Law minister Shafique Ahmed yesterday raised the issue in parliament about Jamaat-e-Islami paying a US lobbyist firm $25m to obstruct war crimes trials in Bangladesh.
Responding to MP Dhirendro Debnath Shambhu’s question in relation to the war crimes tribunal, the law minister said envoys from European Union countries, the US, Turkey and Saudi Arabia raised various questions about the trial of alleged war criminals because of lobbying by Jamaat. However, the envoys were satisfied with the government’s position, the minister claimed.
“Jamaat-e-Islami has signed an agreement with a US lobbyist firm to make the trials controversial. [Jamaat leader] Mir Kashem Ali paid $25 million [for this purpose],” Shafique said adding the government had copies of the money receipt and the agreement as proof.
He said in relation to this, US Ambassador Stephen Rapp and a foreign lawyer called on him twice seeking explanations about the government’s position on the trials of those accused of war crimes and the roles they played during the Liberation War of Bangladesh in 1971.
The minister said the German and French ambassadors invited him to a party, which was attended by Rapp and the lawyer, as well as representatives of other EU countries.
Shafique stated, “Trials are taking place after 41 years because Bangladesh wants to end the culture of impunity,” and also added the government must punish those accused for crimes against humanity “to establish the rule of law” in Bangladesh.
In a democracy, he said, victims and relatives have the right to seek justice for the killings, rapes, and arson attacks, forceful conversion of religion and other crimes, and the government must ensure these rights are not denied. “I told them we want to free the nation from stigma,” he said.
Parliament unanimously passed a resolution in January 2009 authorising the government to start the war crimes trials. The law minister stated in 1973 a law was enacted for the trial of those accused, but the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman put a stop to proceedings with a change in the political scene.
He reminded MPs, “They [war criminals] were given share of state power; they were given the flag of Bangladesh.”
Shafique added the lawyer who spoke to him at the party also wished to represent and defend Jamaat in court. But the minister informed Ambassador Rapp “If anyone wants to practice the law here (in Bangladesh), he (or she) must be a Bangladeshi national. Besides, they must pass the Bangladesh Bar Council’s examination.”
The minister added, following their meeting, in a letter Rapp wrote: “If Bangladesh can try the war criminals according to the domestic law, it will be a model for the world.” Confirming that, “The ambassadors expressed their satisfaction over the trial (process).”
Saudi Arabia is also said to agree with the government’s actions. “We have no objection against the trial,” the minister quoted the Saudi ambassador. He claimed the Economist magazine published fictitious and fabricated stories about the trials.