Hanging the traitors may not be enough

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Many people are happy that the alleged war criminals are being tried and awarded death sentences, and rightly so. The Government’s major electoral promise the last time around was a promise to try them and this is being significantly achieved. Although, the trial was held too late in the day to be carried out in this political innings, the mileage that can be had out of this is hopefully gathering to the sponsors. It is helped by the fact that the people don’t seem to want justice or trial but revenge and may be that is why the Terms of Reference of the trial had to be ‘adjusted’ to accommodate appeal by the prosecutors in case no death sentence was delivered. It happened as a result of the pressure put by Shahbagh Movement which had sought death sentence for the war criminals after a life sentence was passed on Quader Mollah. Thus the war crimes and punishments meted out is certainly not just about the trial but also the political and judicial structure of the country and linked to what may be called a situation where the lines between the legal and the political are threatening to be blurred.

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The feeling is that the present government didn’t take the trial as seriously as it should have. In fact, some feel that it didn’t take the Jamaat-e-Islami seriously till it joined the BNP and routed the AL in 2001. It’s an unanswered question as to why the party didn’t prosecute Jamaat between 1996 and 2001. Some allege that had it happened, more evidence would have been available but the AL had never even raised the issue and it gave in only in the last few years particularly after the JI became the BNP’s electoral ally. It is alleged that the JI systemically destroyed all evidence when in power with the BNP.

Be that as it may, the main  issue today is that the people want death verdicts and they are getting them but one hopes the casualties are not functioning parts of the state as a whole.

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Apart from the trial process about which some questions have been raised the main issue is not of fairness or anything but whether the ICT is non-controversial or not. Unfortunately, the reported Skype conversation between a judge and an expatriate war crimes trial expert hasn’t increased the status of the courts. Although those who reported it are being tried, the fact remains that because nobody cares how the trial is conducted as long as it returns a death verdict, the matter didn’t become an issue.

And now we are hearing that the verdict against Salauddin Quader Chowdhury was leaked and it was read online by a few including the son of  SQC. We are not sure what it means since the matter of leak was first denied and now is not outright denied but accusations are being made that a lot of money was spent to get the verdict  and is meant to discredit the judges. On Wednesday, the tribunal’s Registrar Nasir Uddin Mahmud said: “It might have leaked while in draft stage several days before the verdict.”

We have to wait for a fuller version of the events and find out what really happened but it does seem that the enemies of the ICT are at least able to make the authorities uncomfortable. That is disturbing.

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Although there is almost no one who is against the trials except perhaps the friends, relatives and family members of the accused and those found guilty, the trials are not becoming landmark in setting legal precedents.  While it’s true that the crowd wants heads, the court seems to have become facilitator rather than a leader. Now, the verdicts are not met with surprise or vindication but seems to be expected. Yet the implication of the process is far reaching.

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In a partisan society, nobody is found guilty or innocent but all  are  considered victims by one side or the other. As a result, one side believes he is not guilty no matter what the verdict and it is happening now. The BNP has now decided to protest making it a political issue and one doesn’t know where it will go but happening as it does months before the national election, we seem to be heading towards more uncertainty. Perhaps what all of them put together is a profile of systemic ailment that neither trials, elections or  protests can heal.

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As the trials go on and deliver verdicts and politics meanders on perhaps to a fatal appointment, the problem is neither treason nor guilt or innocence but the inability to create systems which allow good governance. It’s not that we need a caretaker government but that 42 years after the independence we haven’t found an acceptable way of elections for all, we have not been able to even reduce corruption to a manageable level or have a judiciary which doesn’t get into situations they shouldn’t be. Our success with extra-constitutional agitation, our tolerance of  extra-judicial killings, our acceptance of corruption and partisanship of the press are indicators of not having succeeded as citizens individually and together as a state.

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The trial process will continue and one hopes all war criminals, in prison or outside are punished. However, our crisis is not there but in failing to find a system that delivers sustainable political and socio economic development. The trials were not the grand liberating experience we all hoped would be but the Shahbagh Movement primarily and the couple of  stumbles including the leak accusations make that a little muted. In a way that casts a shadow of sorts  on how the state looks when not in full comfort.

Source: Bd news24

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