Image: newly appointed Ameer of Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, Maqbul Ahmeed.
Pierre Trudeau, former Prime Minister of Canada, is credited with the quote: “The essential ingredient of Politics is timing”. This is perhaps a development of the well-known maxim that ‘Timing is Everything’.
Arguably, never a truer word has been spoken when one considers both of these quotes with the backdrop of the recently announced investigation into Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami’s newly appointed Ameer, Maqbul Ahmed.
The Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) has, since its inception, been accused of being politically motivated and showing a significant degree of bias against certain elements of the political landscape, namely opposition parties, and specifically Jamaat-e-Islami.
The Government of Bangladesh continues to deny the accusation, and point to the fact that one Awami League member was also prosecuted by the Tribunal and on that basis, suggest that it is evidently non-partisan. It has also issued statements to the effect that it is the most transparent of all war crimes tribunals and applies a higher standard of justice than any international judicial mechanism.
Just this past week, Bangladesh State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Muhammad Shahriar Alam, at the 15th Assembly of States Parties to the ICC spoke about Bangladesh’s ongoing efforts “to bring to justice those who committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during our War of Liberation in 1971 to end the culture of impunity.” He suggested that this effort had created “a new paradigm” in international criminal justice by allowing purely domestic courts the mandate to hold trials for internationally defined crimes. This was a bold statement to make, particularly when measured his remark that the trials were “…in full conformity with the ‘complementarity’ principle of the Rome Statute”.
Regrettably, the statement demonstrates a delusion that knows no bounds. The Tribunal has been roundly criticised by a host of highly credible international groups from the United Nations to respectable human rights groups including HRW and Amnesty International. Recently, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called on the Government of Bangladesh to stay an execution and order a retrial due to numerous procedural defects in the trial and appeal process. The Government disregarded this plea and proceeded to execute the defendant in flagrant breach of international human rights standards and flagrant denial of its international treaty obligations.
Is this a ‘new paradigm’ in international criminal justice, as the State Minister proudly declared. Is this a process that a State Party to an exclusive club of nations built on fundamental principles of justice and accountability should display. Or is this a practice that should be condemned by a State that should be thrown out of an exclusive club built on pillars of justice.
The Government of Bangladesh has presided over a system that cannot properly be characterised as a system of justice. It has been properly characterised by numerous respected legal commentators as a flagrant denial of justice and the level of interference by the executive constitutes a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
The numerous, well-founded allegations of political bias in the process is best exemplified by the recent announcement of an investigation into the newly appointed Ameer, Maqbul Ahmeed.
Ahmeed has been ‘acting’ Ameer of Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami for the past 6 years and yet there has been no suggestion that he is to be the subject of a formal investigation and potential prosecution before the Tribunal, not to mention at any time in the past forty-five years since the end of the Liberation War.
Is it therefore incredulous to suggest that there has been a sudden development that has given rise to a justifiable basis for launching a formal investigation shortly just six hours after his formal appointment. No, the investigation has been announced now so as to seek to damage Jamaat-e-Islami as a political party, and maintain the momentum of the message of hate and vitriol developed by the Awami League against its political opponents.
Of course, it must be accepted that there will be those that reject this position as being somewhat conspiracy theorist, or even paranoid. To counter this position, allow us to consider the article of 20 October 2016 in the Dhaka Tribune, entitled “Jamaat chief Maqbul’s 1971 role under scanner”.
The author of that article notes “The agency has not got any evidence against Maqbuk”. One must question therefore upon what basis it is deemed appropriate to announce that an investigation has begun, when it is accepted that there is no evidence.
The Coordinator of the Tribunal’s Investigative Agency, Abdul Hannan, is quoted in the article as stating “…but we have received some specific information from the media…”. The media, let us remember, has been at the forefront of demands for the execution of those charged with war-crimes, and further, adopted a stance that if replicated in a country that actually had any respect for the Rule of Law, it would have almost certainly resulted in ‘Contempt’ charges being brought, and further, potentially resulted in the collapse of trials for infringing an accused’s ‘Right to a Fair Trial.
Given the above, are we really to accept that “…some information from the media…”, is a legitimate basis upon which to commence any criminal investigation, not least one of such gravity that could result in the ultimate penalty of a death sentence, and further, that we can accept that whatever that information might be, is credible.
It is to be accepted, as quite natural, that the usual criticism will follow should anyone seek to criticise the decision, and the allegations of ‘war crime apologist’ that have become de rigour over recent years are likely to come to the fore once more.
However, much as it is no coincidence that Ahmeed has been made subject to an investigation now, it is no coincidence that anyone who seeks to raise a legitimate criticism of the Tribunal or any of its processes is branded anti-Liberation, and thus a parallel with other dictatorial regimes across the globe can be drawn.
Bangladesh will not tolerate dissent, much as states such as Egypt have sought to oppress the voice of its citizens.
The judicial system, or at least the façade of the justice system, is in Bangladesh, much as it is in Egypt, and other such states, being used as a weapon of the State in an effort to give legitimacy to its unlawful actions of oppression.
In announcing the investigation against Ahmeed, an investigation in which it is accepted that the relevant authority “…has not got any evidence…”, Bangladesh has not taken a further step to bring about an end to impunity, it has taken a further step towards a repressive autocratic State.
These actions must be addressed by the international community, it can no longer afford to watch on in silence and ignorance.
What you tolerate, you encourage.
This article was originally published on 21st November 2016, at The Huffington Post.