Bangladeshi war crimes court to charge first suspect
DHAKA: A special Bangladeshi court set up to try people suspected of war crimes during the 1971 battle for independence from Pakistan is expected to frame charges against its first suspect on Thursday.
The Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal, which was set up last year by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, will hear cases of alleged collaborators who are accused of crimes ranging from mass killings to rape.
Delwar Hossain Sayedee, a senior official of the opposition Jamaat-e-Islami, the country’s largest Islamic party, was scheduled to be the first case presented in front of Judge Nizamul Huq.
Saydee, 71, has been accused of killing more than 50 people, torching villages, rape, looting and forcibly converting Hindus to Islam.
The court opened proceedings last week but immediately adjourned after Sayedee’s lawyers argued that they needed more time to prepare. They requested a six-week extension, but were given just eight days.
Bangladesh, which was called East Pakistan until 1971, has struggled to come to terms with its violent birth.
The current government, led by Sheikh Hasina, says up to three million people were killed in the war – many murdered by Bangladeshis collaborating with the Pakistani forces.
Hasina is the daughter of independence leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
The 1971 war began after tens of thousands of people were killed in the capital Dhaka when Pakistan launched Operation Searchlight, a campaign intended to deter Bangladeshis from seeking independence.
The killings and subsequent military action that allegedly included mass killings, rape and torture served to create a groundswell of public support for the pro-independence movement.
Sayedee has been held in detention along with four other war crime suspects from Jamaat and two from the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).
The BNP and Jamaat have dismissed the tribunal as a government “show trial”.
The New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch has said rules being used to prosecute the war crime suspects fall short of international standards.