Bangladesh on the brink
March 13th, 2013
10:35 AM ET

Bangladesh on the brink

By Toby M. Cadman, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Toby M. Cadman is a London based international barrister specializing in war crimes, international terrorism, extradition and human rights. He served as legal counsel to the chief prosecutor of the Bosnian war crimes chamber. The views expressed are his own.

Days of bloody riots in Dhaka are spreading throughout the country; scores are dead thousands injured. Bangladesh has a long history of civil unrest but the current situation is approaching historic proportions. In the past, unrest has led to military coup. Six months ago, another coup was unthinkable; now it is a possibility increasingly being discussed.

Yet while some have compared the protests to the Arab spring, nothing could be further from the truth. In Cairo, people ousted a dictator and demanded democratic reform. In Dhaka, the demonstrations are comprised of two camps: the larger is made up of those seeking immediate execution of people convicted of war crimes related to the 1971 war of independence; the other is made up of those who believe the war crimes tribunals are show trials allowing the government to eliminate the leaders of a critical political party that threatens to shift the balance of power in upcoming elections.

I am a member of the defense team, but was expelled from the country for complaining about the lack of due process. I am not a politician. I support no political party in Bangladesh. But I do support the rule of international law and believe that the ongoing defilement of that rule not only threatens the lives of presumed innocent defendants, it also is placing the country on the brink of chaos.

The 1971 war pitted the two Pakistans against each other. The East and West Pakistan concept created in 1947 by the British during their departure from the subcontinent resulted in an unworkable bifurcated “nation” separated by more than 1,000 miles, with two distinct languages and cultures. The concept was to split the subcontinent by religion: India is primarily Hindu, the Pakistans Muslim. But the Pakistans shared little beyond Islam revolution was inevitable.  The war was bloody, with as many as 3 million people killed in East Pakistan, according to the Bangladeshi side, thousands raped and unknown numbers tortured. As part of the India-brokered treaty, Bangladesh became an independent state and the Pakistan military received effective amnesty. Bangladeshi collaborators received no amnesty.

The Awami League-led government created the War Crimes Tribunal in 2010, basing it loosely on tribunals like Nuremberg. The government rejected suggestions from the international community of the necessity for transparency, strict adherence to legal precedent and involvement of unbiased outsiders. The government wrote its own rules. Charges were brought against 11 suspects out of an estimated total of 1,600. Each defendant held leadership roles in the opposition party Jamaat-e-Islami. In the history of Bangladesh, elected governments have rotated between Awami and BNP led coalitions. Historically, each time BNP held power, its majority relied on a Jamaat coalition seat. Without Jamaat’s votes, BNP is unlikely to regain power.

Early procedural actions by the War Crimes Tribunal raised concerns among bodies including the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. Foreign lawyers, including myself, were prohibited from participating on the defense team, prosecutors were given great latitude and defense lawyers limited in the ability to cross-examine and present evidence.

Last year, a series of tapes and emails surfaced that seemed to suggest collusion between the chief judge of the tribunal, the prosecutors, outside pro-government consultants and indications of direct instructions from the cabinet for quick convictions and death sentences.

The evidence seemed to confirm the international community’s concerns and led to the resignation of the judge. But his replacement stuck to the original playbook and the convictions are now coming down.

Demonstrations followed the first conviction, with pro-government mobs demanding the tribunal forego appeals and move straight to the gallows. A second conviction with a life imprisonment sentence amped up the mobs and demonstrations turned to riots. But with the recent conviction of Jamaat leader Maulana Delwar Hossain Sayedee, the country is exploding. And, while there are indications the police took a policy of turning a blind eye toward pro-government rioters, they now seem to have lost control.

As someone who prosecuted war crimes in Bosnia, I understand the need for justice. However, I do not believe that there can be justice under the current tribunal, which is at best suspect, at worst a tool of a government looking to execute politicians for electoral gain.

What is required now is immediate and effective action to ensure that the trials of the accused before the tribunal are suspended pending an independent, international investigation into the serious allegations of gross misconduct against members of the tribunal including judges and prosecutors, as well as senior members of the Bangladeshi Government and undeclared third parties.

It is unclear what steps, punitive or otherwise, the U.N. Human Rights Council will take in Geneva over the coming weeks.  It will also be deliberating on Syria, Burma, Bahrain and Sri Lanka.  Arguably, two weeks ago, Bangladesh paled in comparison to these, but the events of the past several days paints an entirely different picture.

Bangladesh is descending into sectarian conflict every bit as serious as its competitors for attention, and has now matured into a fully-grown problem for the United Nations. Failure to find a resolution could see the country descend into civil war.

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Topics: Asia

soundoff (261 Responses)
  1. Mahmud Rahman

    Toby Cadman is a complete jocker!
    Why his blog post published in CNN
    Once he said
    if Bangladesh presses ahead and convicts the accused through these trials: “the consequences will be grave: the country will be diplomatically isolated”
    Who is he to say so?

    Such a stupid guy!

    March 14, 2013 at 6:52 am | Reply
  2. Amir

    Thanks Mr. Cadman, You are right. without establishing justice and human right, this will take Bangladesh a long term sectarian confilict. mught be another Darfur but between religious vs non-religious group backed by RAW to put Hashina Government for long time in power. She is power hungry blood thursty leady. otherwise, how come she can say to her party people. "if one people died in my party, take 10 body from opposition, no matter the wat is right or wrong". Her party did it in Feb 28, 2007. May god bless you to stand for justice.

    March 14, 2013 at 7:58 am | Reply
  3. Dr Mostafa Jahangir

    What is happening in Bangladesh is called judicial killing.The government is also carrying out a massacre by using the police and other law enforcing agencies.The international community can not remain as silent witness when this brutality is going on,

    The UN should return the police and army personnel from UN mission to Bangladesh to calm down their own situation.

    March 14, 2013 at 8:54 am | Reply
  4. Farid

    Toby Cadman is a legal expert. He is highlighting how farcical the Bangladesh War Crimes Tribunal has become.

    Blood thirsty supporters of Awami League label him with crazy accusations. Very typical of AL supporters!

    March 14, 2013 at 8:57 am | Reply
  5. Farid

    Toby Cadman is a legal expert and has the right to protest against the judicial killing by brutal Awami League Govt.

    March 14, 2013 at 8:58 am | Reply
  6. MOHAMMED SHAH

    "Failure to find a resolution could see the country descend into civil war."--- A great article and echo of majority Bangladeshi at the moment. UN and international community need to take immediate action.

    In 1971 war there were four major partner :

    1 Pakistan Army
    2 Pakistan supporters
    3 Indian Army and
    4 Indian Army and its Bangladeshi supporters.

    If there is any crime all four should be more or less liable but what we see today 1 Pakistan Army 3 Indian Army 4 Banglades and Indian supporters are not included in this trial , only a fraction Pakistan supporters ( even not all Pakistan supporters) are held in the trial.

    That means in fraction Jamaat hold 1% of the 71 war rest of the 99% is Pakistan Army, Other pakistan supporters, Indian Army , Pro Indian or Bangladesh supporter.

    So, my question is current BD Gov. has taken a choose and pick policy and is silent about 99% stakeholder of the 71 war crime and everything doing against the 1% (Jamaat) , who are their ( Awaleague and Indian) political opponent.

    This must be stop , otherwise a humane tragedy is waiting for world to see.

    March 14, 2013 at 8:59 am | Reply
  7. jamal

    Every human has the right to practice their religion on the face of these earth and give their openion as a descendant of ADAM & EVE.Every HUMAN should has the right to accept and get a fair,clean judicial system when they are accused of any charge.These AWAMEE LEAGUE GOVT, proved them selves that they represent a certain interest group to protect their position and power,it does not matter WHO GOT KILLED,these are not the people,s govt,they need to be trailed for killing innocent people from any group,this is 21st century.

    March 14, 2013 at 9:02 am | Reply
  8. Awami Alarm

    European Union today announces fear that country collapsing in chaos, military rule about to return. Good job Sheikh Hasina. Welcome back General Ershad. For democracy to work it needs to be transparent. Sheikh Hasina wouldn't let an independent tribunal handle the War Crimes issues and her hubris plunges the country backwards.

    March 14, 2013 at 9:32 am | Reply
  9. Cayan Hasan

    Thanks Toby Cadman!! Howeever, I have some points for our beloved brother and sisters,
    Since doing KHELAGHAR and SAPLA KURI at 1976-1986, we have chanted slogans against Golam Azam, Nizami, Fazlul Kader as Rajakar, Albadar Ei Muhurte Bangla Char? We never heard Sayedee as Razakar!! Even while he joined in Jammate Islami. Suddenly, whie he became a strong personality in Bangladesh he has become a War Criminal!! Do you want me to be blind and killer in the name of our Historic Liberation War!! You may called name- JAMAATEE or Dharma Bebsaye to him but not a war criminal. If you do so, people will not accept his ICT!! Alas! this Awami League make our Holly Liberation War a game!! Shame, shame!! We do not want to see about 40% are in favour of this, yes I can tell you only 40% as things stand now a days!! Do not make our historic achievement as a questionable one. A report published in Prothom alo screened Razakars and found Jatiya Parti is highest scorar followed by Awami League, BNP and then Jamaat!! Can you believe it!!
    So, how many are representing as from the above ratio in the unquestionable ICT of Bangladesh now!!
    How can we have to believe that Bagha Siddique is a NOBBO RAZAKAR,
    and the game what is going on is the DITIYO MUKTI JUDDHO!!! Only the irony of our fate, we are Bangladeshi or Bangalee, at the evening, people are laughing at us!!!
    Please think of it, and if you have some information please serve me to live long in this world, please keep away your Paltan Gossip in the name of Liberation War spirit!!!

    March 14, 2013 at 12:07 pm | Reply
  10. Ruhul Insaf

    Why is my comment not appearing?
    I have written a couple of comments but my comments are not appearing.
    Not sure what is wrong.

    March 14, 2013 at 12:23 pm | Reply
  11. Mohammad Auwal

    By staging the trials of selected trials of collaborators who belong to the opposition parties, the ruling party in Bangladesh has divided the country along political battle lines. This is unfortunate, and this shows how visionary Sheikh Mujib was, as he pardoned the collaborators (the main leaders of who were Muslim league and many of whom were from Awami League) in order to heal and build a new nation.

    As Journalist Mahfuzullah stated in the recent TV talk show in the Bangladesh, the rulers now have two ways to diffuse the crisis and restore calm in the country. The first is to get the United Nations involved in ensuring fair trials of all collaborators including those within their own ranks. Selective trials of the opposition will only intensify the conflict.

    The second way is to redo what Sheikh Mujib had already done during 1972-75, which was to forgive all, forget, and move on with nation-building.

    In my view, either option is fine. If justice is to be pursued, fairness of the process must be ensured. But sensing that in a fair court system the ruling AL would not be able to get the kind of political victory it wants, it has created the ICTs for show trials.

    March 14, 2013 at 12:27 pm | Reply
  12. MR. ALI

    A man is tortured by police after arresting. What kinds of humanity that is? What kinds of law it is? Please See all Human Rights Organizaton this fact.

    March 14, 2013 at 12:29 pm | Reply
  13. munna vai

    Bangladeshi current ruling party 'Awami League' oppressing religious peoples. mostly people protesting against government to stop harassment of Muslim leaders. and government decided to start kill those, who protests against them. its like a genocide

    March 14, 2013 at 12:35 pm | Reply
  14. Shahriar Imtiaz

    International crime tribunal is nothing but a kangaroo trial . All the of people of Bangladesh is against this illegal, oppressive and absolutely controversial tribunal . Lots of Ministers told the media that they are going to hang the convicted even before Judge decide it. This is all preplanned drama of awami league . Nobody believe in ICT now.

    March 14, 2013 at 12:53 pm | Reply
  15. Iman Mahmud

    Thanks to Mr. Toby Cadman for an objective piece. Bangladesh is at the brink of a civil war, these Awmi League boot lickers can say whatever they like but the truth is in your writing and if they can't read the writing on the wall then they will suffer equally when Bangaldesh collapes.

    March 14, 2013 at 12:54 pm | Reply
  16. RssMK

    I completely agree with you. he is a paid Jamaat spokes-person. Here are my two cents:

    1. Mr. Cadman, with all due respect to him has mentioned Jaamat as ""critical political party": he thinks Jamaat to be a critical party in Bangladesh politics, which is not so true as they are never a democratic party. Please look for their previous seats when they were not allied with BNP.

    2. He says: "I am a member of the defense team", so he is being paid and I can assume his hours are not cheap. Question is did he write this article because of his moral call?: I don't think so. Once he himself ascertains his affiliation with Jamaat, I do not see any value of this article and it automatically looses its appeal to a person like me who is politically aware and unbiased. Then the question could be why am I wasting my time on commenting on Mr. Cadman's article. Answer is: because I think this is just misleading to the community at home and abroad. next comes the responsibility of a very renowned media like CNN. I have mixed concerns to them. Yes you let me know how far a renowned layer can go and also any media should take responsibility of the truthfulness of any report they publish. This I believe is also important for their reputation and acceptance to the audience.

    3. Did Mr. Cadman know about the Jamaat attack on Hindu community? I am raising my question to his morality whether he wants to write an informative report on this issue. or Does the Hindu community needs to pay him to draw his attention to this matter.

    March 14, 2013 at 1:04 pm | Reply
    • Ajob Desh

      O my god! Toby has touched the outer side of flaws of our fascist government. And obviously he hurts you because you blindly support the government and never thought from a neutral point of view about government's intention. Thank you Toby again to render some of the truths.

      March 14, 2013 at 1:35 pm | Reply
  17. Queensguy

    Here in our diaspora community things are clear: The government is running show trials which are plunging country into chaos and not providing justice for anyone. The only way there can be justice for the War of Independence is to have transparent, independent trials. The government is not capable. They are not honoring the victims, they are furthering their own agenda with no regard for the victims of war crimes.

    March 14, 2013 at 1:20 pm | Reply
  18. Sabbir

    Awami govt..is killing people on broad day light...injustice everywhere

    March 14, 2013 at 1:25 pm | Reply
  19. flynn ryder

    the government is killing general people who are opposite of them . Even they are controling social media for this reason we can not express our thoughts no this regard . The are blocking facebook ids . World media should come forward with a view to save us . Otherwise we are going to be killed

    March 14, 2013 at 1:26 pm | Reply
  20. Anwarul Haque

    Mr. Cadman is right. I think every conscious person should raise his/her voice against unjust barbarian deeds of BAL govt. It is high time people forced govt to stop judicial killing, stop genocide, stop violence. Thank you Mr. Cadman for publishing nice article.

    March 14, 2013 at 1:27 pm | Reply
  21. Ajob Desh

    Thank you Toby for your honest report. Hindu are always attacked by Awami persons because only they can take advantage of it, blaming oppositions. But Hindu community now understands the matter. Many of the Awami activists were caught while they were trying to create vandalism in temple and Hindu's residents. The government only blamed oppositions subsequently but still unable to prove a singe claim. Further, we saw oppositions activists to guard temples in our area. It was a big plot of our government to divert people from government's recent disputes.

    March 14, 2013 at 1:28 pm | Reply
  22. Selim71

    While a sitting Prime Minister of a country dictates the Judiciary from the Parliament straight-forwardly to consider so-called “Protesters demand” (and unfortunately the Protesters are her own party men and coalition -created through a pre-planned way- that have already proven) for ONLY “move straight to the gallows & nothing else” then Are there any dare judges in the Universe, who can declare a biased-free verdict ?? And This has happened in Bangladesh recently. Yes happened !!! Mr. Toby M. Cadman’s each and every line/paragraph are based on truth.

    March 14, 2013 at 1:29 pm | Reply
  23. sadia nisu

    why international media are quite about bangladesh? Bangladesh gov killing innocent people by using police. Here maximum bangladehsi media telecast false news. They are captured by government by mony.

    March 14, 2013 at 1:32 pm | Reply
  24. Naila

    Tyrant Hasina is just newer version of Adolf.....People of the country are getting killed everyday....Fascist govt..would fall...In sha Allah

    March 14, 2013 at 1:32 pm | Reply
  25. Saiful Islam

    Bangladeshi politicians are using human sentiment to materialize their vile intentions. They are ready to do anything just to retain the power......conspiracy,secret killing,kidnapping,oppression, suppression,using court,using govt. force & etc. Specially 'Awamileague' the ruling party cunningly playing with the sentiment of the glorious freedom fight at the same time they are hurting the sentiment of religion. Though Bangladesh is a muslim majority(90%) country it was an unique example of communal harmony in the whole world. But due to corrupted politics, situation is getting worse day by day and lack of trust is seen everywhere. Govt. backed Shahbag protesters are losing support from the general people as their involvement with the govt. is getting clear day by day, whereas people thought it to be a voluntary movement. Govt is giving them complete protection, feeding, media coverage & all other logistics support(the Shahbag protesters are holding an important square in the city heart for more than one month) but on the contrary the same govt is not allowing the opposition to practice their democratic rights like procession,meting etc. so it has become evident to the people that govt is using the Shahbag protesters as a tool to hide their failures,corruptions, fight the oppositions & finally to attain the political gains.

    March 14, 2013 at 1:35 pm | Reply
  26. Saiful Islam

    surprisingly enough most of the local medias in Bangladesh are blindly supporting some parties and hiding the actual truth. this is really a matter of big concern in such critical situation of the country. Most of the medias are some how brain washed or directly presenting biased & one sided news. they are giving the instant judgment without any investigation.

    March 14, 2013 at 1:41 pm | Reply
  27. Emdad

    the war crime tribunal in Bangladesh is nothing but a trick to murder Jamaat-e-islami leaders. it has nothing to do with justice. the govt. of Bangladesh are afraid of an expert lawyear like toby Cadman. so they barred him to enter in Bangladesh.actually it is a resolved issue in Bangladesh. in the years after 71, 28000 people was accused and many of them was punished for the crime in 71. then presently accused Jamaat leaders was not accused. now they are accused only to accomplish political mission. In the last few days the fascist govt. of Awami League killed 150 people only for protesting against the tribunal.

    March 14, 2013 at 1:55 pm | Reply
  28. MARIO LUIZ CARUSO

    It´s impossible! Stop! The people deserves respect! I can't believe! Please. Peace, not war!!!

    March 14, 2013 at 2:32 pm | Reply
  29. Istiaque

    Jamat e islami is a terrorist organization. they were directly involved in war crimes during 1971 and its leaders must be tried in independent Bangladesh. I wonder how CNN could publish such a false article written by Toby (who himself is known to be paid by Jamat). if you really want to know the fact, and publish the real situation regarding this ask Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) if the tribunal is doing its work properly or not. And Mr. Toby don't sell yourself to some terrorist organization for the sake of money, its a shame for humanity when someone works for war criminals...3 billion might just be a number to you, but for us they were our brother,sister, grandpa, friends who were killed...so let us decide how to trial war criminals of Bangladesh....why all on a sudden you are so interested about whats wrong with this trial? what are your past involvement with Bangladesh? Have you ever talked to any independent organization in Bangladesh who research to identify the war criminals of Bangladesh during 1971? Do you even know these criminals are already identified as war criminals in Bangladesh? have you heard the name "Ekatturer Ghatok Dalal Nirmul Committee"?

    March 14, 2013 at 2:35 pm | Reply
    • Iman Mahmud

      Jamaat is a moderate democratic party. The parties you support are terrorist and undemocratic fascist party. You can fight them with reason and logic so you create GHADANIK to eliminate them with muscle – won't work my friend, you guys are expsed to the world now.

      March 14, 2013 at 5:07 pm | Reply
    • Shibly S A

      Well, the question is why didn't you people bring any charges against these well-known criminals in 1972 tribunals? The Irony is at that time 73 tribunals were formed. To identify crime Fact Finding committee was formed. After investigation 37471 people were charged. Why didn't you bring any charges against these know people.

      I have been following the trials. Question is why today you are not finding a freedom fighters or the commanders as witnesses to talk against these known criminals? Who should know the criminals best? Isn't who fought against them?

      Did you hear, what the Commander of Barishal district Shjahan Omor Biruttom said regarding Sayedee? Did you hear what the Commnader of Shundorban, Nuruzzaman Bablu said about Sayedee? How come the second in command witnesses for Sayedee? Did you hear what did he said in the tribunal? A person who followed the trial will not agree with you rather will think that what you are saying all are emotional and hearsay and nothing else.

      March 15, 2013 at 10:30 am | Reply
  30. jewel

    Im shying to tell i m bangladeshi

    March 14, 2013 at 2:36 pm | Reply
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