NEW DELHI: Asian Centre for Human Rights in its report, “Bangladesh: Polarisation, Political Violence & an Undeclared Civil War” (http://www.achrweb.org/reports/bangla/Bangladesh2015-01.pdf), released today stated that about 90 people have been killed and more than a thousand were injured in the ongoing violent anti-government protests by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) led 20-party alliance demanding resignation of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League Government and holding of mid-term elections under a neutral caretaker government since 5 January 2015.
The Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) expressed serious concerns against the use of repressive, excessive and illegal means such as torture, and enforced disappearance by the security forces and detention of over 7,000 opposition political activists by the government. ACHR called upon the Awami League government to bring an end to human rights violations and establish accountability.
ACHR also condemned insurgent style tactics of the protesters to target civilians and reminded the BNP led opposition alliance that the Rome Statue of International Criminal Court (ICC) ratified by Bangladesh in 2010 apply to the opposition political parties and the ICC’s intervention following post-election violence in Kenya in 2007 demonstrates that political parties cannot escape from the command responsibility for many crimes defined in the ICC statute.
“The BNP is not a nondescript, marginalised, or scattered opposition or non-State actor. It is one of Bangladesh’s two main political parties and has held power from 1991-1996 and 2001 to 2007. Its call for free and fair elections is also aimed at coming to power once again through a credible democratic process. The BNP must take all measures to stop violence against civilians, including by those who profess to be its supporters.” – stated ACHR.
ACHR further stated that “a midterm election as the only solution espoused by the BNP is unlikely to deliver either good democratic practice or reduce current levels of violence. Indeed, it is likely to worsen the situation. Bangladesh has reached a point of no return with respect to the unfinished civil warbetween the AL, which sees itself as the sole custodian of Bangladesh’s freedom struggle, and the Jamaat-e-Islami (Jamaats) which had a role in war crimes while opposing the independence of Bangladesh.”
“Rights violations will continue unchecked and the violence will worsen as long as there is no acknowledgement, leave alone resolution, of what is in effect a civil war between the AL, which has freely used state security and justice systems for political ends, and the Jamaat-e-Islami, which wields influence disproportionate to its size and maintains the capacity and willingness to inflict organised violence on civilians.”- further asserted ACHR.
ACHR urged the BNP to play a key role to prevent the violence spiraling out of control by reinventing itself, behaving responsibly, calling off the on-going strike and severing relations with the Jamaat-e-Islami.
The report states that the ongoing crisis is not just another episode in the long-running “battle of the begums” between AL’s Sheikh Hasina and BNP’s Khaleda Zia, or simply a manifestation of the country’s immature democratic culture. The recent polarisation in the Bangladeshi polity relates to the deep rooted conflict over the events and significance of the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War.
The civil war between the AL- led liberation forces of Bangladesh and the leaders and cadres of the Jamaat-e-Islami, which opposed the division of Pakistan had never actually ended. During the liberation war in 1971, members of the Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan in what was then East Pakistan collaborated with the Pakistani Army. They formed and joined paramilitary forces such as the Razakar and Al-Badr and participated in mass murder, including of Bengali nationalists and pro-liberation intellectuals, and in what has come to be described as the systematic rape of women. After independence or liberation, as it is known in Bangladesh, Jamaat-e-Islami was banned and its leaders went into exile in Pakistan.
The Parliament of Bangladesh enacted the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act, 1973 (Act No. XIX of 1973) to provide for the detention, prosecution and punishment of persons responsible for committing genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and other crimes under international law but the Act could not be implemented.
After Mujibur Rahman was assassinated on 15 August 1975, among others, for the alleged subjugation of Bangladesh under the Indo-Bangladesh friendship treaty, the relationship between Dhaka and New Delhi – an important factor in determining the political balance of power in the country – went into a deep freeze. General Ziaur Rahman, who had seized power, lifted the ban on the Jamaats in 1978 to align Bangladesh with Pakistan and to some extent with the United States. A new party, Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh was formed. In the 1980s, the Jamaats joined the multi-party alliance for the restoration of democracy and later allied with Ziaur Rahman’s BNP. The unfinished civil war remained dormant during the military dictatorship from 1975 to 1990.
Following the return of democracy in 1990, the demand for trial of the 1971 war criminals resurfaced again under the leadership of the “Ekattorer Ghatak-Dalal Nirmul Committee” (Committee to Eliminate the Traitors and Agents of 1971). The Committee established a “Ghano Adalat“, or People’s Court, in March 1992 to conduct mock-trials of those who were thought to have committed crimes against humanity in the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. The BNP, an alliance partner of the Jamaat-e-Islami, was not expected to take any measures during its rule from 1990-1996 but the AL which came to power in 1996 also ignored the issue.
There was no change in the politics surrounding war crimes accusations between 1996 and 2010 to warrant opening of the old wounds through the War Crimes Tribunals. However, the massacre of the Bangladesh Army officers deputed to the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) at the BDR Headquarters at Pilkhana, Dhaka on 25 February 2009 changed existing relationships between the political parties and the army, the power behind the throne in Dhaka, in favour of the AL for the first time since the 1975 coup d’état and assassination of Mujibur Rahman. This created the space for the AL to constitute the war crimes tribunals by amending theInternational Crimes (Tribunals) Act, 1973 to try the leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami, not only for their involvement in war crimes but to meet the political ends of the AL. The Jamaats have attempted to marginalise, if not eliminate the AL from Bangladesh, through an unsuccessful assassination attempt on Sheikh Hasina in a grenade attack on 21 August 2004 and the assassination of the AL’s former Finance Minister SAM Shamsul Kibria in another such attack on 27 January 2005. Both these incidents took place under the BNP rule.
In the aftermath of the Pilkhana massacre, the AL government decided to take the Jamaat leaders out of circulation. In effect, the AL leaders were setting out to inflict on Jamaat leaders what they feared would be their own fate.