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Photo: bdnews24.com
Photo: bdnews24.com

When Charles Taylor was being handed down the verdict on 11 counts of war crimes and crime against humanity, Taylor’s defence attorney charged the prosecutors and the judges of the Special Court for Sierra Leon as saying:

“these convictions were obtained on tainted and corrupted evidenced effectively bought by the prosecution.” (see NPR, April 26, 2012).

So did Klaus Barbie alias the ‘Butcher of Lyon’, Slobodan Milosevic, Abdur Quader Mollah alias the ‘Butcher of Mipur’ and many others convicted of crimes against humanity. All claimed innocence while blaming the prosecution of resorting to witch hunt.

During the trial, it was reported that Abdul Quader Mollah waving the holy Quran cursed the judges with eternal damnation. The reaction of the other convict, absconding Abul Kalam Azad alias “Bachchu Razakar” is yet to be known. But, he surely would not have had amusing things to say to the judges and prosecutors.

Now coming back to the trial of the war crimes, even though two perpetrators of genocide of 1971 have already been hauled to the grinding bowls of justice, many still doubt whether the convicts would ultimately serve their punishment. They grumble that convicts may well walk free with presidential pardon with the change in political power.

Their scepticisms are not without justification. The reason is that conviction in Bangladesh, regrettably, does not always guarantee punishment. Even, when upheld in the highest court, a presidential pardon can simply allow a convict to walk free. According to the section 49 (PART IV) of Bangladesh constitution:
“The President shall have power to grant pardons, reprieves and respites and to remit, suspend or commute any sentence passed by any court, tribunal or other authority or commute any sentence passed by any court, tribunal or other authority.”

Therefore, to repeat, application of such authority can allow a convict to escape, even, the worst of all punishments, the gallows. I am not opposed to the presidential authority to grant pardons. My main concern with the pardon is the arbitrary ways with which such authority was used in the past. Besides, one must ask who shall qualify to receive presidential pardon.

Pardons ought to be granted to individuals who (1) show remorse for their past misdeeds, (2) show willingness to contribute to the society, and (3) are never convicted of Genocide/crime against humanity.

Does any of these criteria apply to the two convicts and the detained leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami and Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury? Have they ever apologized to the victims of their atrocious crimes and to the nation for their complicity with the Pakistan Army? Or have they shown any remorse?

They did not, although they had ample opportunities do so when there were granted impunity through the repeal of the Collaborators Order (proviso of Article 8 of 1972) on December 31, 1975 by a Martial Law Proclamation later ratified through the 5th amendment.

Let aside showing any remorse or apology for their crimes and complicity with the Pakistani Army in 1971, they continued their reign of terror on the pro-liberation progressive forces.

Over the last three decades, the leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami have embraced ideologies, denouncing all basic tenets of the War of Liberation. They reject democracy, capitalism and socialism as being godless materialism. They repeatedly warn that such materialism would not be tolerated in a Muslim country. They hold and preach views similar to those of Mussolini and Hitler, reflected, for example, in a statement in an article by Jamaat-e-Islami’s former Amir, Abbas Ali Khan, which reads “the psychology of the defense forces in Bangladesh must be anti-Indian”, a clear threat to the regional peace and stability of South Asia.

Worst of all, since rebirth in 1979, they have constantly advocated discriminatory views on political participation as expressed in an article titled “An Introduction to the Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh.” A phrase from the article reads:

“Any sane and adult person can become a Member of the Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh if he or she accepts the basic creed of the Jamaat-e-Islami as his or her own creed, accepts the aims and objects of the Jamaat-e-Islami as his or her own aims and objects, pledges to fulfil the demands of the constitution of the Jamaat-e-Islami, performs the obligatory duties ordained by Islam.”5clearly indicating that any non-Muslim aspiring to hold political office under JI’s hegemony must convert to Islam, which is discriminatory, anti-democratic, and defies the country’s constitution.

All these show that the mindset and the beliefs of the convicts and the detained perpetrators have remained the same as they were in 1971. Accordingly, any presidential pardon to anyone convicted of crime against humanity would be a great injustice to the victims and to the nation yet to recover from the horrendous memories of the genocide of 1971.

Today, spontaneous uprising of hundreds of thousands of youths demanding justice for war crimes rekindles hope of justice. The uprising has legitimized the ongoing trial process. It smacks the probity of the human rights merchants as well as the friends of convicts and alleged war criminals. Now, it is the right time to say ‘no’ to the culture of impunity and ‘no’ to presidential pardon of the war crimes convicts.

ABM Nasir is an Associate Professor of Economics at the North Carolina Central University, USA.

5 Responses to “Presidential pardon and war crimes convicts”

  1. ZMIR

    It will be a mistake to view this as a single dimensional issue. From one angle it appears that this protest has gained very little notoriety in the eyes of the western world. The reason being, there is hardly any exposure by the media and when there is one it is often negative. Question is should it matter? The western media plays a huge role in the global marketplace in imaging and branding. So it does matter how we are represented to the world. I was surprised to see that even NPR had one article posted on its website every single google search on the topic points to URLs from local news agencies. And unless it was a whisper I have not heard any shout on air on this topic yet, they cover blow by blow what happens in Egypt, Syria and elsewhere there is a US interest. The reason is obvious and I am not questioning that. But thanks to the free world of the internet: FaceBook, Twitter etc. The word is out.
    But if we dissect this topic differently this lack of global interest may be legitimate and to those who are well read and who care a little about what goes on in the rest of the world, it be a an easy turn off especially when they figure out that this by and large a government backed propaganda trying to push a large envelope needless to say they will shy away as soon as they hear the word capital punishment.
    It is undoubtedly a clever effort from the Sheikh Hasina administration to stir up a crowd and exploit their emotions, especially the young blood who may be left feeling that they have missed out on making history 1971 and now this is only chance to enter a movement that is equally important. But no one is pausing to ask who is are true beneficiaries here. It is not the poor farmer, the rickshaw puller nor the factory worker but as always the political entity, Sheikh Hasina and people who have allegiance to Awami League. If the tables were turned it would be the same for the opposition. Begum Zia and her cronies would enjoy the pie.
    Only few months before the next election it is a strategic deployment by the current government to try to reduce the power of its opposition, BNP, while concurrently trying to give the public a false impression that this is a holy cause. Because of their impeccable timing it appears to be more of a sham than anything else. Both political parties are equally guilty of corruption, crime and violence who are fighting their own war putting poor people in the middle. The nation will never be free of oppression until these to family based hegemonies are ousted.
    Nonetheless, I would never undermine the importance of this protest which started with non-violence, a big step for Bangladesh, something that has organically compelled many of its citizens to unite and bond in a very unique way, for the first time in 42 years. That says something. Perhaps seeing such a large crowd bigger than the population of many European nation, come together this way makes a statement something the world is not ready for.
    As far as the western media coverage or lack thereof, the writer brings a valid point despite some hateful and disparaging comments here. To those I say, this petition is not necessarily a petty cry for attention from the Western media but rather a bona fide protest against biased and selective media coverage that has broader implications socially, morally and economically. And yes if you have any pride in your heritage it is objectionable. Our identity in the world has always been undermined whether it is unintentional or because of a deep seated disappointment stemmed from a slap on the face when Bangladesh managed to break off from Pakistan.
    What is happening today in Shahabag is significantly important and that the people are actively taking part, whether coaxed or not they are involved in a political movement and not just sitting at home in front of the TV, eating chips and drinking beer.
    If you haven’t been informed not everyone who is in the protest is a paid mercenary. There are many who have joined the rally voluntarily to have their voice heard. Whether the cry for capital punishment is justified or not the issue at the table is legitimate and begs for a debate. Unless the media we trust do their job, they have willingly deprived the world of this breaking news and this act is equally deplorable, granted media time is money Bangladesh is not a major subscriber. The fight against the media is another and we can win it only if in the words of Zamam ‘we make ourselves more relevant to the rest of the world.
    Watching all this unfold with the the vibrant colors, the amalgamation of men and women, artists, singers, activist full-time and part time, is exciting but the biggest lesson learned is this, there is a possibility that one day very soon if we rally up a similar crowd and sustain the same level of energy and gusto but this time we pledge to fight against poverty and stand up against corruption, violence and crime that is plaguing the nation. Only then we have made a legitimate case to the world. Until then this is all but a noise.

  2. Zakaria Khondker

    When Quader Mollah showed a “V” sign, he might have thought of getting out as early as within a year. He might have imagined his alliance partner winning the next election and him getting presidential pardon within months. This fear may have driven many to demand irreversible capital punishment. The culture of impunity, established by unconstitutional military dictatorship has destroyed the very fabric of our society.

  3. Shabbir A Bashar

    Bangladeshis tend to take short cuts at the expense of integrity. As the Skype scandals followed by an unexpected verdict of life imprisonment have shown that the way this trial has been conducted has cast doubts in the minds of any discerning observer. A trial at the Hague would have done a much more competent job and would have been much more acceptable.

    Unarmed civilians were killed, tortured and raped during the 1971 war – war crimes were committed. This is not an issue that belongs to the Awami League or their leftist secularist political bedfellows alone. These trials are also not a matter which can or should be associated with a religious witch hunt.

    It belongs first and foremost to the surviving family members of the fallen victims, their friends. It belongs also to every conscionable citizen of Bangladesh. This is not a game for politicians and their thugs to capitalize on. Until justice is done, Bangladesh will continue to be haunted by the ghosts of the past and fail to come together as a nation and move forward.

  4. John Brown

    Charles Taylor was convicted by The Hague – a high standard International court – not this joke kangaroo court where defense witness are abducted! & not given fair basic defense & Awami League interferes and makes political capital & he was not given archaic capital punishment too.

  5. mraman

    I agree with you. But i have a question. Is it justified when president Zillur Rahman pardons the killers of opposition parties? If you look into the statistics, the AL government has pardoned and influenced the judiciary system not to convict the killers, rapists and land grabbers from their party more than any other party in Bangladesh’s history.

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