Bangladesh: Righting historical wrongs

Will addressing Bangladesh’s past struggle for independence serve to heal historical wounds or just erode its stability?

A war crimes tribunal in Bangladesh is stirring up memories of the country’s painful split from Pakistan in 1971, during which anywhere up to three million people are thought to have been raped, tortured and murdered.

It is a dark chapter in the history of the two countries, which has never been fully addressed. And now the lingering anger is playing out on the streets of the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, with days of rioting, soldiers on the streets, calls for a national strike – and a rising death toll.

Members of the Islamic opposition Jamaat-e-Islami are on trial, and potentially facing the death sentence. The party had campaigned against independence from Pakistan, but deny committing any atrocities during the war.

The nine-month long war was the climax of tensions between Bangladeshi nationalists and the Pakistani army. Eventually the Indian army intervened on the side of the Bangladeshi nationalists.

Bangladesh says three million people were killed during the conflict; Pakistan says the number was much lower.

In the four decades since the war, the country’s turbulent politics and repeated military coups have stood in the way of the delivery of justice. But when the Awami League, headed by Sheikh Hasina, won the 2008 national elections, setting up a war crimes tribunal was a large part of its campaign.

Established in 2010, the tribunal is trying 12 men for crimes against humanity. That they are mostly from Jamaat-e-Islami, which is strongly opposed to Hasina’s government, has drawn accusations that the trials are a politically convenient way of getting rid of opposition leaders.

The tribunal has been plagued by accusations of foul play and government influence, but the country’s opinion is divided. When Abdul Qader Molla, one of the leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami, was sentenced to life in prison rather than death, hundreds of thousands of people protested to demand that he be hanged.

But last week’s announcement that another Jamaat-e-Islami leader will be executed, led to further protests – this time by supporters of those on trial.

As more sentences are announced, the violence is likely to continue.

So, why are these trials taking place now? Can the country right these historical wrongs – and at what cost to its unity?

Inside Story, with presenter Jane Dutton, speaks to: Salman al-Azami, the son of former Jamaat-e-Islam leader Ghulum Azam, who is one of those standing trial; and Tridib Deb, the co-chairman of the Bangabandhu Lawyers Council, a group named after the former head of the Awami League and first president of Bangladesh, and father of the current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Source: Al Jazeera


  1. The lawlessness on the streets today is but a fraction of the violence and brutality perpetrated by hooligans of the Awami League on Non-Bengalis in 1971.

  2. I agree. If we want to cleanse ourselves as a civilized nation, all atrocities must be accounted for. Otherwise, it will haunt us for all times to come. We are a very violent and ruthless race. We drop crocodile tears talking about the language movement where 5 people got killed. Now we are singing and dancing in the Shahbagh Chottor. Just last week we killed 100 persons and debilitated 2000 more. Besides, kicking, beating and shooting like Wild West, AL workers were busy throwing cocktails to instigate and make it look like as if BNP or Jammat workers were doing it. It was all too well pre planned by the AL leadership with total help of RAW, under the leadership of a criminal like Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir (current home minister). I do not understand why he is not tried as a war criminal? He should be in jail immediately. He was a very high official under Pakistani regime till the last day of their surrender. Thousands of Al-badar and Razakars worked right under his nose and with his orders. They were only foot soldiers while he was a DC.


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