- - Friday, December 11, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Shortly after 9 a.m. on April 13, 1971, my father, Nutan Chandra Sinha, was working in the herbal medicine factory he founded in Chittagong, a seaport city in southeastern Bangladesh. Our country had just declared its independence from Pakistan and was fighting a war against the Pakistani Army and its collaborators inside Bangladesh.

One of those collaborators – Salauddin Quader Chowdhury – showed up at my father’s factory, angry, accompanied by Pakistani troops. My father was a supporter of independence. Chowdhury was not. The men spoke and Chowdhury left.

My father, 71, went inside our home next door and began praying in his temple. Moments later, Chowdhury returned with soldiers and burst into the house, guns blazing. They riddled my father with bullets, pulled him into the courtyard and shot him some more.

In November of this year — after 44 years of evading justice for this crime and even, improbably, rising to a leadership role in a prominent national political party — Chowdhury was hanged for this and other heinous crimes. Bangladesh’s International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) found Chowdhury guilty on nine counts of murder, torture and crimes against humanity committed against my father and many others during Bangladesh’s 1971 war of independence and the attendant genocide committed by Pakistan, which claimed 3 million Bangladeshi lives.

Instead of being cheered, the ICT and the government of Bangladesh have received undeserved criticism from some foreign governments and international organizations. Critics wrongly said the trials have been flawed. In fact, they follow the Rome Statute, the world’s gold standard for war crimes tribunals.

Critics also wrongly said the ICT is being used by the government to eliminate political opponents. In fact, the ICT has convicted war criminals from many political parties, including a former member of the party currently in power.

The trials have been carried out in a transparent manner, open to anyone, and defendants are afforded rights including the right to call witnesses and provide alibis. The ICT is also the world’s only war crimes tribunal that allows those convicted to appeal to the country’s Supreme Court. Chowdhury did so and his appeal was denied.

After Chowdhury and fellow war criminal Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid were hanged, celebrations broke out across Bangladesh as people flooded into the streets happy that justice had been done. The ICT is overwhelmingly popular in Bangladesh. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was elected in 2008 after promising to start the tribunals.

International critics have focused so much on the allegedly violated rights of the defendants that they have forgotten about the victims.

My father was a pharmacist, social worker, educator and philanthropist. He established several schools, including a school and college for girls who traditionally had been denied education. His accomplishments were great enough that the government issued a postage stamp bearing his likeness. He was a patriot and believed in a free and independent Bangladesh.

Once war broke out, my father knew his status as a pro-independence Hindu put him in the crosshairs. He sent our family to live in India. He refused to leave his motherland. The decision proved fatal.

At the time of his death, we were powerless to pursue justice. In the years following the war, Bangladesh’s founding father and leader of the independence movement was assassinated. Coups and counter-coups plunged our young, impoverished nation into chaos. Once the ICT started in 2009, our family finally found hope that justice might be done.

When the ICT took up Chowdhury’s case in 2012, I testified before the court: “I am such a helpless son that I could not even light the funeral pyre of my father.”

“We have waited an agonizing four decades for this trial,” I told the Dhaka media. “At long last, justice has been delivered.”

Chowdhury and men like him convicted by the ICT did horrific things in 1971. The passage of time and the elevation of some of the accused to high social and political status does not erase the sins of the past. Families such as the ours are receiving justice at long last. Critics of the ICT would do well to remember that.

Praphulla Ranjan Sinha is the son of a victim of war crimes committed during Bangladesh’s 1971 war of independence.


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