(Image courtesy of Demotix.com)
Until 1971, Bangladesh formed the eastern part of Pakistan, but in that year the country finally gained its independence through a bloody war that cost the lives of over 3 million people. Fast forward to 2013, amid tight security, on February 5, an International War Crimes Tribunal of three judges delivered a judgment against 64-year-old Abdul Quader Mollah, who in 1971 was the chief of the students’ wing of Jamaat-e-Islami, the Islamic party that sided with Pakistan during the war and opposed Bangladeshi independence. He was convicted of war crimes, including murder, and was sentenced to life in prison. He is the first person to be tried and convicted of crimes stemming from the war.
Upon hearing of the verdict, two separate protests on both sides of the issue broke out. One occurred in Shahbagh Square in the capital city of Dhaka. Here, protestors formed a sit in complaining that the sentence was too lenient and that war criminals should receive the death penalty.
The other protest occurred 280 miles away in the tourist city of Cox’s Bazar when Jamaat-e-Islami activists clashed with police. At least 3 people were killed when hundreds of activists from Jamaat and its student wing, Islami Chhatra Shibir, left the city’s mosques following noon prayers and attacked police. They were demanding the release of their leader, Delwar Hossain Sayedee, who also faces war crimes charges dating back more than four decades.
Meanwhile, demonstrators have vowed to continue protesting at Shahbagh and have asked the government to ban Jamaat-e-Islami.
Jamaat-e-Islami said its members would continue to protest as many of its leaders were behind bars facing charges of murder, arson, looting and rape stemming from the war for independence.
They said the war crimes trials, begun after more than 40 years of independence, were being carried out with “ill political motive.”
So far, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has shown no sign of backing down. He assures the trials will be completed at any cost.
The government, which promised in its election pledges in 2008 to complete the war crimes trials, set up the tribunals in 2010.
In your opinion, is it wrong for the government to bring up old wounds and charge people for crimes committed over forty years ago, or do the criminal actors deserve to be held accountable regardless of how much time has passed? Moreover, can these defendants even receive a fair trial after forty years? Is it even possible to find reliable witnesses this long after the fact? Finally, if protests continue to erupt, and innocent people continue to lose their lives, at what point does the cost become too great to continue the prosecutions?