Trials in 33 cases ongoing
Since its inception in 2009, the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) has so far delivered verdicts in 42 cases against 97 people for crimes against humanity, including genocide, during the Liberation War in 1971.
The latest verdict delivered by the ICT was on December 11 last year, when Abdus Sattar alias Tipu Sultan from Rajshahi was sentenced to death for wartime atrocities.
Following the verdicts, the Supreme Court disposed of appeals in ten cases and six convicted war criminals were hanged after their cases made their way to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court.
The Appellate Division also reduced the sentence of the Delwar Hossain Sayeedi from death penalty to life imprisonment.
On Thursday (October 22), the tribunal issued a death warrant for war crimes convict Syed Mohammad Qaiser.
A Muslim League leader in 1971, Qaiser was sentenced to death on December 23, 2014, after being found guilty of murder, arson, loot, rape and genocide in Brahmanbaria and Habiganj during the 1971 war.
On January 14 this year, the Supreme Court upheld the death sentence after Qaiser appealed against the tribunal’s verdict.
Since the formation of the tribunal, the trials have continued despite criticism from domestic and international quarters. A second tribunal was formed in March 2012, but it ceased to function after three years.
Current state of trials
According to the ICT's prosecution, the tribunal is currently holding trials in 33 cases, with alleged war criminals accused of collaborating with the Pakistani occupation forces. Most of them belonged to the Razakar, Al-Badr, or Al-Shams forces.
On October 31 last year, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court upheld the death sentence of former Jamaat-e-Islami Assistant Secretary General ATM Azharul Islam for crimes against humanity during the Liberation War in 1971.
Last year, the Appellate Division resumed appeal hearings in the war crimes cases from the ICT after a break of nearly three years. The delay in hearing appeals came in the wake of the crisis in the judiciary following the events surrounding the departure of former chief justice SK Sinha and the corruption cases filed against him.
A total of 21 appeals have been in a backlog for long awaiting a hearing at the Appellate Division.
Additionally, a total of 3 accused died during pendency of their hearings with the Appellate Division.
Progress made by investigation agency
Till now the investigating agency of the ICT has received a total number of 772 complaints against 4,150 persons and completed investigation into 78 complaints of rape, mass murder, loot, arson, conversion by force and forced migration, all crimes committed across the country.
Currently the agency is investigating 27 cases against 39 accused of crimes against humanity.
There are 3 cases including the trial of Jamaat-e-Islami committing war crimes as an organization, where the investigation agency of the ICT submitted probe reports but the trials are yet to start.
Shahriar Kabir, president of Ekattorer Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee (Forum for Secular Bangladesh and Trial of War Criminals of 1971) expressed his frustration saying: "The ICT's cases are not normal cases like any other offence; the appeal hearing was stopped in the period of former Chief Justice Sinha and the appeals are still in the same state".
"The Supreme Court has to hear the appeal with the highest priority. We also suggested that the government follow other countries in the world in this regard. If the appeals are stuck in the appellate division with a backlog of other cases they can hear appeals separately with the arrangement of the ICT set-up," he added.
"It's been ten years but still they were not able to start the trial of Jamaat-e-Islami committing war crimes as an organization," he added.
The Awami League is in its third straight term in power and its landslide victory in 2008 was precipitated by an election campaign where the war crimes trial was one of the top priorities.