Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The U.S., others, MUST back War Crimes Trials

The U.S. must back proposed trials for war crimes in Bangladesh. The U.S. government should be expending political capital gained from the recent elections to push other countries to either support the trials or to at least stop blocking and agitating against them. Close to four decades is too long to atone for genocide. The movement of Bangladesh toward secular democracy is in the interest of the US, UK, and India.

Apparently, some in the diplomatic community in Dhaka believe that the trials would "sharpen the political division in the country" (New Nation). Probably so, but only briefly. Clearly something would be wrong in a society if War Crimes Trials passed without a whisper. At any rate, the only parties truly opposed to the trials are the Islamists and that is only because some of their leaders will be brought to trial; moreover, the instability brought by the political divisions will be quickly overcome and pale against national reconciliation.

Most importantly, the trials will end the legitimacy of the Islamist message. How can a party purport to be patriotic and for the reformation of the society/government (barring the fact that this reformation is actually a fundamental change), when its very leaders are partly responsible for the deaths of millions, the essentializing of the nation and state, and were actively engaged in preventing the emergence of Bangladesh - all in the name of religion? Religion had nothing to do with it. It was a quest for political power on a platform that appealed to the electorate and in the pursuit of that power, Islamist forces killed.

The U.S. has clear interest here. If the US supported these apolitical trials, it would be supporting one of the most firm steps toward established secular democratization in Bangladesh's history. The trials will de-legitimize the Islamist political message, making the only viable alternative - secular, multi-party democracy. The trials will expose current politicians (not just in the Islamist political parties) support for militant Islamism during the 1971 Liberation struggle. The trials, if conducted apolitically, will finally put this issue to rest (though of course there will continue to be murmurs) then the country will be able to put some of the past behind it and address the more recent past (1975, 1983) and the future.

The Dhaka Awami League General Secretary's comments on holding the trials concurrently with the murder of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (in 1975) and the attacks on the Awami League rally 21 August 2004 (Daily Star). Bangla Nation that it is wise to keep these issues separate. First, address the 1971 Liberation War in full. If necessary address, the 1975 coup in the same context, national reconciliation. However, the attacks on the Awami League rally must be held in a criminal court as these were criminal attacks. If the perpetrators are the same in each case, then so be it, let the most harsh sentence carry.

New Nation noted that some countries, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, and some 'quarters' in the country were attempting to prevent the trials. The only 'quarters' in these countries that would try to prevent a clearly internal issue probably have something to lose if they go forward, namely, their anonymity in supporting the genocide. They should take solace that they are not on trial and stop their interference.

If Saudi Arabia takes an official position and cuts aid to Bangladesh, other donor countries, Japan, South Korea, the US, the UK must be prepared to step in and assist.

The US must not stand idly by and watch these trials occur. By standing still and quiet the trials could become purely political with no reconciliation and no justice. By actively supporting and speaking in favor of these trials the US will be in a position to offer suggestions on the conduct of these trials, offering observers, financial aid, and expert assistance to ensure that these trials remain apolitical. The purpose of these trials is not only democratization but national reconciliation; the US must support these causes.

Sidenote, Bangladesh must still define secular: Is it the absence of religion from the government? Or the lack of government support for any one religion (that is patronization)? Bangla Nation believes it should be the latter, as a multi-religion country Bangladesh should not patronize any one religion, but nor should it deny the fact that it is a Buddhist-Christian-Hindu-Muslim-Secular country.

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