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.”5 —clearly 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.