A judicial investigation against 195 Pakistani soldiers accused of war crimes during 1971 will begin soon, sources say. A meeting has already been held between the investigation agency and the tribunal prosecutors.
Tribunal prosecutor Tureen Afroz has confirmed the meeting. She said: “There were some preliminary meetings. Discussion has been carried out with the investigation agency. We reviewed whether there are any legal obstacles and all reached a consensus that, preliminarily, we will submit case files against as many accused as possible.”
Crimes committed by the soldiers, such as murder, mass-murder, arson, looting and torture, will be probed.
Tureen said: “First, we will formally place a demand to the Pakistan High Commission to Bangladesh to learn the status of the accused 195 Pakistani war criminal soldiers; that is, whether they are alive or not. Alongside this, an independent investigation will also be carried out. After making a primary list, an investigation process will be initiated against five to 10 of the accused who are alive, and who were previously charged.”
When asked if there are any legal barriers to bringing the Pakistani soldiers to trial in Bangladesh, Tureen said there were no such obstacles. According to her, the tribunal has repeatedly clarified this issue in earlier verdicts, stating that the law of 1973 permits a trial against the soldiers.
Asked whether diplomatic relations with Pakistan would be affected, she said: “We are bringing criminals to trial, not diplomats. If Pakistan wanted, they themselves could bring them to trial on the basis of the Geneva Conventions. Perhaps they were unwilling or unable to do so. But, after committing such heinous crimes, such as mass-murder, rape and looting, they walk free and do not feel any remorse. This is totally unacceptable. This trial is important to counter the notion that they have no accountability.”
Regarding evidence against the soldiers, Tureen said: “This case also has specific event eyewitnesses, policy witnesses and documentary witnesses. Already, there have been some autobiographies by Pakistani soldiers describing the issues relating to the crimes and how the operations were carried out, from those who gave the orders. Primarily, we will submit case file against those for whom there is strong evidence. Even the Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report [a commission on Pakistani military involvement in East Pakistan set up by the government of Pakistan in 1972] documented crimes committed by the Pakistani soldiers. Although the committee said that appalling crimes had been committed, they also said there might not have been as many rapes or killings. But we are not playing with numbers here. We are saying, if there was a single rape, a single murder of a civilian due to an operation, and if there was a single woman or an elder or a child who was victimised by a military operation: that is a war crime. And it must be brought to trial.”
She said although the research had already started, the investigation process would be documented soon. After completing the investigation, a report would be submitted to the tribunal, after which the state would formally submit the charges to the tribunal. According to sources, the aim is to submit the report by March or April next year.
The chief of the investigation agency of the International Crimes Tribunal, M Sanaul Haq, said: “All along, while working on the [Bangladeshi] cases, we gathered evidence against the 195 soldiers, and shared it with the prosecutors. This evidence has been kept specifically in case of a situation like this. This trial should be done, because there are no legal obstacles to it.”