As an activist campaigning for the cause of seeking justice for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during 1971, I was extremely glad to see the news that the government was mulling an amendment to the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act 1973 to provide permanent security for the witnesses, victims, judges, prosecutors, and investigators of the International Crimes Tribunal Bangladesh.
According to this proposed amendment: “The witnesses, victims, judges, and officials of the tribunals, members of prosecution team, and investigation agency and their family members shall be entitled to physical protection throughout their lives. The government will ensure the same” (Proposed Section 25A).
Apart from providing lifelong security for the aforementioned category of people, the proposed amendment will also ensure that the brave men and women who have come forward to testify in the most important trials for this country are duly acknowledged for their services to the nation.
The Proposed Section 25B reads: “The witnesses, victims and their family members shall be entitled and eligible to the benefits as provided by the government for the Freedom Fighters of Liberation War of 1971.”
While I thank the government for having taken such an initiative (especially with regards to recognition as Freedom Fighters), I would also urge them to translate the legislative intention into practical reality.
As seen before, despite there being adequate temporary protection mechanisms for the witnesses and victims in the ICT Act 1973 as it stands now, there had been numerous incidents of violence against witnesses and victims, most notable among which was the killing of the prosecution witness in the Sayedee trial, Mustafa Hawlader.
In those relatively recent instances (all within a year), the existence of the legal provisions were on their own, insufficient to deter repeated attacks on witnesses and victims (See, for instance, my own article on this issue: “Protect Witnesses and Victims,” Dhaka Tribune, December 29, 2013).
If the incident of first such attacks had been properly investigated and the perpetrators swiftly brought to book, perhaps the multiple future attacks could have been averted or at least mitigated in frequency.
Thus, as far as the issue of protecting ICT witnesses and victims is concerned, I would advise the government to focus on speedily investigating all the incidents of prior attacks on witnesses and victims and bring the culprits to book at the earliest.
That would send a message across – that the issue of attacks on witnesses and victims are taken very seriously. That will, in my opinion, provide a more practical and sustainable solution to the problem of protecting witnesses and victims rather than enacting further legislations.