Foreign Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence from Sujit Sen


In 1971, during the liberation war of Bangladesh, there were widespread killings of the civilians and other atrocities were carried out by the occupying Pakistani forces and their local collaborators. Towards the end of the war, sections of the intellectual community were murdered, allegedly by the local collaborators of the Pakistani army.

Military Crackdown, Torture & Violations Attributed to Pakistani Forces and the Local Bengali Collaborators

Following 25 March “crack-down” on the Bengali political opposition. The army targeted students and university professors. During the Bangladesh War a number of local Islamist groups, namely Jamaat-e-Islam, Nezam-e-Islam and the Muslim League, collaborated with the Pakistani military junta opposing the independence of Bangladesh.

In the final days of the war between 3–16 December, the Pakistani army and the local collaborating auxiliary forces, in particular the Al Badr group, reportedly tortured and killed hundreds of members of the Bengali intelligentsia, particularly university teachers and journalists.

The Pakistani military used a wide range of torture methods. Victims’ and eye-witness’ accounts refer to both mental and physical torture including severe beatings, often with objects, such as bamboo sticks or iron rods; hanging from the ceiling upside down; electric shocks on all parts of the body including the genitals; piercing needles into the nail or uprooting nails; forcing victims to lie on slabs of ice and burning the skin with cigarettes. In a number of cases, the torture was so severe that it resulted in the death of the victims.

Many women were raped by Pakistani armed forces and auxiliary forces under cover of military operations, and indeed, several high-ranking officers were accused of rape and other sexual crimes. Despite the widespread practice, it appears that the army took no effective steps to stop it.1

The UN Human Rights Commission in its 1981 report on the occasion of the 33rd anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNHRC) stated that the genocide committed in Bangladesh in 1971 was the worst in history. The UNHRC report said even if a lower range of 1.5 million deaths was taken killings took place at a rate of between 6,000–12,000 per day, through the 267 days of genocide.


The trial of alleged collaborators and the perpetrators responsible for murder, rape, loot and arson during the War of Liberation was started by the first government of the country, headed by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

After the surrender of Pakistani forces, Bangladesh’s independence leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, on release from Pakistani prison, flew back to Dhaka on 10 January 1972. On the issue of war crimes Sheikh Mujib stated on American Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), “I will definitely put them on trial. Can any country free those who have killed three million people?” More than 37,000 people were arrested for the atrocities, most belonged to the fundamentalist groups like the Jamaat-e-Islam, under the Bangladesh Collaborators (Special Tribunal) Act, 1972 (enacted on 24 January 1972).

The first amendment to the constitution in 1973 provided further legal backing for the introduction of special laws allowing the trial of persons charged with genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and other crimes under the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act, 1973.

After the assassination of Bangladesh’s founder Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975, various governments since then were unwilling or were unable to prosecute or punish perpetrators of war crimes, though recently (2008) the caretaker government arrested Nizami, the chief of Jamaat-e-Islam on charges of corruption, not war crimes.2

In addition to political unwillingness the reluctance to prosecute war criminals could relate to the fact that the civil administration has been infiltrated by the Islamists. According to Prof Abul Barakat of Dhaka University, amongst the the recent appointments of 375 judges, 211 were activists of Shibir, the youth wing of Jammat-e-Islami and one third of 300 university lecturers were Islamists. It is also said the Jamaat-e-Islami have infiltrated the army, police and other law enforcing agencies. They have set up their own NGOs providing social service similar to Hamas and Hezbollah operating in Palestine and Lebanon. Furthermore, Jamaat-e-Islami also has powerful allies in the Middle East.

Recent Developments

Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International on a visit to Bangladesh in 2008 mentioned the possibility of war criminals from the 1971 conflict being tried. Irene Khan believes the chances are good, because there’s been an international movement, an anti-impunity movement happening in Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone. Amnesty International proposed to the Bangladesh government to ask for UN assistance to set up a commission of inquiry.3

Following that in April 2008 Bangladesh’s Foreign Adviser Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury informed UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of a “popular sentiment” for involving the UN in the process for trying war criminals of Bangladesh’s Liberation War in 1971. Calling on the UN secretary general at the UN Headquarters in New York Iftekhar informed the Secretary General that there is a growing demand for the trial of the war criminals. The Army Chief and the Caretaker Government’s Chief Adviser also expressed the need for the trials to begin.

The issue of trying the war criminals had been discussed in various international forums including the UN Human Rights Commission but this is the first time in 37 years since Bangladesh’s independence that the government officially informed the top UN official of the demand. Sheikh Hasina’s government has already sought and got the assistance of four UN experts and is moving as per a resolution passed by parliament in February 2009.4

The United Nations said that some of its top war crimes experts would advise Bangladesh on how to try those accused of murder and rape during its bloody 1971 liberation struggle. “We have suggested the names of some top international experts who have experience in how war crimes tribunals operate across the globe,” head of the United Nations in Bangladesh, Renata Lok Dessallien, told AFP. “This is the first time Bangladesh is conducting war crimes tribunals and it is important it understands how other countries have held them. There are some countries where mistakes were made and we don’t want Bangladesh to repeat those mistakes.” Bangladesh’s Law Minister Shafiq Ahmed welcomed the move, and said, “The UN will advise us so that the process is transparent and does not create any questions.”

On hearing UN’s assistance to the current Bangladesh government effort to investigate & prosecute crimes against humanity and other serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law committed in 1971 Irene Khan said, “I hope that the initiative to seek UN assistance to address the 1971 war crimes marks the beginning of a process to heal the wounds of this war in the national psyche.”5

European Parliament Resolution on Bangladesh

Furthermore, prior to this the European Parliament passed a resolution on Bangladesh on 13 April 2005 expressing its support for the demand of the trial of secular and Muslim political forces in Bangladesh known to have participated in the massacre of Bangladeshi citizens and other war crimes during the Bangladeshi liberation war of 1971.6

On 7 July 2008 another resolution was adopted by the European Union tabled by Jean Lambert on behalf of the Green/EFA group which stated, “applauds the Bangladesh government for banning former war criminals from standing in elections and calls on it to follow up on this positive step by forming an independent inquiry commission so as to initiate the trial of war criminals”.

The present Bangladesh government is seeking European Union’s assistance in its effort to initiate war crimes trials.7

UK Connection

The Bangladeshi Islamists Jamaati-e-Islami in the UK, Germany, Italy & France have been operating under various charities and religious organisations such as the YMO (founded in 1975), Dawatul Islam (formed in 1978), Islamic Forum Europe (IFE) founded in 1989, MCB, Muslim Aid, and the East London Mosque with its new extension, the London Muslim Centre.

Soon after the independence of Bangladesh in 1971 some of the alleged Jamaati war criminals fled Bangladesh and took refuge in various Arab countries, Pakistan and the UK. A Channel 4 Dispatches programme aired on 1995 exposed such three alleged war criminals. These alleged war criminals can be tried in the UK under the jurisdiction of 1957 Geneva Convention and under the 1988 Criminal Justice Act as the alleged are UK residents. Article 146 of the UK’s Geneva Conventions Act 1957 provides that, “…enact any legislation necessary to provide effective penal sanctions for persons committing … any of the grave breaches of the present convention…” Article 1 of the Geneva Conventions Act 1957 complies with this obligation. Grave breaches defined in Article 147 includes: “wilful killing, torture or inhuman treatment...causing …suffering or serious injury to body or health…” The allegations made against Bangladeshi war criminals residing in the UK, which include abducting and killing a number of persons, fall within this definition.

Article 146 further provides: “…High Contracting Party shall be under obligation to …bring such persons, regardless of their nationality, before its own courts”. This obligation to act in response to grave allegations as a duty is on the UK government.

Furthermore, Britain’s Home Secretary has powers to deprive acquired British citizenship under paragraph 4 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 if he is “satisfied that the person has done anything seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the UK…”. In it White Paper “Secure Borders, Safe Haven: Integration with Diversity in Modern Britain”, the UK Government stated that it wished to strengthen legislative powers under section 40 of British Nationality Act 1981 with the provisions set out in paragraph 4(2) and (3) of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act “so that action can be taken in appropriate cases to deprive a suspected war criminal of British citizenship” in order to ensure that “the UK should not provide a safe haven for war criminals”.

One such Alleged War Criminal in the UK

In March 1971, one such alleged “Operation in Charge” of killings of intellectuals, was an active member of the Islami Chaatra Sangha (ICS)—the student wing of the Jammat-e-Islami which actively opposed Bangladesh liberation war and aided the Pakistani military. In August 1971, the Jamaat-e-Islami, according to its own newspaper, set up the Al-Badr Squad comprising members of the ICS to violently combat the Bengali freedom fighters. The alleged became a member of the Al-Badr.

After the war the alleged fled Bangladesh and took refuge in Britain in 1972. He was involved in setting up of East London Jamaat-e-Islami front organisation called Dawatul Islam (recently one of its NGO in Sylhet came under police surveillance). This organisation took control of one of biggest mosques in East London.

A dispute within Dawatul Islam resulted in the emergence of a new organisation called the Islamic Forum Europe (IFE)—which the alleged led, and which itself took over control of the mosque from Dawatul Islam.

The alleged is currently the Vice Chair of the mosque, a trustee of Muslim Aid and the Vice Chair of the Islamic Foundation and runs Islamic Forum Europe.

Recent Initiatives in the UK

In the month of June, 2009 two seminars took place at the British House of Lords both stating the importance of trial to stop the culture of impunity and to seek justice for the victims of war. The first one was held on 19 June, organised by BanglaCarta21, a London based forum of young progressive Bangladeshi lawyers, at the British House of Lords, to discuss the legal aspect of trials of the war criminals of Bangladesh of 1971, titled “Let Justice Prevail: Law and War Crimes in Bangladesh,” chaired by Baroness Pola Uddin.

Speakers at the seminar said to establish rule of law and to end culture of impunity justice has to be sought for the victims under Bangladesh’s most unique comprehensive law, the International Crimes (Tribunal) Act 1973.

The second seminar took place on 22 June and was chaired by Lord Avebury, Vice Chair of UK All-Party Parliamentary Human Rights Group & Chairman of International Bangladesh Foundation.

Amnesty International researcher Abbas Faiz who had visited Bangladesh in April—May 2009 reported on his findings at the seminar. He said, that no one, in Bangladesh including all the political parties, disagreed on the issue of war crimes trial, but the process must fair and accountable. And as a first instance a Commission of Enquiry needs to be set up to ensure the evidence compiled supports the allegation made, that no one involved in the war crimes slips through the net and, equally important, no one is victimised under the pretext of war crimes trial.

Lord Avebury said, the process shouldn’t be speeded up at the expense of legitimacy, and the government should consult international experts on war crimes before deciding what amendments are necessary. Bangladesh’s Deputy High Commissioner to the UK, Mr. Allama Siddiki said Bangladesh government was committed to human rights of all its citizens and was determined to complete the trial in a transparent and accountable way to seek justice for the victims of Bangladesh War of 1971. The Deputy High Commissioner also said his government had already sought assistance from the UN and were seeking further assistance from the international community including the US and the UK.

In his final remarks Lord Avebury acknowledged the Bangladesh Government’s initiatives and said, “The new government has formidable tasks in their hand, which may need substantial help from the international community. As friends of Bangladesh we would be pleased to help”.


Since 1992 and soon after the War Crimes File TV documentary screened on Channel 4 the UK Bengali community have been campaigning and lobbying UK government to hold trial of the alleged in the UK under Geneva Convention.

Ignoring the issued of war crimes has encouraged a culture of impunity for which as a nation Bangladesh is still paying the price.

This immunity has led to the rise of Jamaat-e-Islam and other extremist Islamist groups. It has also led to institutionalizing of violence. In fact Redress in its 2004 report stated that, torture by public officials date back to the period immediately following independence, and they have become a regular feature in Bangladesh since then. It appears that torture has become institutionalised, a practice that is perpetrated regardless of the government in power. The prevalence of torture in Bangladesh has been highlighted repeatedly by various international monitoring bodies. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture has on several occasions expressed concern about the practice of torture in Bangladesh, and in two instances, jointly with the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. The ratification of the UN Convention against Torture in 1998 has not ended the practice of torture, in fact recent reports indicate a substantial rise in torture cases. In October 2002, the crackdown on criminals known as “Operation Clean Heart” was characterised by excessive use of force, torture and beatings during interrogations. Moreover, deaths in custody, apparently as a result of torture, continue to be a frequent occurrence.

It is not possible to establish rule of law without holding the perpetrators accountable for their crime committed at the very beginning of Bangladesh. The fact that Bangladesh as a nation has so far not provided satisfactory reparation has left many victims of the war, and their families seeking justice for the last 40 years.

25 May 2012





5 States News Service, 7 April 2009



Prepared 12th October 2012