Venue: Liberation War Museum, Agargaon
My Cabinet Colleague Mr. Asaduzaman Noor, MP and Trustee of the Liberation War Museum,
Other members of the Trustees of Liberation War Museum,
Visiting dignitaries and experts:
Judge Carlos Rozanski-Argentina
Professor Adam Jones-Canada
Professor Daniel Feierstein- Argentina
Dr. Helen Jarvis-Cambodia
Professor Alexander Hinton-USA
Trudy H Peterson-USA, she was the Tenth Archivist of the United States, 1993—1995. She was the first woman to hold the position of Acting Archivist of the United State
Siegfried Otmar Wolf- Germany
Dr. Katharina Hoffmann- Germany
Hafid Abbas-Indonesia and
Antara Ghatak- India
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Assalamualaikum, Adab and good afternoon to you all!
I am so happy to be here at the newly built Liberation War Museum at Agargaon, Dhaka. This building is a culmination of the efforts of the Museum along with the Governmentof Bangladesh led by Bangabandhu’s daughter, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the people of Bangladesh. I take this opportunity to extend my congratulations to the Trustees of the Museum and everybody associated with this monumental work.
I also welcome all other foreign friends who have come here today.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As you all know after Bangladesh became independent our Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman returned home after his release from captivity in Pakistan under a sentence of death and became the Prime Minister of his dear motherland- Bangladesh.
Bangabandhu started on the gigantic task of the reconstruction and rebuilding of a war ravaged country. At the same time he also took up the work of translating his dream of ‘Golden Bengal’ for which he had fought during his entire life. As things were taking shape Bangabandhu and 18 members of his family were brutally assassinated in the night of 15th August 1975.
During his short tenure of three and half years he had also started the work of bringing the perpetrators of war crimes and the crimes against humanity to justice. After his departure from the scene the ideals of the glorious Liberation War were thrown overboard and Bangladesh started going backwards. Among the family members of Bangabandhu only his two daughters escaped death as they were abroad. Bangabandhu’s elder daughter Sheikh Hasina and our Prime Minister today had gone to Germany to visit her husband Dr. M A Wajed Mia, a leading nuclear scientist who was doing post-Doctoral research at a university there. She was accompanied by her younger sister Sheikh Rehana.
Following Bangabandhu’s death his two daughters were not allowed to return to Bangladesh and became refugees abroad. Sheikh Hasina finally came to Bangladesh on 17th May 1981 after having been elected as President of Awami League party while still abroad. We observed the 36th anniversary of her ‘home coming’ only three days ago.After her return Sheikh Hasina started her long journey for restoration of (in her words) “People’s right to vote and right to food”.
Following a long struggle by the people under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina the second military dictatorship was finally brought down and election for a new Parliament took place. In 1991 following the election, Sheikh Hasina became the leader of the opposition in the parliament. In the election of 1996 Sheikh Hasina became the Prime Minister for the first time and introduced new ideas in socioeconomic development including social safety nets for the various categories of disadvantaged people including distressed women especially in rural areas. Sheikh Hasina also restored the basic principles of the Liberation War including a place of honour for the freedom fighters. She also started the trials of the killers of the Father of the Nation and his family.
In the words of New York Times correspondent who came to witness the trials of the killers of Bangabandhu in Dhaka, “With the start of this trial Bangladesh has finally become a nation under law”. However with the change of government in 2001 the trial which was pending before the highest court of the land was not allowed to be completed. This was done after Sheikh Hasina returned to power following the election held on 29th of December 2008 and the perpetrators were finally dealt with according to the law of the land. Before this election, in 2008, Sheikh Hasina had promised to bring the local collaborators/perpetrators of the Pakistan occupation forces to justice.
In March 2010, the Government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina established the International Crimes Tribunal, Bangladesh (ICT-BD) to end the culture of impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators, uphold the rule of law and bring justice to the victims and their families traumatized by their experience.
The ICT-BD had been formed on the basis of the International Crimes Tribunals Act, 1973 which preceded the international tribunals in former Yugoslavia, Cambodia or Rwanda by decades. The two tribunals currently operating have been established in pursuance of the principle of complementarity recognised by the Rome Statute. They have set a new paradigm in international criminal justice system by trying internationally defined mass atrocity crimes through domestic courts under a domestic legislation.
The ICT Act, 1973 accommodates and adheres to relevant international standards to ensure due process and fairness of the trials and the rights of the defendants. The Tribunals including the Judges, prosecution and investigation teams are fully independent of the Executive. Going beyond the scope of the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials or other international tribunals, the ICT Act, 1973 allows the verdicts of the tribunals to be appealed against at the apex court of the land (Supreme Court of Bangladesh).
The entire Nation has today heaved a sigh of relief that the main perpetrators have now been brought to justice and dealt with accordingly. In this connection, I refer to European Parliament resolution of 2014, which inter alia stated “...Acknowledges that, despite its considerable shortcomings, the International Crimes Tribunal has played an important role in providing redress and closure for victims of and those affected by the Bangladeshi war of independence;”
I may also recall that US Ambassador-at-Large for War Crime Issues Mr. Stephan J Rapp paid a number of visits to Bangladesh at the invitation of Bangladesh government and following his last visit in August, 2014 Mr. Rapp lauded the judges for being able to discharge their jobs “without pressure, without politics, without threats”. “… the best way in the world to find the truth is the judicial process where the evidence is presented, where witnesses are cross-examined, where both sides have an opportunity to be heard and that is what is being done here [Bangladesh]. It is the process that the American government strongly supports,” he said.
“These are historic cases,” Rapp said. The trials of war criminals are important for the survivors of the horrible crimes that happened during the war and it is extremely important that these trials have begun and were done well. “They [trials] are also important for the entire world because what happens in every country when people face up to the past and reveal the truth also sends the signals to others.”
In the course of the trial, some of the judges had been threatened and even their houses had been attacked but they continued serving, Rapp said, adding, “It's so important that the judges are able to do their job without pressure and politics. I very much salute their service and courage.”
I would also refer to the statement by Paulo Casaca, Founder of South Asia Democratic Forum, “I personally oppose the death penalty. In this case, however, the question is whether or not the crimes of which the accused have been convicted deserve the maximum penalty allowed under the law. In this regard, my position is definitely ‘yes’”.
We in Bangladesh expect that the international community would consider the larger canvass of these trials, and not just see them through the narrow prism of the nature of penalties handed down to those convicted. Considering the socio-political fabric of Bangladesh, we have reasons to believe that retributive justice for the horrific crimes committed would help pave the way for restorative justice and reconciliation in the long run.
Most importantly, as we continue with our efforts in this direction, we must also remain sensitized to the international accountability that we, as a nation, have voluntarily subjected ourselves to by becoming a Party to the Rome Statute on the International Criminal Court. It is, therefore, only expected of all of us to refrain from any acts of brinkmanship that may jeopardise our national peace, stability and security.
In Bangladesh, the National Parliament on 11 March 2017 adopted a unanimous resolution to observe March 25 as the National Genocide Day. Remembrance is intrinsically related to rendering justice to victims and reconcilliation. We have a duty to remember-this is a social, moral and ethical imperative.
Remembering the victims of genocide and the crimes committed in the past must contribute to our understanding of the present and guide our actions in the future. Acknowledging past genocides, addressing the consequences and fulfilling the rights of the victims not only dignifies the victims, it also represents our willingness not to let these crimes be repeated.
Owing to the efforts made by the Liberation War Museum and others, the people of Bangladesh had never allowed the horrific crimes of 1971 to escape their collective memory, even in an environment of impunity. Our long, arduous struggle to rebuild a war-ravaged country has inspired us to contribute to UN Peacekeeping Operations in different parts of the world in lead numbers. The tribulations suffered by our refugees in 1971 have guided us to play hosts for decades to those fleeing from fear and persecution, particularly from the contiguous territories across our borders in the South East.
In the same spirit, we wish to remain engaged in contributing to the evolving discourse on prevention of genocides and mass atrocity crimes. In March-April 2014, I had the opportunity to reiterate this point at the International Conference on Prevention of Genocides held in Brussels. During that Conference, we had expressed our interest in aligning with the work of the recently launched platform of the Global Action against Mass Atrocity Crimes (GAAMAC).I am delighted to find that GAAMAC is holding a roundtable session here onRoundtable session: How can ‘dealing with the past’ contribute to preventing the recurrence of atrocities: What can and should we do?”
on 21st May.
[With in-person and online participation of
Mô Bleeker, Special Envoy, on Dealing with the Past and Prevention of Atrocities, Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs FDFA
Chhay Visoth, Director, Tuol Sleng Museum
Hafid Abbas, Commissioner, National Commission on Human Rights, Indonesia
Mofidul Hoque, Co-founder and Trustee, Liberation War Museum
Alex Hinton, Professor and Director of the Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights, Rutgers University, Newark, NJ, USA
Dr. Helen Jarvis – a renowned academician who also served as the Chief of the Public Affairs Section of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC)]
We strongly believe that the messages of prevention, prosecution and memorialisation of genocides need to be resonated through all regions and continents of the World. As part of its foreign policy pursuits, Bangladesh would remain invested in doing its part in the Asia Pacific context, and in the world stage in general to drive home the message of ‘never, never and never again’ in relation to genocides and mass atrocity crimes.
With these few words, I declare the 5th International Conference on Bangladesh Genocide and Justice- open and wish it’s all success.
I thank you all.
Joy Bangla, Joy Bangabandhu.
European Parliament Resolution of 16 January 2014 on recent elections in Bangladesh (2014/2516(RSP))
The European Parliament,
1. Strongly condemns the killings and widespread violence which erupted throughout
the country in the run-up to and during the January 2014 elections, especially attacks on religious and cultural minorities and other vulnerable groups; expresses serious concern at the paralysis of everyday life in Bangladesh on account of strikes and blockades and the confrontation between the two political camps;
6. Believes that, in the interest of Bangladesh’s future, parties having a democratic reputation need to develop a culture of mutual respect; urges the BNP to unequivocally distance itself from Jamaat-e-Islami and Hafezat-e-Islam;
7. Stresses that parties which turn to terrorist acts should be banned;
8. Acknowledges that, despite its considerable shortcomings, the International Crimes Tribunal has played an important role in providing redress and closure for victims of and those affected by the Bangladeshi war of independence;
European Parliament Resolution of 18 September 2014 on human rights violations in Bangladesh (2014/2834(RSP))
The European Parliament,
1. Commends the Government of Bangladesh for the progress made towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals, which has resulted in significant real-life improvements for millions of its citizens; further acknowledges the fact that these
improvements were made under difficult domestic circumstances, including the constant threat of violent attacks by radical groups such as the BNP-affiliated Jamaat-e Islami party; welcomes, in this connection, the adoption of the Child Marriage Prevention Act on 15 September 2014;
4. ... strongly condemns violent attacks by opposition groups against both civilian and government targets; calls on opposition groups to engage only in peaceful protests;