Saturday, November 28, 2015

And what of the trial of the 195 Pakistani officers

Surrender of the Pakistan military to Indian
forces in December 1971


On 22 November, the spokesperson for the Pakistan foreign ministry issued the following statement about the execution of Salauddin Quader Chowhdury and Ali Ahsan Mujahid, leaders of the opposition   Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Jamaat-e-Islami respectively, following their conviction of international crimes during the 1971 war that resulted in the independence of Bangladesh. The Pakistan foreign ministry statement said:
"We have noted with deep concern and anguish the unfortunate executions of the Bangladesh National Party Leader, Mr. Salauddin Quadir Chowdhury and Mr Ali Ahsan Mojaheed. Pakistan is deeply disturbed at this development.

As emphasized earlier, we have also been noting the reaction of the international community on the flawed trials in Bangladesh related to events of 1971.

There is a need for reconciliation in Bangladesh in accordance with the spirit of Pakistan, India, Bangladesh Agreement of 9th April 1974. The Agreement calls for a forward looking approach in matters relating to 1971. This would foster goodwill and harmony."
The inappropriateness of Pakistan issuing such a statement was perhaps best captured in the statement given the eminent Pakistani jurist and human rights campaigner, Asma Jahangir, who said (and I paraphrase) that whilst the trials may have been unfair, it was ridiculous for Pakistan to be so concerned about these executions when the government failed to raise any concerns about Pakistani citizens executed in Saudi Arabia, or about its own trials that result in executions. This is how her remarks, that were given to reporters at court, was reported in Dawn newspaper:
“Equal passion, we hope, will be shown by the government” for the people on death row in Pakistan than being hanged elsewhere in the world by denying due process, she said.
She was of the opinion that the hangings in Bangladesh would further deepen the divide and haunt its politics in future. She said that all human rights activists who monitored these trials agreed that due process had not been given to the two accused. 
“We have condemned the unfortunate developments and even given out urgent appeals to the Amnesty International and other international human rights organisations in this regard,” she added. 
But, Ms Jahangir said, Pakistan should first take up the issue of capital punishment through unfair trials here and of those Pakistanis who were being consistently executed in Saudi Arabia and then show disproportionately high passion for the politicians of Bangladesh.
She said the government was only confirming the fact that two men were political agents and working for the cause of Pakistan. Are these two Bangladeshi more important than the people living in Pakistan, she asked. If the answer is in the affirmative, the government should also explain why and what for. 
Ms Jahangir admitted that the two politicians had been executed without affording due process, but regretted that the same right was being denied to the people facing trial in military courts on terrorism charges. 
“We are against the death penalty and unfair trials whether in Pakistan, Bangladesh or elsewhere,” she said, adding that everybody knew that the trial of the two Bangladeshi politicians was flawed, but the role of Pakistan was something which was not understandable. 
“If they (Pakistan government) are against the death penalty or the undue process, they should look into the trials being conducted by the military courts,” she said.
However, one thing was missing from her statement - which would have been very appropriate for her have commented on - was Pakistan's 'obligation' to put on trial its army officers who committed crimes during the 1971 war.

To its credit, in its rebuke to the Pakistan ministry statement, the Bangladesh government did make this very point. According to the government's press statement, the Pakistan government was:
"[R]eminded that it was Pakistan that has systematically failed in its obligation to bring to justice those of its nationals identified and held responsible for committing mass atrocity crimes in 1971, and Pakistan could not escape the historic obligation it owed to the people of Bangladesh as well as to the international community."
What does one mean by Pakistan's obligation to bring to account its officers accused of crimes during the 1971 war?

After the surrender of the Pakistan government's authorities, the Bangladesh government identified 195 Pakistani army officers, then in the custody of the Indian government, who it claimed were involved in war crimes and wanted brought back to Bangladesh for prosecution. There followed desperate attempts by the Pakistan government to prevent this happening - including arresting over 200 Bengalis in West Pakistan who they claimed had acted as spies during the war and announcing that they would be prosecuted and, along with China's assistance, preventing the country's recognition at the United Nations.

In addition in May 1973, Pakistan applied to to the International Court of Justice seeking to prevent the Indian government sending an order from it prohibiting the Indian government handing these officers over to Bangladesh for trial.

So far so good. But what is particularly significant is that during this period, the Pakistan government accepted that they would prosecute the men themselves with trials involving international supervision. So in March 1973, the Pakistan government issued a statement stating that:
"Pakistani government rejects the right of the authorities in Dacca to try any among the prisoners of war on criminal charges, because the alleged criminal acts were committed in a part of Pakistan by citizens of Pakistan. But Pakistan expresses its readiness to constitute a judicial tribunal of such character and composition as will inspire international confidence to try the persons charged with offenses." (emphasis added)
In addition, in its application to the International Court of Justice, the Pakistan government argued:
(1) That Pakistan has an exclusive right to exercise jurisdiction over the one hundred and ninety-five Pakistani nationals or any other number, now in Indian custody, and accused of committing acts of genocide in Pakistani territory by virtue of the application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the crime of Genocide of 9 December 1948, and that no other Government or authority is competent to exercise such jurisdiction.  ...

(3) That there can be no ground whatever in international law, justifying the transfer of custody of these one hundred and ninety-five or any other number of prisoners of war to "Bangla Desh" for trial in the face of Pakistan's exclusive right to exercise jurisdiction over its nationals accused of committing offences in Pakistan territory, and that India would act illegally in transferring such persons to "Bangla Desh" for trials.

(4) That a "Competent Tribunal" within the meaning of Article VI of the Genocide Convention means a Tribunal of impartial judges, applying international law, and permitting the accused to be defended hy counsel of their choice. The Tribunal cannot base itself on ex-post facto laws nor violate any provisions of the Declaration of Human Rights. In view of these and other requirements of a "Competent Tribunal", even if India could legally transfer Pakistani Prisoners of War to "Bangla Desh" for trial, which is not admitted, it would be divested of that freedom since in the atmosphere of hatred that prevails in "Bangla Desh", such a "Competent Tribunal" cannot be created in practice nor can it be expected to perform in accordance with accepted international standards of justice. (emphasis added)
These are clear commitments on the part of the Pakistan government that it would take the same steps that the Bangladesh government - their  prosecution for genocide. Moreover, they committed to doing so through international standard trials.

In 1974, the Tripartite agreement between India, Bangladesh and Pakistan was signed, in which it was agreed that the 195 Pakistani POWs would be returned to Pakistan, as part of an overall agreement between the three countries. The relevant part of the document reads:
13. The question of 195 Pakistani prisoners of war was discussed by the three Ministers, in the context of the earnest desire of the Governments for reconciliation, peace and friendship in the sub-continent. The Foreign Minister of Bangladesh stated that the excesses and manifold crimes committed by these prisoners of war constituted, according to the relevant provisions of the U.N. General Assembly Resolutions and International Law, war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, and that there was universal consensus that persons charged with such crimes as the 195 Pakistani prisoners of war should be held to account and subjected to the due process of law. The Minister of State for Defense and Foreign Affairs of the Government of Pakistan said that his Government condemned and deeply regretted any crimes that may have been committed.

14. In this connection the three Ministers noted that the matter should be viewed in the context of the determination of the three countries to continue resolutely to work for reconciliation. The Ministers further noted that following recognition; the Prime Minister of Pakistan had declared that he would visit Bangladesh in response to the invitation of the Prime Minister of Bangladesh and appeal to the people of Bangladesh to forgive and forget the mistakes of the, past, in order to promote reconciliation. Similarly, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh had declared with regard to the atrocities and destruction committed in Bangladesh in 1971 that he wanted the people to forget the past and to make a fresh start, stating that the people or Bangladesh knew how to forgive. 
15. In the light of the foregoing and, in particular, having regard to the appeal of the Prime Minister of Pakistan to the people of Bangladesh to forgive and forget the mistakes of the past, the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh stated that the Government of Bangladesh had decided not to proceed with the trials as an act of clemency. It was agreed that the 195 prisoners of war may be repatriated to Pakistan along with the other prisoners of war now in the process of repatriation under the Delhi Agreement.
Whilst the terms of the agreement did not state that Pakistan would follow through with its earlier commitments to prosecute these men, it certainly did not preclude the possibility - and it is reasonable to assume that it would do so. As this blog has already noted, the highly respected international lawyer Geofrey Robertson has written about this issue in his recent report on the Bangladesh trials. He states that:
"Notwithstanding the agreements between India and Pakistan in 1972-3, and the Delhi Tripartite Agreement in 1974, and the devious dealings after Mujibur was killed, I can find no evidence in these events that any amnesty binding in law was offered or granted for crimes against humanity committed during the civil war. 
….. Although the Tripartite Agreement made in Delhi in 1974 is often described as an “amnesty”, at least for the Pakistani suspects, it is no such thing. It has been described by historians as “implicitly recognising” that none of the 195 “would ever be tried or held accountable,” but any binding amnesty must be clearly expressed and not merely “implicit”. True it is that Bangladesh agreed to abandon its demand for the 195 prisoners in Indian custody, but it did not thereby abandon the idea of putting them, or others, on trial at some time in the future. There can, in any case, be no amnesty for an international crime like genocide. The deal in Delhi was not a bar to prosecutions, however many years later, under ICTA." (p.47)
In the conclusion of the report Robertson says that Pakistan officers should be amongst those whom a an ad hoc international criminal Tribunal, established by the United Nations, should investigate and prosecute and he goes onto say that
"Perhaps it is time for Bangladesh to seek reparations, in the same or some other forum, for the Pakistan army crimes of genocide that so blighted its birth and its future as a nation."
Whilst there are delicate diplomatic issues that need to be taken into account, the failure of the Pakistan government to re-initiate investigations and commence (if appropriate) criminal proceedings (in a trial involving international involving judges) against those of the 195 army officers who are still alive, remains a huge justice gap in relation to the 1971 war.

No comments:

Post a Comment