Thursday, November 14, 2013

The UK police's failure to investigate 1971 war crimes 20 years ago

The Jewish Chronicle and the Spectator have written two articles critical of how the British government, and others groups within the UK have allowed themselves to dialogue with 'Islamists who dominate Muslim institutions in the UK.'

These articles were written in light of the conviction in Bangladesh last week of British citizen, Chowdhury Mueen Uddin for crimes relating to his alleged masterminding the abduction of 18 'intellectuals' in the final days of the country's independence war in 1971. (Here is a copy of the judgment)

He was given the death penalty.

As written elsewhere, Mueen Uddin and his lawyers have strongly attacked the tribunal that prosecuted him - and, unfortunately, with some legitimacy.

Whilst the questions suggested by the Spectator and the Jewish Chronicle may be interesting to ask, there is is a far more significant concern that requires consideration, and maybe even investigation.

This relates to a point that Martin Bright makes in his JC article. In response to Mueen Uddin's assertions of innocence and also his stated willingness to be tried in another forum, Bright asked whether one should:
"... allow this country’s legal system to deal with the allegations against Mr Mueen-Uddin. Scotland Yard investigated the case in the 1990s after a Channel 4 documentary brought the allegations to light and the police should look again at whether there is enough evidence to bring him to trial in the UK."
This extract suggest that Mueen Uddin's conduct in 1971 was investigated by the British police 20 years ago in 1995 when they were first brought to its attention by the Channel 4 documentary.

However that was not the case.

A file of evidence was indeed sent to Scotland Yard - but the police never 'investigated' the allegations. It decided that it need not look any further as its lawyers advised it that 'primary jurisdiction' over such a case was with the Bangladesh government, and - that being so - the police sent the file to the Bangladesh High Commission.

It is this UK police decision which needs to be subject to a great deal of criticism.

This is because international lawyers will tell you that there is no concept in international law of 'primary jurisdiction'. Whilst it may be true that the normal preferred position is for a war criminal to be prosecuted where the crimes took place - and in that sense Bangladesh has primary jurisdiction - if Bangladesh is not going to prosecute and the United Kingdom is not going to extradite then the United Kingdom should take action itself

It is arguably the failure of the British police to take the allegations against him seriously in 1995 that is the reason why Mueen Uddin will most likely never have to face a court of law (having been tried in absentia in Bangladesh, and will not be extradited to face the death penalty.)

In 1995, although even then 24 years had passed since the alleged crimes, a significant amount of evidence was available. This not only comprised the evidence that was collected for the film itself, but other evidence collected subsequently - in part facilitated by the libel case which Mueen Uddin initiated against Channel Four.

A large amount of evidence was collected in the form affidavits or signed statements. As part of its preperations in defending the libel action, Channel Four lawyers also filmed interviews with the witnesses reading out their statements. This was all available then.

In the 20 years since, however, many crucial witnesses have now died. Also some evidence has been lost.

The point is whilst evidence does continue to exist concerning Mueen Uddins's involvement in 1971 crimes (and the police should certainly be looking at what is currently available) the evidence in 1995 was that much stronger than it is now, and the question is: why was it not properly scrutinised and assessed at that time, and if necessary further investigations carried out?

As mentioned above the view of Scotland Yard that it lacked 'primary jurisdiction' was very questionable. It is a great pity it was not legally challenged properly at the time.

The British police could certainly have investigated  these offenses, and if there was sufficeint evidence prosecute in the UK courts, particularly as it should have been very clear that there was no appetite for prosecuting these offences in Bangladesh at that time.

The failure of the police to investigate Mueen Uddin in 1996 is arguably a matter of some negligence on its part - and may well have allowed a person, against whom serious allegations lie - to escape justice.


  1. So you're criticising the ICT on the ground of delivering injustice and now stating Muendeen is escaping justice!!!! Dude!!! Its a serious inconsistency!!! Either you have to say the ICT is delivering justice through just trial process or Mueendeen avoids injustice!!!!

  2. Anonymous above, have you read the article? Putting to one side for the moment the significant credibility problems with the Bangladesh tribunal, Chowdhury Mueen Uddin was tried in absentia (so he did not have to face trial as such) and he will never be extradited to the Bangladesh. So whilst the process may well have resulted in satisfaction in Bangladesh, it has had no meaningful result in relation to Mueen Uddin. Had the UK police taken action 20 years ago, and prosecuted him in a UK court, things may well have been very different

  3. David. you must realise how self serving all of this sounds. We were with you with your justified criticism of the ICT. now to turn around and say that your claim to fame, mueen uddin. the man whom i've made my career off - is obviously guilty. Makes this all sound a little self interested. From your writings you make it sound that if he was tried in a UK court he would have obviously been put away. what are you basing this on?

  4. Hi Jonathan. A few points. My view about Mueen Uddin relates to the work I did as a journalist 20 years ago which indicated his involvement in the abductions in December 1971. I remain confident in that journalism. I think the British police should have independently investigated the allegation in 1995/6, and if there was sufficient evidence, prosecute him there. That view is entirely consistent with my writings on the tribunal in Bangladesh. I supported the principle of holding tribunals, but the practice of the tribunals has failed to meet acceptable standards in my view. You would be entirely wrong to thing that my criticism of the tribunal reflects a view that I think the Jamaat accused are neccesarily innocent of the allegations.

  5. Interesting, perhaps a court is the best place to settle this and strength test the evidence. Better than your tribunal my media.

    Re: content
    What evidence was lost?
    What happened to the libel case that was initiated?
    Do you accept the possibility, however small, that you may be mistaken wrt your version of events?

    I am trying to imagine the political economy of war crimes trials at the time the Met sent over the file. By 1995 Jahanara Imam had passed on and Shahriar Kabir was very much leading the charge, Jamat were pulling away from the ruling BNP and cooperating with the Awami League to bring them down. Meanwhile, the Awami League had assured Jamaat as per 1992 Hasina-Azam parley that they would sabotage the Nirmul Movement. (Ref: Rentu Memoirs:

  6. Hi Fugstar. Obviously, I agree that this should have been/should be tested in a court of law. And yes of course, I accept that my view may not be the correct one, and/or at least the allegations cannot be proved in a UK court of law. Libel case was settled with Mueen Uddin dropping the case. No damages paid by Channel Four.

  7. David, what do you think of CMU's account: