies) and raise the victorious banner of Islam all over the world, after the destroying the existence of India” (source: Daily Sangram,Nov. 14, 1971).

On April 12, 1971, Nizami joined Azam and other leading collaborators such as Khan A Sabur etc., to lead a procession in Dhaka to declare support for Pakistan. The procession, under the banner of the “Peace Committee”, ended with a special prayer for the survival of Pakistan (Daily Sangram, April 13, 1971).

In Jessore south-west of Dhaka, Nizami addressed para-military troops at the district headquarters of the Razakar force, and said, “In this hour of national crisis, it is the duty of every Razakar to carry out his national duty to eliminate those who are engaged in war against Pakistan and Islam” (Daily Sangram, Sept 15, 1971).

People in Nizami’s home district of Pabna have brought allegations of direct and indirect involvement in killings, rape, arson, looting etc.

One such person is Aminul Islam Dablu of Brishlika village under the Bera police station.Dablu told the Commission that his father M Sohrab Ali was killed on the orders of Nizami. Dablu further said other people of the area, including Profulla Pramanik, Bhadu Pramanik, Manu Pramanik and Shashthi Pramanik were killed on Nizami’ s orders. He said there were several eyewitnesses to those killings.

Abdul Quddus, a freedom fighter from Madhabpur village in Pabna, once spent two weeks in an Al-Badr camp after being arrested. He witnessed plans being discussed and drawn-up by the Al-Badr men under supervision of Nizami, to carry out killings, arson, rape etc.

On Nov 26, a Razakar commander named Sattar guided Pakistani troops to the Dhulaupara village where 30 freedom fighters were subsequently killed. According to Quddus, Sattar carried out his activities under Nizami’s orders.

Quddus told the Commission he was able to attend a secret gathering of Al-Badr, which was also attended by Nizami who gave instructions about elimination of freedom fighters. In that meeting, houses of Awami League supporters and possible bases and safe-houses being used by freedom fighters were identified. Quddus said, Nizami gave orders to finish off Awami League supporters and destroy bases of the freedom fighters.

The day after the meeting, Al-Badr forces in cooperation with Razakars, surrounded the village of Brishlika and burnt it to the ground. Quddus said Nizami himself bayoneted to death one Bateswar Shaha in Madhabpur village, situated under Sathia PS, which is now part of the parliamentary constituency where Nizami won a seat in 1991 with a slender majority.

Similar allegations against Nizami was brought by M Shahjahan Ali of Madhabpur village. Ali was captured by Razakars along with several other freedom fighters. The Razakars then proceeded to torture the prisoners with bayonets, finally using long knives to slit their throats. Twelve freedom fighters were slaughtered in that manner, but Ali miraculously survived, although he has a deep scar along his throat and is permanently paralysed.

Ali said one prisoner was burnt alive after being doused with petrol. He said all these killings of prisoners were carried out on Nizami’s order.

Muhammad Kamruzzaman

MUHAMMAD KAMRUZZAMAN is currently the Assistant Secretary General of Jamaat-e-Islami, Bangladesh. He is the former executive editor of the party mouthpiece Daily Sangram, and presently editor of the weekly Sonar Bangla.

Information about his anti-liberation activities and complicity in war crimes in 1971 have been gathered from newspapers of the time, authoritative books on the history of the war and from testimony of eyewitnesses and victims. In 1971, Kamruzzaman was the leader of the Islami Chattra Sangha in the district of Mymensingh, and he was the principal organiser of the Al-Badr force, which was first formed in the nearby area of Jamalpur.

An article in the Daily Sangram on August 16, 1971, said, “A rally and symposium were organised in Mymensingh by the Al-Badr to celebrate the 25th independence day of Pakistan. The chief organiser of the Al-Badr, Muhammad Kamruzzaman presided over the symposium held at the local Muslim Institute. According to a wire service report, speakers at the symposium issued strong warnings about those involved in the conspiracy to destroy the country”

In the research-based historical book, Killers and Collaborators of 1971: An Account of Their Whereabouts, compiled by the Centre for the Development of the Spirit of the Liberation War, more light is thrown on the role of Kamruzzaman in 1971: “As soon as Al-Badr was formed in Jamalpur as a volunteers’ organisation, the Jamaat leadership realised that their student wing could be turned into an armed force, and used as a special squad to carry out killings of intellectuals, in addition to carrying out general war duties. First, activists of the Islami Chattra Sangha in the entire district of Mymensingh were organised as the Al-Badr and given weapons training. Kamruzzaman was in charge of this organisational work. Within a month, Kamruzzaman incorporated all the cadres of the ICS into the Al-Badr” (page 111- 112).

One Fazlul Huq of Sherpur area, father of a martyr, told the Commission that sometime in June or July in 1971, his son Badiuzzaman was taken away by an 11-member Al-Badr squad led by Kamruzzaman. Huq said his son was taken to the Pakistan army camp in nearby Ahmednagar and murdered. After independence, the late Badiuzzaman’s brother Hasanuzzaman filed a case at the Nalitabari police station, with Kamruzzaman as the principal among the 18 accused in the murder of Badiuzzaman.


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