Dhaka seeks UN’s role for trying “war criminals”

April 2nd, 2008 - 5:31 pm ICT by admin  

Dhaka, April 2 (IANS) Bangladesh has approached the United Nations for trial of “war criminals” who opposed its freedom struggle 37 years ago at the behest of the then military regime in Pakistan. Foreign Adviser Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury informed UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of a “popular sentiment” for involving the UN in the process for trying war criminals of Bangladesh’s Liberation War in 1971.

Calling on the UN secretary general at the UN Headquarters in New York Monday, Chowdhury told him that there is a growing demand for the trial of the war criminals, media reports said, calling the government’s move “unprecedented”.

War veterans, eminent citizens and members of martyrs’ families welcomed it. The government should formally request the UN for its involvement in the trial process, they said.

The issue of trying the war criminals had been discussed in different international forums including the UN Human Rights Commission but this is the first time in 37 years since Bangladesh’s independence that the government officially informed the top UN official of the demand.

The target of this highly emotive move is the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) - Bangladesh’s largest Islamist party - and sundry Islamist groups who have as its leaders those who formed vigilante groups like Al Badr, Al Shams and Razakars. These groups carried out killings at the behest of the then East Pakistan regime.

JeI, after some years under a ban, emerged as a major political party that shared power during 2001-06 in the government led by Khaleda Zia.

Accused of being “war criminals”, JeI chief Matiur Ahman Nizami and general secretary Ali Mujahid were ministers in that government.

Political analysts have, however, asked whether an interim government with no popular mandate, that has promised to hold elections and quit by this year-end, is not passing the buck to the UN in trying politicians of a cash-rich political party that wields influence and has a measure of political support.

Deputy chief of Bangladeshi forces and later Air Force chief, Air Vice Marshal (retd) A.K. Khandker in his reaction told The Daily Star newspaper that raising the issue before the UN top boss through the foreign adviser indicates the government’s positive attitude towards it.

“But I think the government must take it up to the UN absolutely formally for its help as did Cambodia and other countries,” said Khandker.

Shahriar Kabir, prominent researcher on war crimes, said: “We demand trial of both Pakistani and Bangladeshi war criminals.”

Many of those who collaborated with Pakistani authorities later fled Bangladesh. “We expect UN’s role in trying the Pakistani war criminals but now we are more concerned about the trial of Bangladeshi war criminals,” said Kabir.

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