SC Upholds Death Sentence on a War Criminal

Anwar A. Khan

18 January, 2020 12:00 AM printer

We know war crimes are crimes that are so serious that they affect both the local and international communities as a whole. They include war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide…

It is well known that the crime of genocide is characterised by the specific intent to destroy in whole or in part a national, ethnic, racial or so-called religious group by killing its members or by other means: causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; or forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

If we look back, we find the International Crimes Tribunal-2 on February 2 in 2014 indicted Syed Mohammad Qaisar, a former state minister of the Gen HM Ershad regime of Bangladesh on 16 charges. The same tribunal on December 23 in 2014 awarded death penalty to Qaisar on 16 charges including committing crimes against humanity, raping and launching genocide in Habiganj area, Sylhet in Bangladesh during the country’s Liberation War by forming an anti-liberation ill-famed group named “Qaisar Group”.

Later, Qaisar filed an appeal with the Appellate Division seeking acquittal of the charges in which he has been convicted and sentenced.

The Supreme Court (SC) then upheld the death penalty on 14 January 2020 to war criminal Qaisar for his crimes against humanity during the Bangladesh’s War of Independence in 1971.

About five decennia, the tears of families of victims of 1971 of Qaiser’s locality war ran down all day and night.

We are also in the know of justice for the remaining war criminals - where the crimes have been committed offers distinct advantages, such as, access to evidence and greater visibility of the process. Of course, prosecuting those responsible for atrocities of the war is a long drawn one. Qaisar has been prosecuted and it is fairly done to send him finally to death.

The Bangladesh ICC prosecutes crimes against humanity, which are serious violations committed as part of a large-scale attack against civilian population in huge numbers in 1971. War crimes which are grave breaches of humanity and Geneva conventions in the context of armed conflict and include, for instance, the killing or torture of persons, such as, civilians or prisoners of war; intentionally directing attacks against hospitals, historic monuments, or buildings dedicated to religion, education, art, science or charitable purposes. And everything happened during Bangladesh’s birth in 1971.

As a long standing independent political observer, the writer of this piece reiterates the importance of redoubling our efforts to ensure the continued expansion of our endeavours that cooperate to fight against impunity and to protect the victims of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes ...

The U.S. and its vassal states grant admission to individuals fleeing wars, genocide, ethnic cleansing and various other forms of persecution have often view the United States and its client states as a safe haven. Upon entry, the vast majority of these people choose to remain here permanently and, ultimately, gain citizenship through the naturalisation process. Some of Bangladesh’s war criminals have also found a safe Heaven in those countries.

Unfortunately, individuals who have perpetrated significant abuses against others in their home countries seek entry to other countries to evade prosecution and punishment. Frequently, these individuals hide among those they once persecuted, falsely claiming to be victims of abuse. They may be former officials of regimes that are or were potentially hostile to our nation and its interests, making them not only human-rights violators, but also national security threats. Bangladesh is not and must not a safe Heaven for these life-threatening individuals.

Those accused war criminals of 1971 cannot escape justice by hiding in Bangladesh and elsewhere the world. Those overseas countries should commit to keeping Bangladesh safe by ensuring the secure removal of aliens with known ties to human rights violations. The boastful Human Rights Organisations – Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have barefacedly chosen to remain unsounded against those rogue nations which have given shelter to the war criminals of Bangladesh and other countries in their states under the drape of human rights.

People should help ICC prosecution team to identify, locate, investigate, prosecute and assist in removing torturers and war criminals from Bangladesh. That message resounded loudly this week as Bangladesh’s Appellate Division of Supreme Court announced the death sentence to a most spoilt war criminal like Syed Mohammad Qaisar.

Why go after them now, 49 years after the Bangladesh’s Liberation War? Because it was not always possible to do so in the past. After a long trial, Quader Molla was found guilty of war crimes on many grounds and finally, he was executed on 12 December 2013, the first person to be put to death for events in 1971. This set a legal precedent for interpreting evidence more broadly than before.  War criminal Molla’s hanging to death was a game-changer because it allows for the prosecution of people who would otherwise not have been prosecuted.

Until the prosecution team of Bangladesh’s ICC exposed Qaisar like war criminal, he was living a luxuriant life. Evidence has come to light about his role in the mass murder of the residents of Habiganj area, Sylhet in Bangladesh.

Even though most of those war criminals are now in their late 70s or 80s or 90s, their age is no reason to stop seeking justice.  Our quest must be to bring 1971 war criminals to justice… Don’t look at these people and say they look frail and weak. Think of someone who at the height of his powers devoted his energies to murdering men, women, and children promiscuously.

The passage of time in no way diminishes the guilt of the killers. Old age should not provide protection. The fact that they have reached an elderly age does not turn them into righteous gentiles.

Holocaust historian and Emory University professor Deborah Lipstadt agrees that there is no time limit. “Just because they did this a long time ago doesn’t mean they should be exonerated,” said Lipstadt, author of such books as Denying the Holocaust and The Eichmann Trial. “If someone raped children decades ago and we found that person now in his 70s or 80s or 90s, you would still say they should be tried. The victims deserve to have the perpetrators brought to justice. And society needs to know that you don’t get a free pass.”

The accompanying Cyrillic graffiti reads, “There is no retreat from here,” a stark warning for anyone hoping we might relinquish control to punish the war criminals of 1971 war of Bangladesh with Pakistan. War criminal Qaisar or every other war criminal can be nicknamed like the Nazi war criminals as “Angel of Death.” Qaisar’s path was littered with corpses.

The very fact of the ICC’s continued existence is a testament to the gravity and extent of 1971 war crimes, a reminder of just how much is threatened by the rise of reactionary and communalistic forces like Jamaat-e-Islami and its so many killing outfits under different pseudo names  both in Bangladesh and abroad under the patronage of military dictators – Gen Zia, Gen Ershad, a woman politician of a large political party and their confederates of afield countries. These satanic characters who once cemented the 1971 like Holocaust in the public imagination are now veritably debunked to the public in general, especially to the new generation of people in Bangladesh.

Thousands of war criminals had been freed from Bangladesh’s prisons and allowed to come out from hideouts and rehabilitated, taking them up comfortable posts in every sphere of the country by those arrant and artful rulers.

We want to take the past into our own hands. At the same time, however, new trials are gradually opening up the public’s eyes to the enormity of the crimes that had been committed by those sub-humans. Starting in 2009, a series of landmark cases changed everything.

Until and unless, the last war criminal is executed, the ICC should not terminate their stately work to give some comfort to the families of victims. The point of the work is not always to put someone in front of a judge, but also being able to close an archive and say, ‘Okay, now we know. It’s for future generations to know what actually happed on three million of people and the fate of three hundred thousand of our mothers and sisters during our exalted Liberation War to found Bangladesh in 1971.

Even if we don’t get a lot of perpetrators now, it’s important both for the survivors and their relatives, and for Bangladesh society as well, I think that’s why, all of us are here to try to do what is possible today even after about five decades.

The ghoulish members of Jamaat-e-Islami and other so-called Islamist political parties did not expect to be held accountable for their sins, so they did not bother concealing their identities upon arriving in open politics deliberately created by those rough-cut military rulers and their mango-twigs.

There is no reason to let them all go untouched. The court verdicts so far announced and after execution of six war criminals, the former psychic trauma of the victims transforms into a memorial upshot for them. 

Still, it is all maybe for nothing because of the huge number of war criminals – we know that, but the point now is to say we are leaving nothing out. There are still documents which haven’t been put together; there are still matches that can be found.

The ICC trials convey the impression that all scepticism has quickly swept away in the fervour to nab those perpetrators. After the military takeover in 1975 in Bangladesh, we began to worry about how quickly the Bangladesh world seemed to be forgetting about the Nazi like Holocaust of 1971.

The trial would  now change those attitudes by showing young generation of Bangladesh how the victims were misled up to the last moment and how “when it was clear to the victims that death is waiting for the war criminals, like with the Warsaw Ghetto, they fought to the last man in an incredibly courageous manner. We hope the survivors would be able to tell their emotional stories in gruesome details.

The highest court’s verdict offers some more hope of justice to victims of war crimes committed by Qaisar. We all celebrate the verdict in Bangladesh as a victory against a yawl war criminal.

The writer is an independent political observer who writes on politics, political and human-centred figures, current and international affairs