Editorial - Human Rights Watch's statement is unhelpful towards establishing justice

Published on Friday, November 20, 2015

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has issued a statement asking for an immediate halt to the execution of the war criminals Salahuddin Quader (SQ) Chowdhury and Ali Hasan Mujahid in Bangladesh. HRW wants to portray this as a political vendetta of the ruling Awami League (AL) against the political parties of Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) and Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). HRW laments the lack of fair trial and accuses the court of not allowing witnesses who could testify to the innocence of these two men.

HRW goes onto say: "The trials of both Mujahid and Chowdhury have been marred by similar complaints, with arbitrary limitations on witnesses and documents. Mujahid's lawyers submitted 1500 names of defense witnesses. The court acted reasonably in refusing to consider all 1500, but acted unreasonably by ordering that only 3 witnesses could testify for the defense."

HRW fails to grasp that 1500 witnesses do not materialize from vacuum; this was a concerted effort by Islamists to discredit the court and the people of Bangladesh. You could get enough people who believe that Bangladesh could be transformed into an Islamic Caliphate and might be willing to commit the same brutality that visited Bangladesh in 1971.

The HRW statement willfully does not mention any of the charges that were leveled against these two war criminals. It does not mention the cold blooded killing of philanthropist Nutan Chandra Singha by SQ Chowdhury himself, nor does it mention that he led the Pakistani troops to a village and gathered the Hindus of the locality for a peace meeting. According to a pre-arranged plan, the Army opened fire on the people; altogether 70 were killed, of whom 50 people were identified and the rest were unknown.

It almost seems possible that HRW has never heard of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann's trial in Israel where he was sentenced to death in 1962. Eichmann, partially responsible for the extermination of over five million Jews in Europe, was kidnapped in Argentina and smuggled out of the country through covert means by Israeli agents in 1960. The kidnapping was illegal, and if HRW was present it would have protested that the human rights of Eichmann were violated and he should have been allowed to continue his life peacefully in Argentina.

We are not being frivolous here. It is not clear to us how HRW would have acted in the above case, but it is clear that the western human rights agencies have routinely undermined the rights of the Bengali victims in 1971.

We find the HRW statement biased and without any sensitivity to the war victims, who were killed, raped and tortured in 1971. What the Pakistani Army and its collaborators like SQ Chowdhury and Mujahid did are common knowledge. The charges that were presented at the court were known to every conscientious adult Bangladeshis. What we find unacceptable that organizations like HRW and Amnesty routinely choose some pet projects and ignore the cases of valid human rights infringement in this world.

We understand that HRW and Amnesty are against death penalties. However, in these case, they did not argue for leniency, they took a stand which implied that the accused were innocent.

Recently, a Bangladesh court has handed out death sentence to Oishee Rahman, 19, for killing her parents. The court did not consider any extenuating circumstance and many human rights organizations in Bangladesh consider the sentence to be harsh, especially considering Oishee's age. It is clear that Amnesty or HRW has no role to play in this type of cases, they are simply not interested. We understand that AI or HRW cannot pay attention to all human rights cases across the world, but the insistence and energy they have showed with respect to the war crimes trail in Bangladesh beg the question if they were being manipulated by lobbying groups.

What is clear is that HRW or Amnesty International have lost the respect of thinking, conscientious and progressive Bangladeshis.

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