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Dhaka Tribune

Between ashes and hope

Why ensuring transitional justice for the victims of our Liberation War is now more important than ever

Update : 01 Apr 2023, 12:32 AM

“Transitional justice” refers to a legal procedure that is viewed as essential for a traumatized society to move on from its violent past to a more peaceful present. It is one of the accepted methods for ensuring that the victims of historical atrocities receive justice that is possible under the political climate of the given time. Transitional justice has been applied in numerous recent cases, including the Nuremberg, Senegal, Tokyo, Rwandan, East Timor, Sierra Leone, and similar other tribunals globally.

In Bangladesh, though the establishment of the International Crimes Tribunal has been a landmark, the victims and witnesses have had few opportunities under it. Regrettably, Bangladesh's prosecuting strategies have overlooked the transitional justice mechanism system almost entirely. The tribunal espouses a bounded definition of victims, akin to the ICTY and ICTR.

According to section 2(26) of the Rules of Procedure for the International Offences Tribunal: "'Victim' refers to a person who has suffered injury as a result of the commission of the crimes under section 3(2) of the International Crimes (Tribunal) Act 1973." Regarding the rights of Liberation War victims and incarceration facilities, ICT-BD has serious limitations. The court places little emphasis on victim services and is primarily retributive in nature. The victims are simply allowed to testify in court.

The tribunal has disregarded the demands of numerous victims by focusing only on the needs of the witnesses. The right of victims to receive proper justice is stated in Articles 4-7 of the UN Declaration of 1985. The right of victims to access justice is also emphasized by the Van Boven/Bassiouni Principles and the Impunity Principles.

Mechanisms for transitional justice support both a retroactive and a prospective mindset, it is worth mentioning. Bangladesh's criminal prosecution strategy has focused solely on the past with no special consideration given to the present or even the future, as victims are not allowed to actively engage in judicial proceedings or voice an opinion. Article 68(3) of the Rome Statute has guaranteed eight different ways to participate in the proceedings, including attending hearings, oral and written submissions, asking questions, accessing and submitting evidence, calling witnesses, and prior notification of any issues that may affect the person.

ICC legal directives should be followed by the ICT-BD to ensure participation of victims in legal procedures. As stated in Article 75 of Rome Statute, the ICT-BD should make certain significant decisions to guarantee the victims' entitlement to restitution from specific offenders, as initiated by the ICC. The government has started a number of individual and group reparations in order to provide compensation to victims.

Individual reparations only provide relief to rape victims, direct freedom fighters, and martyrs. However, a sizable  number of those affected by our Liberation War are ignored, including those who were tortured horribly, deported or forced to move, and those who were physically and psychologically harmed. After 52 years of independence, the government still has not fully addressed the diverse afflicted groups. Except for rape victims, no action was initially taken after the war to aid the mass afflicted groups in recovering from their traumatic experiences.

Even the victim assistance program, notably for rape victims, fell short of helping them regain their "lost" dignity in the post-conflict world. Recently, a concerned group brought forward the idea of altering the name to "Survivors Speak" as a means to protect themselves from ignominy.

To escalate Bangladesh's institutional reformation, training courses for Bangladesh's law enforcement are needed, which will emphasize a more victim-centered approach. Bangladesh did not adequately handle the vital pillar of transitional justice, which is "facilitating actions in respect of the right to truth." Even if it is a difficult task to piece together the truth after 52 years have passed, it is still not too late to act.

The administration can undertake various policy-level initiatives to ascertain the true circumstances surrounding the liberation struggle of 1971. The establishment of a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” can be carried out using existing international structures like that of South Africa. Another indispensable pillar of transitional justice is acquiring the help of national consultants in policy formulation. The government should work with members of civil society to aid victims in their recovery from trauma. 

The lack of a denial statute gives supporters of the perpetrators the freedom to deny genocide. Holocaust denial is now a crime in some European nations, for example. In Bangladesh, no similar legislation has been passed. In order to create genocide denial legislation, there requires an international consensus on the subject that needs to be ratified by the states.

Bangladesh recently petitioned the UN to recognize the genocide of 1971. Such acknowledgment is crucial because it gives our national sacrifice a tangible, global meaning.

Fatima Zahra Ahasan Raisa is a freelance contributor.

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