What has been going on in Bangladesh recently is deeply agonizing. The International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) has recently sentenced a 1971 war-crime accused to life imprisonment. To a lot of people in the country, that evidently is not a harsh enough punishment for the convicted criminal. Thus, for more than a week now, a seemingly popular demand has been playing out as a grand rally at a major road intersection in the capital city of Bangladesh.
The principal demand from the rally is the death penalty for the recently convicted criminal, Abdul Quader Mollah, and for all other accused criminals that are being tried at the ICT.
While the alleged crimes are very serious, crimes against humanity and war crimes, and while the facts are that crimes of that nature were committed at a colossal scale in 1971 in Bangladesh by the Pakistani military and their local collaborators, in a land of laws, the accused can not be sentenced based upon popular emotions and demands. The allegations must be lawfully proven beyond reasonable doubts to get a conviction in a court of law. After that the sentencing must be done by a judge.
Obviously, Bangladesh is a very corrupt country. Even the judges of the highest courts are not perceived to be fully honest. Thus, there would be grievances against convictions and sentences. In the case of Mr. Mollah, there are a lot of people in the country who feel that his sentence is too light for the crimes that have been proven at the ICT beyond reasonable doubts. These people also feel that the ICT would be either unwilling or unable to award the appropriate punishments to the alleged criminals that are still on trial.
In a country where corruption is a core problem and where laws are conveniently disregarded by the political parties when they are in power, people have very little faith on the punishment of life in prison, especially when the convicted criminal belongs to a political party that was once running the government as a coalition partner. A change in government can easily make a mockery of that kind of a sentence, and the convicted criminal can get out of the jail. Thus, there is so much of emotion against the humane sense of abolition of the death penalty.
Without criticizing any political party or personality, it can be safely said that Bangladesh is in a deep trouble. The grand rally organizers are determined not to break up and go home until the government assures them of the death penalty for the accused criminals that are on trial at the ICT. However, in a country of laws, no government can give such an assurance. Giving such an assurance would be tantamount to showing no respect for the trial process and its verdict. Changing the laws in order to come up with pre-determined sentences would be the same as punishing the criminals extra-judicially.
As for the present trials of the war criminals, it is really too little too late. In more than 41 years, most of the criminals and victims are probably dead. A lot of the witnesses and authentic evidences have been lost. The widely talked about figures of victims in the hands of the Pakistani military and their collaborators in 1971 are murders of 3,000,000 people and rapes of 200,000 women and girls. The number of criminals that committed the heinous crimes is as uncertain as the real number of victims. However, there can be no question that the scale of the atrocities was huge; and that the numbers of victims and criminals were very high. How many people are facing the trial? Only a handful! In other words, the country is doing a symbolic trial of some of the big ones among the criminals. More than 100,000 criminals, including most of the more than 90,000 members of the Pakistani military, have not been, and will never be, prosecuted by Bangladesh.
Thus, the present trials are more symbolic than substantive. That is why the emotion of people who always wanted trials of the 1971 war criminals is to see the death sentence for each of the accused. This emotion may or may not have taken into consideration the quality and quantity of the presented evidences that any court of law must deliberate dispassionately.
Hasn’t Bangladesh created a Frankenstein by tolerating and nurturing the heinous criminals for so long, by delaying the trials of the war criminals of 1971, and by nurturing corruption in every sphere of governance?
Where is the closure to this delinquency of tolerating the most heinous crimes in the history of the land of Bangladesh?
The crimes were committed with a lot of fanaticism for maintaining the integrity of a country that was the most Muslim-populated country in the world, and that was openly hateful against non-Muslims. To the Bangalee criminal zealots, having a big country based upon religious hatred was so desirable that they committed the most heinous crimes for it, even when they themselves were treated as second class citizens by the ruling military dictators from the west wing.
Thus, the spirit of the crimes can only be defeated by ending discrimination, hatred, and atrocities based upon religious clanships. In order to do that, the population, the intellectuals and the politicians need to educate themselves in terms of rational thoughts, honesty, integrity, and love for the people of Bangladesh irrespective of religious and ethnic backgrounds. The symbolic death sentences for a few criminals would not bring closure to the monstrous crimes of 1971.
About the Writer: Sukhamaya Bain is a US citizen who was born in a place that is a part of today’s Bangladesh. He earned a Ph.D. degree in Chemistry in 1987, and currently works for the US federal government, evaluating chemistry. While being a scientist by profession, he believes that societal justice is vital for the well-being of mankind. Thus, he occasionally writes on sociopolitical issues.