Bangladesh: Impunity Is The Problem, Not The Solution

In Bangladesh, buses and trains have been the main targets of an arson campaign conducted by Islamist organizations opposed to the persecution of perpetrators of the 1971 Genocide.

bangladesh-genocideDHAKA, Bangladesh — “Pray for us!” were the last words of Dr. Samanta Lal Sen, chief coordinator at the Burn and Plastic Surgery Unit of the Dhaka Medical College Hospital waving me goodbye.

Founded only ten years ago, the only specialized unit addressing burn victims in the 160 plus million country has now over three times its capacity filled. Patients are found everywhere, even lying on the floor of porch stairs in the least serious cases.

Buses and trains have been the main targets of an arson campaign conducted by Islamist organizations opposed to the persecution of the 1971 Genocide perpetrators by the International Crimes Tribunal of Bangladesh (ICT). Innocent people such as bus drivers, students or common workers have been the main victims.

And things risk getting even worse as the Jamaat-e-Islami has called a nationwide dawn-to-dusk general strike protesting against the maximum penalty passed against Abdul Quader Molla by the Court on December 8, according to the front page of my morning paper (New Age, December 09).

Paulo Casaca in Bangladesh visiting burn victims by Jamaat-e-Islami, the local chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Paulo Casaca in Bangladesh visiting burn victims by Jamaat-e-Islami, the local chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Apparently the situation is far more complex due to a dispute between the two main political parties on the interim government preparing elections, but as Zead-Al-Malum – public prosecutor of the ICT – explained in a public conference on the 7th: protests would vanish if the government were to accept demands to dissolve the Tribunal.

And so the question naturally arises: should the authorities bow to the tremendous pressure coming from Islamist organizations and governments backed by an unholy alliance of lobbies, diplomats and other pressure groups and get instant peace by accepting impunity?

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Impunity from the 1971 Bangladesh Genocide

This solution has been tried in the past and the truth is that the present problems are mainly due to the impunity to the 1971 Genocide that allowed the offenders to acquire fundamental leverages of power in the civil society in areas like finances, education and health systems.

The thirteen point ultimatum made by a new Islamist organization paralyzing Dhaka on May in view of forcing the government to step down demanded the replacement of the secular constitution by a fully fledged Islamist state. No degree of appeasement short of complete surrender to a Talibanized Bangladesh would do the trick.

The issue is for Bangladesh to get the necessary support to pursue the course of justice and let it be known that crimes against humanity will not be tolerated. And with this aim, other than praying and showing the unconditional solidarity to the Bangladeshi people, the West – both the European Union and the United States – must stop allowing its territory to be the logistical, financial and propaganda haven for the Islamist forces that are literally torching the country ablaze.

The 1971 Genocide was the biggest experience after the second World War and it is being dealt with now by the Bangladeshi judiciary in a much more professional, fair and open manner than most other crimes against humanity were in our contemporary world.

Nothing can be done to erase history, but certainly something can and must be done to respect the memories of those who are gone and the lives of those who are with us.

Paulo Casaca in the Burn and Plastic Surgery Unit of the Dhaka Medical College Hospital

Paulo Casaca in the Burn and Plastic Surgery Unit of the Dhaka Medical College Hospital

Paulo Casaca is Executive Director of Alliance to Renew Co-operation among Humankind. Read other articles by Paulo.