War Crimes and Bangladesh
Image Credit: Sebastian Strangio

War Crimes and Bangladesh


Bangladesh’s Liberation War Museum sits on a quiet street in central Dhaka, shaded by trees and fronted by an austere barbed wire fence. The small building commemorates the country’s 1971 liberation struggle, a fierce war of independence from Pakistan that cost an estimated 3 million lives. An eternal flame in the museum’s courtyard marks it out as a site of martyrdom—a reminder of the bloody star under which the country was born. Almost fittingly, dozens of small Bangladeshi flags are intertwined on the rusting barbs of the museum’s front fence.

Last week, Bangladesh’s government arrested two leading politicians from the country’s main Islamist party, Jamaat-e-Islami, on charges of committing mass murder during the liberation struggle. The arrests, which followed the detention of the party’s president, Motiur Rahman Nizami, and other top Jamaat officials in late June, mark the first stage of a tribunal established in March to address war crimes committed during the 1971 conflict.

But even though the tribunal has no scheduled start date, it has already whipped up controversy in Muslim-majority Bangladesh. The government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, which was elected in a landslide in 2008 in part on promises of a trial, says it has evidence proving the involvement of senior Jamaat members in the 1971 atrocities. Critics, however, say the tribunal is being used to settle domestic political disputes and runs the risk of unleashing social chaos and compromising Dhaka’s relationship with Muslim allies in the Middle East.

The tribunal comes after nearly four decades of inaction in Bangladesh. The 1971 conflagration, which erupted when Pakistan attempted to prevent the secession of its eastern wing, included the systematic execution of leading Bengali intellectuals and the rape of by some estimates 200,000 women. Although the process of putting collaborators on trial began after the defeat of the Pakistani army on December 16, 1971, the tribunal process was derailed after the assassination of independence icon Sheik Mujibur Rahman in August 1975. Ahmed Ziauddin, an advisor to Bangladeshi rights group Odhikar, says that for the following three decades, a succession of military administrations has swept aside all attempts at justice, fearing it could implicate many within their own ranks.

‘The current process is, if you like, unfinished business that started in 1972,’ he says.

Mahbub Alam, general manager of the Liberation War Museum, says that even though 40 years have passed and many perpetrators are long dead, there’s a widespread desire to see responsible politicians brought to justice. ‘The people who did all these kinds of misdeeds are the beneficiaries of the creation of Bangladesh,’ says Alam, who lost his father in the Liberation War. ‘Why are war criminals in power? They are the beneficiaries of the country, of three million martyrs.’

Given the political difficulties involved in trying to extradite former military officers still living in Pakistan, the government is instead focusing on the razakars—internal collaborators who led, assisted and committed crimes in conjunction with the Pakistani administration then in control of the country. For the moment, the attention is falling squarely on Jamaat and its allies.


[...] to a tribunals. However, these tribunals— referred to as a International Crimes Tribunal— have been argumentative given their inception. The U.S.-based Human Rights Watch has regularly voiced concerns over a efficiency of a trial, [...]

Abu Musa
December 13, 2011 at 02:19

Ziaur Rahman will go down in history as just another despot like Mobuto, James Taylor,Ben Ali or Gaddafi for various time span who tried to become statesmen overnight through intrigue, conspiracy and coups but was eventually thrown into history’s heaps of garbage as failed overambitious military thugs.

Ashrafuzzaman Haider
December 12, 2011 at 15:54

Ziaur Rahman is the biggest imposter in contemporary history. He is a disgrace for all freedom fighters.This man was responsible for hanging innocent soldiers and Muktijoddha army officers in thousands through mock summary trial courts at night inside the prisons. This man was basically a butcher. Morally, he should be tried as the worst war criminal and mass murderer posthumously.

After being an active member in the assassination plot of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman he released over 10,000 war criminals undergoing trial from different jails in Bangladesh. Then he appointed some infamous collaborators like Shah Aziz and Abdul Alim as ministers in his ragtag illegal cabinet. Zia and his collaborator friends also destroyed many rare documents from the national archives to wipe out the true history of our War of Independence in 1971.

Ziaur Rahman’s undeducated wife who had her birth and academic certificates certificates faked not once but several times kept the tradition going by inducting nefarious collaborators and war criminals Nizami and Mujahid in her cabinet giving vital ministries like Industries and Agriculture to them.

Ziauddin Khan
December 12, 2011 at 04:28

In any successful revolution it is imperative that the victor rout out the last remnants of the perished demons. Even in today’s world this is evident in case of Iraq and Libya. The victors made sure that the core behind despot and tyrant madman Gaddafi did not survive to emerge later as counter-revolutionaries to spoil the booty of the revolution. The same had happened in Russia and China. But unfortunately, exactly the opposite had happened in Bangladesh. The war criminals, especially the Islamic fascists the Jamaat-e-Islami top brass including collaborator and killers Golam Azam, Nizami, Mujaheed and many others survived and soon staged a counter-revolution with help from pseudo-freedom fighters like Zia and collaborators like Shah Azizur Rahman and Jadu Miah. Zia ur Rahman was a blockhead brutal dictator who had been responsible for killing thousands of army officers and soldiers due to his unconstitutional lust for power. He even had his friend colonel Taher, a decorated war of independence veteran hanged just the way he betrayed the founding father of the nation in August, 1975. The savagery in the second half of 1975 allowed the defeated forces to quickly reorganise under direct patronage of the Pakistani army’s fundamentalist ISI wing and countries like Saudi Arabia and Libya who were spending petrodollars madly in the seventies to fund most of the dreaded terrorist organisations and assassins worldwide. Its fallout could be felt many decades later in what Laden achieved in the gruesome inhumane 9/11 massacre. Despicable madman Gaddafi is known to have given millions of dollars to Bangladesh’s founding father Mujib’s assassins from the Bangladesh army many of whom are now in the US, Canada, and, also in hiding in India and Pakistan using the ill-gotten wealth they amassed from Arab leaders and the ISI of Pakistan.

But times have changed for good. The Arab Spring has brought down some of the most fascist brutal dictators and more are likely and surely to be toppled ushering in an era of democracy for all including women in the repressive Arab world. Dictators and despots like Gaddafi had sucked the oil rich economies for generations depriving those people of basic human rights while promoting Islamic terrorism abroad to brand Islam as a terrorist religion in the minds of Westerners. Pakistan too is cornered and the ISI is a major suspect under strict surveillance. This has had a devastating effect on the billions of dollars that the Arabs poured into the coffers of Jamaat-e-Islami of Bangladesh who now own many of the banks, insurance companies, media, business, hospitals in Bangladesh. The Jamat-e-Islami has heavily infiltrated the government and army during Ziaur Rahman and especially Khaleda’s ten year rule. The worst war criminal Golam Azam has said recently that Khalrda’s party BNP owes its survival to Jamaat-e-Islami. The Jamaat also tried to wipe out all secular personalities and even launched a grenade attack with surgical precision on the Awami League leadership but astonishingly Hasina and her top aides survived that carnage. The Jamaat-e-Islami is a tool for the terrorist wing of ISI to convert Bangladesh into a fascist fundamentalist terrorist state. Jamaat-e-Islami in Bangladesh is using BNP (an intellectually hollow political entity) to further Jamaat’s hidden agenda. Khaleda Zia is a pawn in the hands of Jamaat. She and her two sons have already been indicted for terrorist acts and money laundering in Sngapore and the US. This also exposes the hypocrisy of Jamaat trying to cast itself as a Islamic party that was behind illegal weapons shipment to rebels in India.

Jamaat-e-Islami is the biggest threat to democracy in Bangladesh and if they succeed in grabbing power in Bangladesh through their implants in the army Bangladesh is likely to be another thorn and if not a raging inferno in Asia for the rest of the world after Afghanistan. During BNP-Jamaat`s rule the minorities were treated like filth and terrorized.

But for the last five years Jamaat`s fundamentalist terrorist acts have been defanged and Bangladesh is slowing moving to its original secular foundations of the 1972 constitution that have been raped by most of the post- 1975 regimes. It is necessary that the war criminals of 1971 are tried once and for all and the gestapos, goebbels, himmlers and goerings of the 1971 genocide hanged.

Karim Ullah
July 27, 2010 at 03:12

The biggest problem in Bangladesh is that most people blame Sheikh Mujib or General Zia for all the problems. Most are blinded by these two leaders. Both of course did some great things however, both also did some terrible things as well.
Both party supporters can’t find any faults with their own party, and this is causing huge problems for the people of Bangladesh.

The best way to make Bangladesh prosperous, is to have a stable political climate. The population are quite capable of doing some excellent things however, they are prevented from doing so because of the law and order situation. This can only be fixed by a good government. Sadly, Bangladesh hasn’t had one since independence. Not Awami League, not BNP or even Jatiyo Party were doing their best for the country. Until these people who support the two leading parties start finding faults and asking for change, Bangladesh will never be a proper democracy. Worse still, it will be a failed state, and that would be its biggest tragedy.

July 24, 2010 at 07:46

Sebastian Strangio in the above article has exaggerated the potential socio-political unrest as a result of Jamat leaders and the influence of the Middle East on Bangladesh. If it is violent and terrorist act he is referring to, then the whole world, not only Bangladesh,is facing that unrest from religious extremists. Awami League government is mandated to try and punish the 1971 war criminals and it is a national agenda, which is long overdue. Bangladesh as well as Jamat leaders/followers who did not commit war crimes in 1971 or born after i971 cannot have a dignified existence unless alleged criminals are identified. The trial is in the best interest of Jamat itself in the long run. Trials must be held. If there are issues of due process and procedures, they are independent of the obligation to try.
The comment 1 above on the virtues of Zia appears belated. It should have been presented in 2005 before the Supreme Court (Mrs Zia was the Prime Minister of BNP led government), which held the Zia regime illegal. Zia was a politicised and ambitious military dictator camouflaged himself in so-called democratic outfits, a kind of military oligarchy that pushed Pakistan to its present state. Inherited from Pakistan, Zia attempted in vain to establish a military oligarchy in Bangladesh. The international identity of Bangladesh and its people will remain, notwithstanding some people’s misguided anti-Indian hysteria and confused Bengali identity.

July 23, 2010 at 11:01

Awami Mohajote Government is very hastily back-gearing the country to 1972 status
of “Shader Nao Banailee More Bangalee.” ‘Bangladeshi Identity’ was a definite development othe people of land which has been known as Bangladesh since 1971 December. And late president Zia’s visionary leadership has enabled us to reach to such respectful status of this long left out populace of this land. Contrarily Bangalee was never a complte respectful ID. That’s why Bengal’s literary lord or God Rabi Thakur has to remorse saying ” K BangJanani Dash Koti Adam Shantanere Rekhecha Bangalee Korey Manush Koronee.” So Bengali reflects a language, a culture and sometimes a curse and never had been a respectable national ID.

Late president Zia has relieved us from that malice and now Awami’s prime agenda is to change that. If it happens, there will be a new ID problem and perhaps, it will let us lose our international distinct ID and respect. Then people will start to think which Bangalee we are Indian Bangalee or Bangladeshi Bangalee. We thave to change passport of millions of people. We will lose our job market in the middle east and other parts of the world. And that may turn the country to fully-failed state and again go back to a country of “ola Beheen Jury/Bottomless Basket”

So the government should think once, twice and many times before taking a hasty decision of colossal mistake, unless they are the agents of our exotic enemies.

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