Bangladesh: The fugitive war criminals

A crime remains a crime, whether committed yesterday or a 1000 years ago. Some are so barbarous that they are not easily forgotten by mankind and we need to show that the perpetrators of such evil face justice.

by Anwar A. Khan writes from Dhaka

( July 17, 2017, Dhaka, Sri Lanka Guardian) As time ticks onward, the atrocities committed by Al-Badr, Al-Shams and Razakar forces in collusion with Pakaistan’s army in Bangladesh in 1971 war are fading from living memory and into the pages of history books. Those direful criminals who are still surviving, and the mad regime of President Yahya Khan of erstwhile Pakistan are dying—and that means our hunt for the remaining free war criminals, particularly, the rest of dreaded Al-Badr force seems to come to an end, as some observers say so. Men responsible for some of the most heinous acts in history are dying free, and our time to bring them to justice is growing increasingly limited. But it is only fairly recently that the last, final push to bring the dreaded war criminals of our 1971 War to justice began, and it has largely been possible because of the hard-nosed initiatory of PM Hasina and some of her alliance partners.

International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) investigation agency coordinator Sanaul Haque is frustrated over the failure to arrest the fugitives accused or convicted of war crimes. “It’s not only us who are frustrated over the fugitives, some frustrations have affected the victims, case witnesses, and those demonstrating for a long time for war crimes trial,” Sanaul said. The ICT investigation agency has nothing else to do other than to remind police about the fugitives, because the investigators do not have the powers to arrest them. According to the ICT investigation agency, 22 of the 24 fugitive war crimes convicts have been condemned to death. Kishoreganj Razakar commander Gazi Abdul Mannan, died on December 19, 2016 while the rest are still on the run. The number of fugitives accused in cases under trial is 46 while 11 are absconding in cases under investigation. The total number of absconding war criminals or war crimes suspects is 81 which sound incredible.

We hear a great deal of political rhetoric about bringing back the persons accused in war crimes cases from abroad. But somehow it comes to people’s mind that there is a lack of coordination among the government departments. “I’m not saying there is a lack of sincerity,” said the ICT investigation agency coordinator. In his words, “Justice gets limited as only a symbol” when the sentence is not executed. “We’ve written to the government several times. The home ministry has formed a committee on the matter. Another committee was also formed at the Police Headquarters following a tribunal order. “The committee sits every three months and issues some reminder letters. That’s all,” he said. Bangladesh war crimes investigators blame police for failure to capture the fugitives. About the Gaibandha case, he said the six are accused on four counts of crimes like abduction, torture, loot, arson, forcing people to leave country, killing and genocide. The accused are Md. Abdul JabbarMandal, 86, Md. Jasisar Rahman alias ‘Khoka’, 64, Md. Abdul WahedMandal, 62, Md. Montaz Ali Bapari alias ‘Momtaz’, 68, Md Asgar Hossain Khan, 66, and Md. Ranju Mia, 59. All but Mia are absconding.

After the 1971 war, many fugitive Al-Badrs and their sympathisers made their way to abroad via the infamous ratlines organised by Pakistani agents, and a network of vilest and foxy rogue forces belonged to Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI). Many of these fugitives are who lived out their lives in anonymity in the country and abroad. Many survivours recall that these evil creatures were very active in the massacres, shooting men, women, children and brutally beating or murdering anyone who did not follow their commands. After the war, they went on the run, even changing their names and hiding at home and abroad. History speaks that some high-profile Nazi leaders, such as Adolf Eichmann, were finally tracked down and prosecuted, while others including the infamous doctor Josef Mengele evaded the law and died free men. Some JeI goons were tried and executed lawfully for their brutal roles in the massacre of our people, and the ghastly details of the cold-blooded slaughter shock the public. Sometimes the victims had been coldly led into in groups to be shot. As the massacre wore on, the Pakistani soldiers were also given alcohol to help them perform their grisly work, and some of the bodies clearly showed that their executions had been slow and painful as the Pakistani soldiers got drunk and sloppy as the day wore on.

People demand accountability for the runaway criminals of war crimes. This trial of the fleer war criminals should be streamlined to tightly begin and this will be unique in the annals of jurisprudence.

In the 46 years since 1971 War and the postwar trials that followed at different places of Bangladesh, many cruel beasts continued to escape prosecution for their role in the murder of some 3 million people, among other wartime atrocities. Some of them fled Europe, the United States, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, where they assumed new identities. As history marches on, and the pool of still-living Al-Badr force continues to shrink, the search for justice has become a race against time. Take a look at some of the “most wanted” JeI butchers who have been forced to face charges for their crimes in recent years, some who died before they could do so and some who still remain at large. According to the documents, many war criminals escaped to different overseas countries and the JeI murder machine aided them to find out the escape routes and for hiding.
There is also the hope that the mountain of documents may throw up the living fugitives. Md. Mujibur Rahman, a first batch trained guerilla warfare in the world famous Dehradhun Military Academy of India, added: “Each day that passes makes that less and less likely but I do not want people to say in the future that we did not try.” He and his compatriots believe the ICT Investigation Agency may also provide clues to these brutal criminals who sneaked back to the motherland to live out their days undetected. Of particular interest to the hunters are details of the so-called ‘rat lines’ – the escape routes out of a shattered Bangladesh after 1971 War that allowed so many murderers to escape on passports provided by their buddies. Many are under false names with a dark past.

Bangladesh was ruled by Zia, Ershad and Zia’s Begum in fascist-style military dictatorships that welcomed the brutal servants of neo-Nazism from abroad. Some say already we see something of a pattern in the way these criminals operated and are still operating. They almost always entered the country alone and sent for their families afterwards. Investigators hope that the files that they are having in possession will yield up cross references to the secret services of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, UK, USA…detailing names of intelligence agents who helped these war criminals. Further investigations have revealed that the remote hamlets of Bangladesh have become hideouts for many other mass murderers, many of whom are still living there. Those who survived, and neo-Hitler’s mad regime are dying—and that means our hunt for the remaining free war criminals is coming to an end. Men responsible for some of the most heinous acts in recent history are dying free, and our time to bring them to justice is growing increasingly limited.

Those seeking justice are making some unprecedented attempts to make sure that at least something is served. Kader Mollah’s conviction set an incredible precedent for prosecutions to follow. His case was the first where court found a person guilty on many accounts or evidence between the accused and specific crimes. Suddenly, that also meant that there was a precedent for pursuing others, especially those who had been stationed at the Al-Badr force’s death camps. Since the end of the War on 16th December 1971, Bangladesh has been on the hunt to nab the war criminals that were responsible for millions of deaths. Till today, and though the number of still surviving JeI criminals is shrinking, the ICT focuses on bringing justice to those criminals. When the former Cambodian dictator Pol Pot died in 1998, people around the world were outraged. As the leader of the murderous Khmer Rouge regime, Pol Pot was the person most responsible for the slaughter of millions in Cambodia’s infamous “killing fields.” At the very least, he deserved to die in prison. Yet news reports showed his corpse lying in peaceful repose against a lush tropical forest. Imagine if Hitler, after orchestrating the Holocaust, had been allowed to retire to a cabin in the Bavarian Alps… Was it appropriate that Golam Azam, the supremo of Al-badr gangster should be honoured with a lavish funeral?

Thankfully, the amnesty does not hold forever for somewhere in the world. Beginning in 2007, many former Khmer Rouge leaders were ordered to stand trial for crimes against humanity. Among them was Ieng Sary, who had been Pol Pot’s foreign minister. Mengele may be the most infamous Nazi doctor, but Aribert Heim, “the Butcher of Mauthausen,” was every bit as sadistic. Notorious for his cruel experiments, Heim was known to take pleasure in conversing amicably with his victims immediately before injecting gasoline into their hearts,” and “displayed baked decapitated heads as paperweights on his desk.” But while Heim of Nazi Germany and many Al-Badr gangsters of our 1971 war escaped punishment for their crimes, that doesn’t mean we should despair just yet. In today’s increasingly connected world, it’s getting harder and harder for wanted war criminals to simply slip off the radar. The saga might just have a happy ending after all. While he was on the run, a Spanish court indicted Montano for the murder of the Spanish Jesuits. In April 2015, the US Justice Department agreed to begin proceedings aimed at extraditing him to Spain. It is expected to be a fairly straightforward process. So, while Montano has so far avoided prosecution for his crimes in El Salvador, he is now facing justice. The arc of the moral universe may be long, but we’ll get there in the end.

To our utter shame, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, UK, USA… have been safe havens for the 1971 war criminals of Bangladesh. Jurisdiction to prosecute many war criminals, are still living in these countries. It is a dismal failure. So true! Time is running out at a frightful speed to round up the last of the scum. They are dying of old age and other silly reasons, never paying for what they have done. The governments of those countries are at times responsible for some of the worst scum coming over to us and living charmed and affluent lives. That is rather sick. If a lion mauls a kid, it is shot there and then. Not send off to entertain people in a zoo or used for breeding. Shot! The victims’ families of Bangladesh are silenced, but still screaming, calling for the world to bring their killers to justice. The cries of the victims of war crimes and mass slayings rise up in places all around the country. In country after country, as the bones of victims are unearthed, the question of justice is raised. In courtrooms in Bangladesh, Africa, The Hague, the United States and elsewhere, the answer is to bring the perpetrators to trial. Those seeking justice are making some unprecedented attempts to make sure that at least something is served. But these cruel beasts were and are clearly unapologetic. They even said, “The children . . . they’re not the enemy at the moment. The enemy is the blood inside them.” And so, they shot them to death.

Since the end of the 1971 war, people have been on the hunt to nab the criminals that were responsible for millions of deaths around the country. Soon after the war, as said earlier, most of these criminals fled their homes and took refuge in Pakistan, UK, the US, Saudi Arabia and some other countries adopting a pseudonym as well as lying about their past. The men were responsible for the killings of 3 million people in Bangladesh in 1971, many cities reduced to rubble, families torn apart … The 1971 War caused unprecedented hardship. Everyone involved in the abduction was playing a high-stakes game of deception. As the decades roll by, there are fewer and fewer 1971 war criminals left alive to track down. Many of the notorious fugitive war criminals fled to…. After the war, they were among those who carved out new lives in… Golam Azam, the “Angel of Death,” was hiding in UK. It was the military dictator Zia who brought him back to Bangladesh. This JeI Chief Golam Azam, the gang-supremo of Al-Badr force died in his late 90s without bearing due punishment which is all the more surprising. He died, but the ghosts are still here. Hitler’s notorious associate, Eichmann said, “I never found any pleasure in shooting to kill. I think the man who can look through the sights of his rifle into the eyes of a deer and then kill it is a man without a heart in his body. I thanked God that in the war I had not been made the actual instrument of killing anybody.” Such was the magnitude of Eichmann’s self delusion. He would continue to deny his role as an instrument of slaughter for the rest of his life. But for the time being he had his own pelt to save. “I was the quarry now’, he acknowledged” writes historian Guy Walters.

The scores of war criminals went into hiding and attempted to flee the country. This was not difficult, given the chaos and confusion that followed the end of the war of 1971. But how could so many criminals manage to go unpunished, even though they were clearly guilty? It is a conundrum that mystifies academics to this day. Was it because of the lack of cooperation by the concerned government departments and officials? The lack of interest on the part of some people of the government machineries! Were there even secret ties and collaboration between some people on both sides? It is not hard for this coalition to torpedo the hunt for the war criminals. But countless players — in politics, the judiciary, the government and the administration — have to work together in order to arrange and execute successful criminal prosecutions. Indeed, a small mistake or minor procedural irregularity is enough to foil the arrest of the criminals. Some findings may confirm that it neglected to forcefully pursue murderers for decades.

The notorious “Butchers, Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin and Ashrafuzzaman Khan, convicted for death sentences by Bangladesh’s International Crimes Tribunals, have been living in the safe heavens of UK and USA since long under the cloak of the so-called human rights and freedom of speech of those advanced countries and clearly within the knowledge of governments of those countries. But the Bangladesh government has been failing in its endeavours to bring them back to Bangladesh to face justice because of obstructions by both the UK and USA governments. Every war criminal is known as “the most dangerous man in Bangladesh.” After all, it took not many men to run the death camps, conduct ghastly experiments and exterminate millions of people. But despite their buddies’ complicity in covering for some war criminals, the hunt for fleeing the war criminals continues. And it continues to this day. But more than 45 years after the war, there are many criminals still at large? At least, many people believe so.

Al-Badr high-ups, “the architect of the Holocaust” in 1971 in Bangladesh escaped from arresting, remained both hiding and were at large because of willful patronisation of them by the wretched military dictators, Zia and Ershad and then by a charwoman voyeur politician for more than 4 decades before being captured. Some observers believe the documents would shed embarrassing additional light on those thuggish collusions on the “ratlines,” an already proven postwar operation to protect the 1971 war criminals. The truth is much more ordinary, almost mundane. It is all the more shocking as a result. Someone so notorious could not be protected forever. Eichmann was eventually tracked down in Argentina by Israeli intelligence, kidnapped, tried and executed in Jerusalem in 1962. The Bangladesh ICT trials again have resurrected unsavory memories of Bangladesh’s fascist past. During the 1971 War, many were butchered by the … using medieval methods. “Eyes had been gouged out, limbs severed, intestines and other internal organs ripped from the bodies of the living. Some were slaughtered like beasts, their throats cut from ear to ear with special knives. Others died from blows to their heads with sledgehammers. Many more were simply burnt alive.”

God’s Word has never failed. It cannot fail. Knowing this should fill us with real hope. Obviously God must resurrect most of those billions of people who have lived in the past to teach them this awesome truth. That too is prophesied. The ultimate shocker today is not about the “ratlines.” The most mind-numbing shocker is how gullible people are about Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, UK, USA…! By words or events, God is about to awaken men from their spiritual coma. God’s law of love is the way of unselfish concern for the good and welfare of others. God was so concerned about the welfare and future of others! God is a people person! Danforth writes, “That is the first principle that I want thoroughly to fix in your mind—that life is a four-sided affair—that your daring programme is going to lead you into physical adventures, mental adventures, social adventures, spiritual adventures. You have not one, but four lives to live—a four-fold opportunity to grow. … To find new capacities within you is not robbing you of any pleasure. It is bringing new treasures into every waking hour. It is helping you touch life at all angles, absorb strength from all contacts, pour out power on all fronts. And here is another interesting thing. The more you pour out, the more you find to pour.”

The fugitive war criminals – bring them back alive, wherever they be found, to obtrude due punishment to them lawfully. Bangladesh’s people have been marching for 46 years for justice. People everywhere are eager to see the long arm of justice reach them. We understand the concerns of those affected. However, we cannot waver from the principles of the rule of law. Otherwise we would lose all credibility. Impunity is the enemy of peace. Accountability is essential to preventing atrocities from taking place in the future. We are putting all those who would violate these simple principles on notice: Their days are numbered. Now, to all of you here who have helped push for action and let’s renew our commitment to bring every war criminal to justice. Onward. Let us make efforts to make the world recognise mass murder as an international crime.

Age is not a ‘get out of jail free card’ for crimes committed against the human race. Time does not forgive mass murder and genocide. Bring the fleer war criminals back alive to justice because the punishment is not over as yet. Let it not be history now.

People demand for accountability for the runaway criminals of war crimes. This trial of the fleer war criminals should be streamlined to tightly begin and this will be unique in the annals of jurisprudence. The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant, and so devastating that civilisation cannot tolerate their being ignored because it cannot survive their being repeated. “Say I slew them not.’ And the Queen replied, ‘Then say they were not slain. But dead they are…’ If you were to say of these men that they are not guilty, it would be as true to say that there has been no war, there are no slain, there has been no crime.” Bangladesh has not put an end to the trial of genocide. Crimes against humanity are with us still because of the fugitive war criminals. Great crimes do deserve great punishment and delivering that punishment in an effective and consistent way is far from easy. It may uncomfortably reminds us, far from the high politics and learned legal debates are thousands of victims of 1971 war in Bangladesh, lost in their grim memories and struggling to live on a fraction of what ICT lawyers and officials earn. Government has a responsibility to ensure, and be seen to ensure, justice and the rights of the individual. Time can never erase the effect of any crime, nor nullify the responsibility of the individual criminal. If you think that past crimes should not be punished then it must follow that prisoners should not be in jail serving sentences for past crimes. If you feel that certain people should be left alone because they are old then you should release all those aged prisoners who committed despicable crimes.

A crime remains a crime, whether committed yesterday or a 1000 years ago. Some are so barbarous that they are not easily forgotten by mankind and we need to show that the perpetrators of such evil face justice. Yes. The truth of those responsible for planning and executing these crimes must come to light for us to be able to move forward. Official recognition must be given that people have been victims of a planned strategy to systematically eliminate them and their dignity. These people should be brought to justice and made to acknowledge their crimes publicly. The only question that should be discussed is how hard these people should be punished for those crimes. Until these people are made to publicly face up and accept the evil of what they did then there is nothing they can be forgiven for. We cannot learn from history if the truth is not disclosed. The ICT in Bangladesh shows one way in which the crimes can be acknowledged and condemned whilst showing a level of humanity and forgiveness with the perpetrators.

Let’s make this more personal… If it were your family who was killed by this alleged criminal, how would you feel? Would time matter? There should be no statute of limitations for crimes like this. These old fugitive men should pay the price for all the bad deeds they have done, so that nobody dares to repeat the same crimes again in future. Let’s live in harmony with each other forever. Justice must be served. If yes, then they should be punished. War is not an excuse to kill innocent civilians. Yes, a criminal must always be made to answer for his or her crimes, regardless of how long ago they were committed. The message should be crystal clear to all those that would commit the inhuman crimes that these men are accused of – committed the crimes and there is nowhere you can hide and no time limit on bringing you to justice. Any person, who has committed crimes as serious as these, should stand trial. They have managed to live to an old age; their victims never had the same opportunity. Justice should not have a time limit. We must be very careful when we talk about forgiveness. The rule of law should be applied evenly and fairly. If there is sufficient evidence to provide a reasonable likelihood of conviction they must stand before the courts, regardless of their age.

To allow people impunity for their actions merely due to the passage of time is ridiculous. Who draws the line? Is somebody guilty until some magic arbitrary day when “it’s history” and no longer matters? It will always matter, and to say it doesn’t is to let these people win. They will laugh at our weakness. What has age got to do with the crime? They can always be pardoned after they have been tried and found guilty. Crime cannot go unpunished. Why should we let these people live out their lives in peace when the people who they tortured and murdered died without peace. Crime is crime, just because it takes us a long time to catch some criminals, there should be no exceptions based on age either young or old. There should be absolutely no opportunity for criminals of this magnitude to escape prosecution. In the case of Nazi war criminals, have we forgotten that six million innocent people were slaughtered by these monsters? There were no age restrictions in the gas chamber, and there should not be any now.
A crime against humanity has to remain that – a crime against the whole of humanity and therefore we all have to stand up for the names of our murdered brethren “humanity”. Maybe this is a time to remind everyone, especially those who want these alleged criminals to go free, that there are numerous suspected criminals living in this country as well as in foreign countries guilty of involvement in the Genocides in Bangladesh in 1971. Let them see we will stand up for humanity even if our parents failed to bring justice promptly which would have been admittedly a better example to all. Crime is crime; criminals are criminals, what’s more basic than that? If they committed the crime, they should do the time. They committed crimes, and no matter their age they deserve the punishment for their actions. If they are guilty of the crimes they are accused of then without doubt they should be punished. Age is not a ‘get out of jail free card’ for crimes committed against the human race. Time does not forgive mass murder and genocide. Bring the fleer war criminals back alive to justice because the punishment is not over as yet. Let it not be history now.

Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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