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. Biplob

    This is a mockery of the current government; it is nothing more than a ploy to derail the attention elsewhere from its own deceptions, fraud and enormous crimes committed in the past several years. In the process it manufactured a way to eliminate other oppositions (killing two birds with one stone). Why did they suddenly feel like bringing war criminals to justice after over 40 years now, where were they all these years, sleeping? A true tribunal that is formed for true justice needs to consist of internationally recognized bodies of members, and not a sham tribunal formed by some locals that are politically motivated government supporters, and are partial and corrupt.

    It has been over 40 years now we (Bangladesh) got liberated from then the corrupt Pakistani Government. However, the real tragedy is that we never realized the true benefits from that freedom. Millions of people died for the cause, yet today we are still victims of oppression, crime, corruption, injustice, and lack of compassion toward the poor, hungry and the sick, those who are less fortunate. What is the meaning of freedom if one cannot practice freedom of speech, religion, politics, equality and justice for all?

    Sadly enough a culture of corruption has developed for all these years and spread like a plague. The corruptions are so deep rooted that they erased all human dignity, ethical and moral standards to the degree that loss of innocent lives don’t have any humanitarian and spiritual conscious.

    Whether it is the corrupted politicians, government officials, corrupt individuals or business enterprises, they all have one thing in common and that is to rob from the innocent (the country), its citizens and people at any cost to build their wealth and political gains, thus weakening the core fundamental standards and balance of our country’s economy.

    The day will come soon when the balance of our economy will completely collapse and the ultimate disaster will erupt. So, listen all of you that are the driving force of all corruptions, the poor and the vulnerable will rise one day against you (the corrupt), and take revenge on those that has deprived the nation from its fundamental rights, and will revolt against the suppression and take justice on their hands, they will take the country back, because they deserve to have true freedom from all injustice, and free the country from corruption, and wipe out the corrupts. (You can never trust the Foxes to guard the chickens, it will never work).

    So we can never trust all the previous political parties and their leaders we need to bring a total change. We cannot expect a different and a better result, if we continue to bring the same political parties and their leaders back in power over and over again. We need to start from scratch (new) all over again and place honest good people to govern our country, the ones that will bring equality, justice for all and help create a country that will be freed from corruption, and that’s when we will realize true freedom. From a non political view and for true justice we the Bangladeshi’s and the World community must stand for the formation of a non bias international war tribunal, and bring all of the war criminals of 1971 to justice, including the Pakistani perpetrators and not just the Bangladeshi collaborators.

    March 14, 2013 at 2:48 pm | Reply
    • Queensguy

      well said

      March 14, 2013 at 2:51 pm | Reply
  2. Iman Mahmud

    What say you – all the Awami League/Indian paid agent now? British Foerign Ministry is also paid by Jamaat and working in their defence team? read in the link below:

    Foreign Office Minister condemns recent violence in Bangladesh

    March 14, 2013 at 5:05 pm | Reply
  3. ziaul haque dalim

    This report is 100% true. India never want Bangladesh to go forward. If Bangladesh ever try to go forward than India then their worst secret agency (RAW) take the necessary steps by their Bangladeshi paid agent ( The traitor such as gowhar rijbi, mahfujur rahman, Dr. toufik elahi as welll as Hasina herself) as they did during last election by giving money to Awamileague and DGFI ( told by their late MP Abdul Jalil). So what are happening in Bangladesh is due to India. They looted our share market again this session and expending those money against us by dividing two sides for internal war. We are expecting very their conspiracy will be disclosed to the people of Bangladesh, In-sha-allah. Bangladesh Jindabad. Awamileague and their alliance , murdabad.

    March 14, 2013 at 5:18 pm | Reply
  4. Zahir

    The worst of all, key witness on behalf of Allama Saidee was kidnapped and disappeared. Every body suspect the dreaded security apparatus of the brutal regime has murdered him to wipe out the witness once and for all. Nobody knows his whereabouts till today. This is the common pattern of this tribunal called by the international body as JUDICIAL KILLING.Thanks to Mr Toby for writing this excellent article.

    March 14, 2013 at 5:40 pm | Reply
  5. muhammadName*

    I m agree with this article. And I want to tell all humanbeing please raise a voice for stop the kangaroo tribunal

    March 14, 2013 at 7:15 pm | Reply
  6. Mahmud

    Brilliant article Toby. Looking forward to see such informative article more.

    March 14, 2013 at 7:28 pm | Reply
  7. Nobojoti

    What an informative article. Such level of unbiased and thought based article can only be done by experts like Toby. However those wo still play minority card, pls read the following article, you'll get all the answer:

    March 14, 2013 at 7:32 pm | Reply
  8. James

    Well written Toby. Govt is making JUDICIAL KILLLING using ICT in one side and kiling the JI activists on the street by police on the other. Such brutality can only be compared to the killing by Bashar Al Asad in Syria. The following website has all the evidences of the mass murder.

    March 14, 2013 at 7:53 pm | Reply
  9. Masud

    Cadman is right. Because right is right, you can not altered.

    March 14, 2013 at 8:15 pm | Reply
    • Pathik Rasel

      Of course, right is right, and wrong is wrong! There is no doubt! Bangladesh Awami league (BAL) will never understand that! because they are not interested in right things!

      March 14, 2013 at 10:54 pm | Reply
  10. ami-bangladeshi

    It is my proud I am a Bangladeshi, but I have to wait may be another 15~20 years when both wrong owmen will die. Both the parties do not know what is democracy. 51% peoples rule over 49% and must gie all rights. The Awami League regime came to power to unite the nation, But this regime over the last four years has sharply divided the nation. This nation is more polarized right now than it was ever before.Due to the divide and rule policy of the top two political parties in Bangladesh, the country could not progress enough even after 42 years of independence. Trying the oppostion political leaders in the name of war crimes committed 42 years ago by the brutal pakistani regime is indeed an example of ruling party's aspiration to stay in the power forever. Violence over the last last two weeks that witnessed the murder of more than 150 people and wounded thousands of people in Bangladesh. No one takes lesson from the history. Bangladesh needs leaders like Dr. Yunus who can take the country forward unlike the present regime.

    March 14, 2013 at 8:47 pm | Reply
  11. shahan
    March 14, 2013 at 9:57 pm | Reply
  12. shahan

    save bangladesh innocent people from killer gov and police force ;( they killing any one , no humanity in bangladesh at the moment ,,, where's the world media and human rights now ? please send your reporter's and let the whole world know about the killing ;( bangladesh is not safe ... police, rab , and bgb arresting everyone and then killing inside the police station ;(

    March 14, 2013 at 10:01 pm | Reply
  13. shahan

    check the link please ;( look how they killing innocent bangladeshi people ;( ....

    March 14, 2013 at 10:02 pm | Reply
  14. Pathik Rasel

    Hasina should be brought to justice and international criminal court for mass killing and genocide!

    March 14, 2013 at 10:51 pm | Reply
  15. Dr Khan

    The current government is the most tyrant, despotic, brutal and ruthless that the people have never ever witnessed since the formation of the country 41 years ago. Their barbarism and inhumanity knows no bound and they already crossed all minimum threshold of human values, ethics, accountability and they gone blind to grab the power at whatever cost be in terms of human life, sufferings or the destruction of the nation.

    Thanks to Mr Cadman that he has done the least to rescue the nation from the verge of collapse as a conscientous human being with a great human soul.

    March 14, 2013 at 10:51 pm | Reply
  16. atisha

    I dont care if its through rigged tribunal or even these war criminals are murdered through assassination. THEY NEED TO DIE for the sake of our country's future. If we think that Awami league and BNP are giving us dark future then we have to agree that Jamaat islami in power will give us even darker future. They will make Bangladesh a second Afganistan. In 91 they had 4 parliamentary seat in 96 they had 8 and then in 2001 they had 16 and so on.. if these go on they will very soon hold majority of the seat in our parliament. We cannot let that happen. These leaders of terrorist group should die so that Jamaat Islami cannot rise to rule us in the future. In the end I dont care how they die. As a Bangali I just want them dead.

    March 14, 2013 at 11:15 pm | Reply
    • Dr Khan

      You want them dead or you want to kill or hang them all. It sounds like a psycopath indeed. Your govt already killed more than 200 civilians and few thousands severely injured. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Rest assured your govt shall be answerable to the nation for this genocide and formation of another tribunal to try Zalim Hasina is just a matter of time.

      March 17, 2013 at 8:40 am | Reply
  17. md nafis

    bangladeshi govt. Is now become 'Bakshal'

    March 15, 2013 at 2:16 am | Reply
  18. Cayan Hasan

    And this is nothing but the way to regain the spirit!!!

    Oh, you become mad, but we have to raise our voice to save our mass people from conspiracy!!!

    March 15, 2013 at 3:03 am | Reply
  19. Jmail

    "I AM a member of the defense team" – Toby M. Cadman
    This written in present tense. Toby IS STILL A MEMBER of the Jamat's defense team, fools!

    March 15, 2013 at 4:56 am | Reply
    • Anwarul Islam

      It doesn't matter whether he is part of Jamat's defense team or not, all that matters is whether his points are valid or not. You can find more int criticism on

      March 15, 2013 at 11:22 am | Reply
  20. Hanif

    Present govt of Bangladesh showing its face by killing mass muslim ppl in this region in recent days...Just killing muslim ppl and their should not be fooled by watching government's name as islamic, bcz govt are munafiq/murtad want to divide muslim and then to kill one by one,is their major plan.

    March 15, 2013 at 7:56 am | Reply
  21. Mahboob Khansur

    This case is a part of Bangladesh ,So I want to say a Bangla Proverb to Current Government " বিচার মানি কিন্তু তাল গাছ আমার ‘‘ that means ....Bangladesh Govt know opposition leader was not involved with war criminal ,as well as they know in the current govt ministry some minister were involved with 1971 crime ,like Razakar .But for political interest they want to hang Islamic leaders by blaming Razakar , war criminal etc ..... In the Sayeedy case there is no any point to hang Maulana Sayeedy .......

    March 15, 2013 at 8:37 am | Reply
  22. Alamgir

    This so called "crimes against humanity" was never proved. AL utterly failed to prove their case and shamelessly gave verdict of hanging in the open farce of a tribunal. The guy "dellia razakar" whoes crimes were labelled on Sydee was killed by Mukti juddas after 71. Everyone know the kind of open farce this awami show trail is? This is complely politicaly motivated trail and there is justice, it is judical killing to the opositon. So, international community should come over to rase thire voice for the sake of hmanity.

    March 15, 2013 at 1:12 pm | Reply
  23. Maroof

    Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League government have little respect for democracy in Bangladesh. This tribunal is a farce, its a ploy to weaken the opposition parties by imprisoning and executing their leaders with fabricated allegations. Defence witnesses kidnapped by plain-cloth policemen in broad daylight, judges in bed with prosecutors and expatriate party activists, blatantly false testimonies cooked up by corrupt police officers... what a joke.

    March 15, 2013 at 1:24 pm | Reply
  24. muhammed siddikur rahman

    GENOCIDE is going on poor pious Muslim people in Bangladesh. International community should take necessary action against Hasina govt. hasina's govt has now become 'BAKSHAL'
    JAMATH leaders who are under hasina's trail all of them are innocent. Mr.Toby your voice should be more, more and moooooore louder............

    March 15, 2013 at 8:13 pm | Reply
  25. Tarannum

    Hasina's govt has now become 'BAKSHAL' Present govt of Bangladesh showing its face by killing mass muslim people in this region in recent days...Just killing muslim people and their leaders. Mr.Toby your voice should be more louder.....

    March 15, 2013 at 8:29 pm | Reply
  26. MO

    This is complely politicaly motivated trail and there is justice, it is judical killing to the opositon.Jamath leaders who are under hasina's trail all of them are innocent. So, international community should come over to rase thire voice for the sake of hmanity.

    March 15, 2013 at 8:37 pm | Reply
  27. Tabassum

    Bangladesh Govt know Jamath leader's was'nt involved with war criminal ,This is complely politicaly motivated trail and there is justice. as well as they know in the current Hasina's govt ministry some minister were involved with 1971 crime ,like Razakar.Mr.Toby your voice should be more louder for the sake of hmanity.

    March 15, 2013 at 8:55 pm | Reply
    • Dr Khan

      Hasina's days are being numbered and like any autocratic and blood-thirsty government, as we learn from the history, she has to go and she will go together with maximum humiliation and maximum disgrace. Sad nobody learns from history

      March 15, 2013 at 11:48 pm | Reply
  28. belal rashid

    when govt security forces shoot and kill ppls with out trial ,when a govt. put opposition on the back of the wall.when justice is being dectated.we dont need toby cadman to come forward in support it is like a daylight that bangladesh is in the brink of civil war..

    March 16, 2013 at 8:04 pm | Reply
  29. Anwar

    Please stop killing & abstain from dividing the nation....go ahead, not backward.

    March 18, 2013 at 1:08 pm | Reply
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