The appeal hearings of 23 cases, filed for crimes against humanity committed during the 1971 Liberation War of Bangladesh, have been pending for the past two years.
The family members of the martyrs, and many others who seek justice have expressed their disappointment over the long delay.
On February 24, 2016, the Appellate Division concluded the hearing on the war crimes case filed against Jamaat leader Mir Quasem Ali, and upheld the death penalty for the notorious war criminal the same year on March 8.
Quasem Ali was executed for his crimes on September 3, 2016.
Around two years have passed since then, but no appeal hearing on war crimes cases has been held during this period. This delay has created a huge backlog of crimes against humanity cases in the court, much to the disappointment of the plaintiffs.
The prosecutors’ point of view
The correspondent discussed this issue with International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) Prosecutor Barrister Dr Turin Afroz and Prosecutor Ziad Al-Malum.
Responding to a query, Barrister Afroz said: “As part of the prosecution, we had held hearings in war crimes trials through many hurdles and disruptions. We did our best to help conclude the appeal hearings after the verdicts were delivered.
“But, as a prosecutor, I am disappointed that no appeal hearings have been held since 2016.”
She pointed out that the accused could die of natural causes if the appeal hearings continue to face further delays.
“Justice will not be served if these accused individuals pass away, because their crimes will remain unproven forever,” she added.
Backlog of cases mounting up
According to data revealed by ICT prosecution, verdicts for 32 war crime cases have been delivered since the formation of the tribunal. Appeal hearings for 23 cases are still pending as of March 25, 2018.
Addressing the matter, Prosecutor Ziad Al-Malum said: “We participated in those trials disregarding our safety and security. We made a serious effort to conclude case hearings in the shortest time possible.
“Family members of the martyrs want justice and they want speedy resolution of the pending appeal hearings. The delay in the trial process has caused deep disappointment among the justice-seekers.”
International Crimes Tribunal-1 (ICT-1) was formed in March 25, 2010 to bring war criminals of 1971 to justice. The tribunal’s own prosecution team and a probe body were also appointed the same day. ICT-1 was led by three justices.
On March 22, 2012, ICT-2 was formed to speed up the trial of accused war criminals.
However, ICT-2 has been kept non-operational since September 15, 2015.
Meanwhile, sources from the ICT probe body revealed that it received 728 complaints of crimes against humanity committed in 1971, but investigation of only 59 cases has been completed as yet.
Another 30 complaints are currently under probe by the ICT body.
Do we need multiple tribunals and appeal benches?
Chief coordinator of the agency and its senior investigator Mohammad Sanaul Haque told the correspondent: “We need multiple tribunals to resolve the complaints accumulated by the probe body.
“Another appeal bench should be formed to speed up the appeal hearing process of cases currently under trial. The attorney general could take an initiative to address these matters.”
Echoing the same opinion, Prosecutor Turin Afroz said: “These cases are sensitive national issues. We already waited years to bring these war criminals to justice after the Liberation War of Bangladesh.
“The formation of another appeal bench will help clear up the backlog of cases. It is imperative that an initiative be taken to speed up the case hearing process and form another appeal bench.”
She added: “I believe that the attorney general will make an effort to resolve the above mentioned issues.”
On the other hand, Attorney General Mahbubey Alam believes there is no reason to form another bench to resolve pending appeal hearings of war crimes cases.
Putting emphasis on resolving the backlog issue through regular processes, the attorney general said: “War crimes cases are on the cause list of the court. The Appellate Division is currently conducting other hearings, and hearings on war crimes cases will be held too.”
Mahbubey Alam also confirmed that no discussion on speeding up the war crimes trial took place between him and the chief justice.
Pointing out that the court is prepared for hearing appeals in war crimes cases any day, he added: “I firmly believe the court will make an effort to resolve this issue.”
This article was first published on banglatribune.com