Saturday, November 1, 2014

Support for the War Crimes Trials

The Daily Star editor Mahfuz Anam's recent article on the International Crimes Tribunal's recent judgment on Nizami, which is in strong support of the process, has criticised the idea that the  'country is divided' about the tribunals, arguing in fact they have widespread support
'An insidious campaign is now afoot claiming that our nation is divided on the war crimes trial. Such a view is without any substance and it is our duty to renounce it forcefully. ... [T]o the best of our knowledge, and based on opinions of the hundreds of thousands who read us and interact with us, we have absolutely no doubt that our nation is fully committed behind this trial and there is a great deal of support for holding people accountable for the crimes committed in 1971.'
How accurate is Anam in this analysis?

In 2013, a number of opinion polls were conducted which inter alia asked questions on the support for the tribunals (as well as for the Shah-bag protests), and whilst there are some nuances, they do clearly show that there was at least then vast support for the process - even though a majority of people at the same time thought they were not fair.

These polls are obviously out of date and much has happened since then: they were done after the mass Shahbag protests in February 2013 campaigning for the death penalty and before the Molla execution in December 2013, and obviously before the January 5th 2014 elections. But they are the best we have.

The first one was conducted in April 2013 by AC Nielsen (for Democracy International), and I wrote an article about it in New Age, titled, 'Majority support war crimes trials but oppose Shahbagh protests'.  (to see full details of the polls done at the time by AC Nielsen, see here) You can also download this particular poll here

In summary the poll found that a vast majority of people wanted the trials to proceed (86 percent of those who knew about the trials), whilst at the same time 63 percent of people thought that the trials were unfair or very unfair (though it was not clear why they thought it was unfair.) 

In relation to Shahbag, when those voters who knew about the protests were asked about the extent to which ‘most of your friends and family’ supported or were against the movement, the poll found that only 31 per cent supported/highly supported it. The relevant parts of the article is here
Most voters want the 1971 war crimes trials ‘to proceed’ even though a majority also consider the trials to be ‘unfair’ or ‘very unfair,’ according to an opinion poll conducted in April 2013.
The poll, which was amongst a series of surveys conducted by the pollster AC Nielson also found that nearly twice as many people were against, rather than in favour, of the Shahbagh movement.
When 2510 randomly selected people throughout Bangladesh were asked in April whether they knew about the war crimes trials, 92 percent said that they did with 86 per cent of these voters stating that they personally wanted the trials to proceed, with only 12 per cent against.
However, when asked about the fairness of the process, 63 per cent (of those that knew about the trials) thought that the trials were unfair or very unfair (with 41 percent stating that they were unfair and 22 per cent stating that the trials were ‘very’ unfair) and only 31 per cent considered that the trials were fair or 'very' fair (with 22 percent stating that they were fair and 9 per cent thinking that they were ‘very’ fair).Those voters who thought that the trials were ‘unfair/very unfair’ included supporters of all the main parties: 84 per cent of the BNP and Jamaat supporters, 80 per cent of Jatiya party voters, and even 32 per cent of Awami Leaguers.
Voters were not asked about the reason for their views on the fairness of the tribunal but the process was subject in November and December 2012 to particular controversy with the publication of Skype conversations and e-mails involving the former chairman of one of the tribunals and allegations about the state abduction of a defence witness.
In relation to Shahbag, which could be seen as part proxy for views on the tribunal, the poll found the following:
Questions were also asked about the Shahbagh protests which were triggered in February 2013 by the decision of the International Crimes Tribunal to sentence Abdul Quader Mollah, following his conviction for crimes against humanity during the 1971 independence war, to life imprisonment, rather than to a death sentence.
The poll found that 66 per cent of those questioned knew about the Shahbagh protests and out of this number, 69 per cent thought that the ‘reason’ why the protesters were at Shahbagh were to ‘demand justice/capital punishment,’ with only 19 per cent thinking that the object was ‘anti-Islamist.’
However, when those voters who knew about the protests were asked about the extent to which ‘most of your friends and family’ supported or were against the movement, the poll found that only 31 per cent supported/highly supported it (of which 13 per cent ‘highly’ supported it) and that 51 per cent thought that their friends and family were against/highly against it (21 per cent being ‘highly’ against).
The poll found that most Awami League supporters (60 per cent) supported the Shahbagh protests, with most BNP supporters (71 per cent) opposing them. ...
In September 2013, Org-Quest did a poll for the newspaper Prothom Alo - in which one of the questions was about the war crimes tribunals, a question which was also asked in the three previous year's polls, allowing a comparison over time.

This poll found that 80% of respondents agreed that those who had committed war crimes should be tried and punished with only 19% against it.

This was slightly down from the results in 2009 to a similar question, where 86% agreed and 80% did not.

However when the same people were asked about the ‘appropriateness’ of the process, only 40% agreed that the process was appropriate, with 59% thinking that it was not.

One problem with this particular results is that it is not clear from the survey results exactly what question was used to ask about the appropriateness of the trials. However, these results reflect those in the Nielsen/DI poll.

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