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Current Affairs
Diplomatic Discourse in Dhaka ----by Toby Cadman
Sunday, 12 June 2016

Slavery was officially ended in the U.S. on 6 December 1865, that being the date the 13thAmendment to the Constitution was ratified. The whole concept of slavery is now quite rightly an anathema to all, and no-one would seek to suggest that the U.S. is an enemy of the most basic human rights and fundamental freedom given its historical position.

Further to the above, one would not seek to suggest that the U.K. is the enemy of equality, on the basis that up until 1918 (if you were over the age of 30), and 1928 (for those over 21), women were prohibited from voting.

Yet, there are individuals in certain countries that would seek to suggest that because of a historically maintained position, the group espousing that position clearly must stand for it today.

Those same individuals would seek to advocate that the exercising of a democratic right, namely freedom of speech and expression, is enough to categorise the person in question as a nemesis.

To find favour with any of the above propositions defies all semblance of logic and reason, and yet, Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty of ‘Catchnews’ suggests these exact arguments, in the context of Bangladesh and the current International Crimes Tribunal.

On 15 May 2016, the article ‘Diplomatic row after Bangladesh hangs pro-Pak war criminal’ was published, and unfortunately, ignores the vast majority of well documented facts from a host of credible sources and continues to peddle pro-government rhetoric in a desperate attempt to justify and legitimise what will forever now be consigned as being the very antithesis of what a transitional justice process should be, and one directly comparable to the Stalinist show trials long ridiculed for their attempts to secure credibility.

The article focuses on the execution of Motiur Rahman Nizami, a senior leader of the Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami opposition political party, following a trial replete with fair trial and due process violations. The author seeks to suggest that “The evidence considered by the ICT was overwhelmingly in favour of the prosecution”.

In the first instance, this is wholly incorrect, as not one shred of evidence produced by the prosecution definitively proved Nizami’s involvement in any of the allegations; so flimsy was the prosecution case that the Chief Justice in the Supreme Court expressed significant concern that the case had not been proved to the appropriate criminal standard.

That issue aside, the author fails to acknowledge that the evidence produced was always to the benefit of the prosecution on the basis that the Defence were prevented from calling evidence to support their case, that they were prevented from challenging prosecution witnesses on previous inconsistencies and the evidence they adduced, and further, prosecution witnesses are alleged to have been coerced into giving evidence favourable to the State. It is of little wonder therefore that the prosecution case may appear strong to some. To draw an analogy, it is akin to knocking on an open door.

To raise legitimate questions over the trial process is not to question the legitimacy of an accountability mechanism in theory nor is it aimed at questioning the legitimacy of a sovereign nation born out of conflict. Any transitional mechanism that has accountability and reconciliation at its core is to be applauded. However, it is perfectly legitimate to raise concerns when such a mechanism is replete with political interference, judicial and prosecutorial misconduct, subordinating perjury and falsifying evidence. Further, when the process has become so infected with procedural irregularity, it is entirely proper that legitimate questions are raised and concerns made through diplomatic channels.

The article goes on to suggest that Jamaat is “ideologically committed to making Bangladesh a truly Islamic country”, again in ignorance, again ignoring the facts – namely the recently published manifesto by Jamaat that shows its commitment to democracy in no uncertain terms -, and again seeking to rehearse the rhetoric and propaganda of an anti-democratic and increasingly anti-secular government.

In this regard, however, the question must be raised as to whether the Jamaat political leaders are on trial for their alleged involvement in war crimes from 1971 or their purported ideological views in 2016.

The article descends further into farce when it seeks to suggest that Jamaat are merely acting as ‘proxy’ for Pakistan, and yet offers no evidence, merely suggesting that because of the pro-Pakistan position espoused in 1971, they must still therefore be pro-Pakistan to the detriment of Bangladesh as an independent state.

It is here where much of the current problems in Bangladesh lie. There is a refusal to accept amongst ardent government supporters that people, opinions, and policies evolve. The position being espoused is that because Jamaat opposed separation in 1971 and politically supported Pakistan, it must therefore adopt the same position now. This is complete nonsense, and ought to be seen as such. Jamaat does not seek to impose Sharia law, it seeks to ‘re-impose’ fundamental democratic principles and freedoms that have been systematically removed in Bangladesh since Sheikh Hasina Wajed took power in 2008 and launched upon a campaign of increasingly authoritarian rule.

The article descends further into absurdity in suggesting that reputable and recognised independent human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch, have been “lobbied by the Jamaat, fully utilising its deep pockets and the international Islamist network to question the credibility of the ICT”.

There is not one shred of evidence to support such contention of a widespread international conspiratorial campaign against the Government, and is merely an attempt to besmirch the good name of such groups and seek to divert attention away from the actual problem. In ignoring the conclusions of such groups and in the poor attempt to discredit them, the author puts himself, and the Bangladesh Government in such illustrious company as the Sisi regime in Egypt which is almost universally recognised as dictatorial, and one that also has the most appalling of records concerning human rights violations, by raising the conspiratorial argument.

The article affirms its farcical position when it suggests that “The UK has become the foremost haven for criminals from the sub-continent” and further, that “Embracing criminals and fugitives from all over the world is a big money-spinner for the UK”. This, one presumes, refers to the refusal of the UK Government to extradite an individual wanted to stand trial before the ICT who was subsequently tried in his absence and sentenced to death with no further right of appeal. In this regard the UK authorities, namely the Crown Prosecution Service, was quite right to refuse to act on an extradition request where the individual faced a flagrant denial of justice followed by the inevitability of the death sentence.

What this position does show, is how the UK Government is committed to the rule of law, it doesn’t seek to circumvent it on a political whim in an effort to further consolidate its power.

The rule of law isn’t a political tool, it stands alone, independent, and blind. Unfortunately, the same affliction of myopic vision appears to have struck many Awami League members and supporters, preventing them from seeing the reality of what it is that is happening.

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