MUTINEERS, ASSASSINS & WAR CRIMINALS

It’s now a year since I went over to see the elections in Bangladesh which brought a civilian government back into power with a huge popular mandate. During its first year in office the new government has had to deal with mutineers, assassins and war criminals.

Almost immediately into the government’s 5-year term, in February we heard stories of a mutiny amongst the military in Dhaka which sent alarm bells ringing and raised fears that the military had once again taken control of the country. It transpired that rank-and-file soldiers from the Dhaka-based Bangladesh Rifles were revolting against their officers and not against the new civilian government. This was met with some relief but the aftermath of the mutiny has caused controversy.

For example, Amnesty International has raised concerns about justice for the alleged mutineers currently on trial in Bangladesh (download their report here). In truth the suspects are fortunate that they have not been court-martialled and are being charged through civilian courts rather than by the army, as clearly officers wanted to take matters into their own hands. Furthermore, it appears that officers have somehow got involved in the prosecution of these suspects if the allegations of mistreatment in detention are to be believed. The officers should be told quite clearly to go back to the barracks and let the civilian courts get on with it.

It is not only the trials of the mutineers that have kept the courts busy, as the government had immediately to deal with some unfinished business, namely prosecuting the assassins responsible for the deaths of the founding father of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and his family on the 15th of August 1975.  The court case was successfully concluded in mid-November with death sentences confirmed on those convicted. The challenge now is to get them back to Bangladesh as some of them are abroad.

Prosecutions are also imminent in connection the war crimes committed by those who collaborated with the Pakistani army during the war of liberation in 1971. The government was given a popular mandate during the election last year to deal once and for all with this issue which has been hanging over Bangladeshi politics since the creation of the state. Thankfully the cases will start around February or March 2010 and will also undoubtedly have an impact on internal politics with the Bangladeshi community in the UK.

So where in the world but Bangladesh would mutineers, assassins and war criminals feature so dramatically in a single year of the nation’s political life? That’s one reason why I’ll continue to take interest in the politics of my ancestral home even though sadly I no longer have my father to tell me what’s happening out there.