Arman Rashid

Lobbying to prevent justice?

December 10, 2012

0A recent article published in St. Louise Today, titled “Missourian in quest to free Bangladeshi newspaper owner from jail”, by Mr. Bill Lambrecht, talks about the current lobbying campaign against the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) of Bangladesh, led by a Washington based lobbying firm “Cassidy and Associates” and its chairman Mr. Gregg Hartley. This article describes the campaign to free Mir Quasem Ali, owner of a newspaper and a leader of Jamaat-e-Islami, who is currently in custody for war crimes in Bangladesh. While this article merely quotes Mr. Hartley and certain other critiques of ICT, it ignores certain other facts and clearly demonstrates either a bias or a lack of information that I will highlight in this writing. A more unbiased title could have been “Missourian in quest to free Bangladeshi accused war criminal from jail”, which would have been closer to the truth.

The article asserts that Mr. Ali’s political affiliation with Jamaat-e-Islami played a major role in his arrest. It is important to distinguish whether this political affiliation was the cause of his arrest or the cause of his alleged engagement in the war crimes during 1971. In order to understand this political affiliation, readers should know the current role of Jamaat-e-Islami in Bangladesh. This Islamist party is in the forefront in spreading religious fundamentalism, Islamic extremism, anti-Semitism and widespread hatred against racial and religious minorities in Bangladesh. They are also the primary advocates of replacing the current secular constitution with Shariah laws. These political views led many of the leaders and supporters of Jamaat-e-Islami to conduct heinous atrocities, in the name of Islam, during the Liberation War of Bangladesh in 1971, which resulted in the deaths of millions of civilians and the rapes of 200-400 thousand women. So, while these crimes may very well have been motivated by political affiliations or ideological stance, the current tribunal is prosecuting them as individuals for their individual crimes.

It must be highlighted that while Mr. Gregg Hartley is lobbying for the accused war criminal, his primary motivation to push this cause is instigated by a $500,000 fee as mentioned in this article. It is important to note that this lobbying campaign is not funded by any human rights group, but financed by an accused war criminal and his family. Other than mentioning the amount, the article does not probe how Mr. Ali or his family managed to transfer such a large sum, circumventing Bangladesh Government’s strict regulatory policies regarding foreign currency remittances, without violating any local or international money laundering laws. Even though the legal obligation for the lobbying business doesn’t require having an ethical agenda, the question still remains how a lobbying firm can legally take a case with the agenda of influencing, impeding or, more importantly, delegitimizing an ongoing judicial process. I am curious if it would have been legal for Cassidy and Associates to be engaged by OJ Simpson for the purpose of ‘freeing’ Mr. Simpson by influencing the trial or its proceeding through lobbying efforts. Even though the lobbyists are not ethics bound, the politicians surely are. People will surely remember who among their lawmakers end up taking the sides of accused war criminals. I am sure that the Bengali community, all over the US, will be closely watching how many house representatives and senators join this campaign and will surely remember them at the time of their next elections.

50abeebed85b9.preview-620Even though Mr. Hartley claims that his client Mir Quasem Ali is arrested only because of his anti government criticisms through his newspapers and television channels, Mr. Hartley fails to show why the current accusations against Mr. Ali are baseless, especially when Ali’s own defence team admits that, during the war in 1971, “he was a member of a pro-Pakistan militia while in his 20s”, as mentioned in this article. Isn’t it up to the tribunal to decide the depth of his engagement based on testimonies and evidences?

Since Mr. Harley is not a lawyer of the defence team, only a lobbyist for the people who can afford him, regardless of their background, to gain access to his political connections, I guess he is only doing his job and it is unfair for me to ask him that question. However, in the article Mr. Ali’s son Mir Ahmed was quoted that their newspaper, Daily Naya Diganta, is the ‘only’ newspaper “vocal about the injustices by the ruling regime”. Anyone familiar with Bangladeshi newspapers and media channels knows, there are at least another half a dozen newspapers in the country that are equally harsh in criticizing the current government as the Daily Naya Diganta, and their owners are not being arrested with the accusations of war crimes. So the allegation of Mr. Ali being arrested because of his media outlets doesn’t hold much water.

While this article quotes ‘Reporters Without borders’ for ranking Bangladesh 129th out of 179 countries, evaluated for their freedom of press, the author conveniently ignores that it is still a lot better than India (131), Israel (133), Russia (142), Mexico (149) and Pakistan (150), even USA is ranked 47th in that index, which is a even lower than some of the third world countries in Africa such as Niger (29), Ghana (41) and Botswana (42). The author also ignores the fact that, according to the same organization, this ranking for Bangladesh actually improved during the current administration (2008-2012) compared to the prior governments. So, using the same ‘credible’ sources as the author (i.e. Reporters without Borders), how can it be explained that the current government is cracking down on the press for their criticisms, as the article was trying to insinuate, and at the same time the overall raking for the freedom of press is improving in the country? The article also points out the recent killings of reporters in Bangladesh.

Journalism is indeed a dangerous occupation there, and many journalists were murdered in the past few decades, but how many (if any) of those murders were state sponsored? I fail to see the relevance of this anecdotal information in this article, unless the author is implying a link between these murders and the alleged state policy for media suppression. Anyone doing any bit of homework on this subject will know that many of these journalists in the past were killed, because of their secular views, by the same religious extremisms preached by Jamaat-e-Islami in which Mr. Ali is a prominent leader.

The article also refers to the criticisms against ICT made by certain individuals and organizations, but it fails to indicate the existing challenges for those criticisms. For instance, Mr. Stephen Rapp, the US ambassador at large for war crimes, was heavily criticized for recommending the ICT to adopt the Rome Statue, a legal framework for the ICC (International Criminal Court), when he clearly knew that the ICT is not an ‘international court’ but a domestic one, the statue did not have the jurisdiction to prosecute crimes that took place prior to 2002, and, most importantly, when his own country, United States, is neither a signatory member of the Rome Statue, nor is it compliant to many of its provisions. Human Rights Watch, another organization that the article quotes, was also criticized for publishing a report alleging Bangladesh government for intimidating defence witnesses at a time, long before the names of the witnesses were disclosed to the ICT and when the government or the prosecution team didn’t have any way of knowing who those defence witnesses are.

Similarly, the UN group for arbitrary detention, another group the article refers to, was also criticized to publish their report based on the claims from the defence team alone, without any known independent investigation on their part, when the Bangladesh government failed to respond to a letter with those allegations. So, while by referencing these criticisms the article shows how this lobbying campaign against justice is gaining steam in the international community, it fails to scrutinize or even question the legitimacy of any of those criticisms.

Many of the accused war criminals in ICT are current and former leaders of different political groups. But does that make these trials political? In order to understand that, one must look at the history of Bangladesh and the birth of this tribunal. Soon after Bangladesh won its independence in 1971, there were many outstanding accusations against the currently accused war criminals, so they fled the country to evade prosecution. The first war crimes tribunal was created under the 1973 act, which prosecuted and convicted many, between 1972 and 1975. Unfortunately, in 1975, with the murder of the national leader in a military coup, the subsequent dictators dismantled the tribunal and released all the war criminals, even the convicted ones. It was in this political atmosphere, many of the currently accused war criminals were able to return to Bangladesh, assimilate in the political arena to strengthen and legitimize the dictatorship.

After overthrowing the last dictator in 1990, democracy was resurrected in Bangladesh and the victims of 1971 could once again voice their demands to bring those perpetrators to justice. Slowly their voices were strengthened and this demand became a national outcry for the people of Bangladesh. Unfortunately, in the current political atmosphere, while BNP (Bangladesh Nationalist Party), the other prominent party besides Awami League, is currently in a coalition with Jamaat-e-Islami, which was led by these accused war criminals, Awami League became the only hope to ask for justice for the victims of 1971. In 2008 national election, Awami League’s landslide victory was primarily contributed to this national mandate for bringing an end of impunity for the war criminals.

After the election, the current government amended the 1973 act, allowing more rights and civil liberties for the accused in accordance to the ICCPR, and then created this independent tribunal to fulfil their pre-election promise and to address this national mandate. The victims of 1971 can finally see some hope for justice after waiting 40 long years. So, even though the birth of this tribunal was only possible through a campaign for justice and a democratic political process, people who voted in 2008 election and expressed their demand through their ballots, do not think these trials to be politically motivated. In order to keep their promise, the Awami League took a huge risk considering the ominous political unrest, backlash and turmoil these trials can instigate, but we are still glad that they took that risk for the sake of justice and ending impunity. Now we can only hope that the administration will continue their support for the ICT and endure the storm clouds that are looming in the horizon.

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Arman Rashid is a Toronto based writer, blogger and campaigner for justice for the crimes committed in 1971.

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13 Responses to “ Lobbying to prevent justice? ”

  1. Arman Sadi on December 11, 2012 at 11:48 pm

    I hope you wrote this article before the publication of the Skypegate fiasco between Justice Huq and Mr. Ahmed. These conversations as published in various media and Justic Huq’s resignation prove that this court is nothing but a political tool. In a country like USA, this judge and those named in these conversations would have been persecuted. In fact, Justice Huq not only disgraced himself, he disgraced his colleagues and the entire judicial system in Bangladesh. He is rendering judgments to appease the ruling ministers and for his own promotion.

    Great Job Arman Rashid in supporting corruption and injustice!

    • anik on December 12, 2012 at 6:55 am

      The Skypegate fiasco?? Then why don’t you mention that Justice Huq has already stepped down. The judge has paid his price. But so what?? Does Deilla (দেইল্যা) razakar now becomes a saint?? or Nizami or Ghulam Aazam?? These butchers are lucky that they have been allowed to defend themselves in the court.

    • anik on December 12, 2012 at 7:00 am

      One more thing. These razakars have been given the right to appeal. They should be grateful.

    • Arman Rashid on December 13, 2012 at 4:52 pm

      This hacking incident only shows how far this group of people will go to try to save their accused leaders. This incident also sheds some light on how the defense team learned the secrets about the prosecution witnesses. These judges were the custodians for keeping their identity secret, but what we know now, those secrets were compromised by this hacking.

      As far as I know, the judge did not break any law by talking to an expert. The only criminal act that is committed here is by hacking into somebody’s computer and gaining access to his private emails and conversations.

      The judge was probably forced to resign because of his criticism on certain political leaders and the government.

  2. Ibn Masud on December 11, 2012 at 10:06 pm

    ” The victims of 1971 can finally see some hope for justice after waiting 40 long years.” I am member of family of victims and I do not see in the depths of my logic how justice is being “delivered” by trying a few people involved in the crimes. There will be atrial, but just that, not justice. Mir Quasem Ali and the other accused are only one party of the war crimes. What about the main culprits, the Pakistani military establishment? Since you can’t do that, why call the trial “International.” Shahrier Kabir of History Dept., DU recently said on TV talk show that these trials “are subject to our laws and our concerns only” that are of “international standard.” Is it kinda like (with all due respect)the English Medium schools in our country? The same degree but a different experience?
    And what about the ethnic Biharis? If they are tried then the Bengalis should also be tried for what happened in the camps at Saidpur and Khalishpur. But that would make the entire point of the struggle a controversy. Right? Is there a way out in seeing the whole thing in gray?

    • Arman Rashid on December 13, 2012 at 4:45 pm

      You claimed that you have a victim in your family, but at the same time you say prosecuting the alleged leaders of Razakaar, Al-Badr and Al-Shams is not important to you. Interesting!

      You agreed that “Mir Quasem Ali and the other accused are only one party of the war crimes” — what makes you think that if a murderer is not found the helper automatically gets impunity?

      Who said the ‘Trials’ are “International”? When you read “International Crimes Tribunal” please read it as “Tribunal for International Crimes” that may help you understand what it means. “International Crimes” is the umbrella term to incorporate genocide, genocidal rape, war crimes, crimes against peace and crimes against humanity, etc.

      Finally, you brought up the topic about the atrocities committed against the Bihari community. Nothing in the ICT Act suggests that those perpetrators cannot be held accountable, nor does the indemnity act for the freedom fighters shelter them for any acts that can be constituted as war crimes.

  3. aburuqaya on December 11, 2012 at 6:00 pm

    Hi Mr. Rashid,
    As you live in a free and fair society, one thing we are failing to learn from is to speak the truth as well.

    The people who are talking against the ICT is not against justice, but in favour of justice, it will be a shame for the world today if we misuse the word justice in the name of punishing our opponent. The world today wants to make the ICT a fair trial so that justice can be done the way it should be done. I have no idea why you are trying to deny that fact. May be to serve the purpose of that particular group!

    • anik on December 12, 2012 at 6:58 am

      “if we misuse the word justice in the name of punishing our opponent”

      laugh OUT Loud.

      Are there any good people behind bars on charges of war crimes? Are Nizami, Sayedee, G Azam innocent???

  4. Golam Arshad on December 11, 2012 at 12:20 pm

    Under the clauses of the SIMLA ACCORD signed (1972) by then Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi, and then President of Pakistan Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto, nullifies the jurisdiction and the legality of the ICT. The alleged criminals who were responsible for their involvement in the genocide in the then East Pakistan, were allowed to be returned to Pakistan, giving them an indemnity not to be tried in any Court of Law henceforth. The subsequent Governments of Bangladesh never challenged The SIMLA ACCORD on the issue of trying War Criminals. It is an irony, that India remains MUM on this ISSUE. Do you agree? Better ask Dr. Kamal Hosssain, then Foreign Minister of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s administration.

    • Arman Rashid on December 13, 2012 at 4:27 pm

      “giving them an indemnity not to be tried in any Court of Law henceforth.” — Please read up on the laws pertaining International Crimes such as genocide. Nobody can issue any indemnity for crimes against humanity.

      Please read up the SIMLA ACCORD and the history behind it. Those 195 Pakistani soldiers were release because Bhutto claimed Pakistan had the jurisdiction to prosecute them first, which never did.

      If you are willing to do some further research, to understand those history better, please let me know, i’ll be happy to send them to you. If you are happy with the Jamaat’s version of the history, then nothing that anyone can say will change your mind.

      • Golam Arshad on December 14, 2012 at 11:02 am

        My question, Whether SIMLA ACCORD” per se was controversial? Has any Government in Bangladesh challenged,SIMLA ACCORD? Have Bangladesh made any overture to India, that this signed ACCORD will limit the legal purview of trying the alleged War Criminals? Arman, I have noted that INTERNATIONAL NORMS have been violated in SIMLA ACCORD? Do you agree? The Legality and the credibility of ICT is now in a Controversial Mode? What is your position NOW,after the recent SKYPE saga which prompted the resignation of the Chief JUDGE Nizamul Huq? I am NOT happy with any version other then the TRUTH VERSION of Liberation History. Don’t get bogged down with “TUI RAZAKAR” syndrome, it has divided the Nation, and the Prime Minister is solely responsible period. Any TUPU and DARI is defined by the Prime Minister and her cohorts, as sympathizer of Jamaat and Shibir. My late father Mr.Abdul Awwal of Narayanganj was the Founding Member of Awami Muslim League, and was also the Joint Secretary. The SIMLA ACCORD was a deliberate SNUB, to BELITTLE our Sacred War of Liberation!

        • Arman Rashid on May 4, 2013 at 11:49 pm

          Shimla Accord has nothing to do with ICT and thats why I can care less about it. Unlike the Collaborator’s Act, the ICT Act was never revoked, and it is fully equipped to prosecute anyone who committed ‘International Crimes’. Thats why a new law was not necessary to try the Rajakar,Al-Badr,Al-Shams members. If ICT Act wasn’t there we would have campaigned for a new law or a reenactment of the Collaborator’s Act. Unable to bring back those 195 Pakistanis does not mean we should do NOTHING with the local murders. If your concerns about the Shimla Accord is genuine, please show me how you are campaigning for the return of those 195 and you will find me by your side. Otherwise, I can’t argue with people who called you “TUI RAZAKAR”.

  5. Ahmed Ziauddin on December 10, 2012 at 11:39 pm

    It is laughable that the ICSF forum are complaining of bias and lobbying efforts in the current context.

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