Why Bangladesh Executed Abdul Quader Molla

By Akramul Qader

International news outlets have used a selective, biased and misleading approach to describe the execution of Abdul Quader Molla, a convicted war criminal who was hanged this month for crimes against humanity, genocide and rape committed during Bangladesh's War of Liberation in 1971.

Mr. Molla's execution was carried out on December 12 after he exhausted all appeals and only after the full bench of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court heard and eventually rejected his petition for leniency. Mr. Molla was found guilty, among other things, of killing 344 people in Alubdi village in Mirpur, a suburb of the Bangladesh capital of Dhaka and of the rape of an 11-year-old girl. He was widely known as the Butcher of Mirpur because he led the infamous Al-Badr militia in slaughtering a large number of people, including women and children.

Mr. Molla had been tried at the International Crimes Tribunal, Bangladesh (ICT-BD) for almost three years under the International Crimes Tribunal Act of 1973, and he was found guilty of the charges against him beyond a reasonable doubt. He was initially sentenced to life imprisonment but, after appeals by both the defense and the prosecution, the five-member Appellate Division decided that the sentence awarded to him was not proportionate to the proven charges against him.

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Some prominent headlines identified Mr. Molla as an "Islamist leader" or an "opposition leader." While it is true that Mr. Molla was the Assistant Secretary General of Jammat-e-Islami, a religion-based political party in Bangladesh, that does not qualify him to be an "Islamist leader" in a country in which the vast majority of the population follows Islam and the preaching of lslamic scholars -- without following the political ideology propagated by the Jamaat-e-Islami.

Mr. Molla was a leader of Al-Badr, one of the auxiliary forces that, under the patronage of Jamaat-e-Islami, collaborated with the occupying Pakistan army and took a categorical stand against Bangladesh's independence in 1971.

The tribunals considered the crimes committed by the individuals accused of the crimes against humanity and did not consider their political affiliations. Mr. Molla's case in ICT-BD had nothing to do with his political identity. His connection to the Jamaat-e-Islami is a coincidence as far as the trials are concerned. Mr. Molla's criminal record from 1971 is well documented nationally and internationally and now has been validated by the country's highest court.

Throughout the trial process, international standards of justice have been meticulously maintained. The tribunals have been fair and impartial and were conducted entirely in public. The accused's right to know the charges and evidence and to be presumed innocent until proved guilty were also upheld. Defense attorneys were given ample time to prepare their cases and were allowed full cross-examination. They could also appeal final verdicts.

Uniquely with the ICT-BD, the defendants could appeal their verdicts to the full bench of the Appellate Division, the highest court in the land. That was not the case in the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials, nor was it allowed as part of the international war crimes trials in Cambodia, the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Moreover, the ICT-BD maintains full public transparency in the conduct of its proceedings. The trials are neither summary nor closed, but are open trials with full access given to national and international media, relatives of the victims and the accused, members of diplomatic missions and research organizations.

The ICT-BD is committed to justice, the rule of law, human rights and international humanitarian principles. Nit-picking misses the larger point that the trials are focused on producing robustly just outcomes. They should be viewed in the broader context of the international criminal justice system, which inherits the legacy of, and continues to be enriched by, Nuremburg, Tokyo and other comparable war crimes trials around the world.

The war crimes tribunals in Bangladesh are all about justice, not revenge.

Akramul Qader is Bangladesh ambassador to the United States.

(AP Photo)

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