Justice Interrupted

24 August 2010 by Caitlin Reiger

In a stately colonial building in central Dhaka, on 26 July 2010 Bangladesh’s International Crimes Tribunal granted the prosecutors’ request to issue arrest warrants for four individual suspects on charges of committing genocide, crimes against humanity and crimes against peace. A further case against a fifth individual was also opened by the court.

The International Crimes Tribunal is a landmark effort to deal with the legacy of the atrocities that occurred during the conflict that accompanied Bangladesh’s independence from Pakistan, atrocities which remain largely unknown outside the region.

The long road to justice started back in 1947 when the partition of India created a single country of Pakistan out of two primarily Muslim territories separated by 1,600 kilometres. Many in Bengali East Pakistan resented the concentration of economic and political power in West Pakistan and tensions steadily rose.

In 1970, the Awami League (AL), led by Bengali nationalist leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (Sheikh Mujib), won an overwhelming victory in the Pakistan general elections. However, the West Pakistan-based leadership refused to hand over power. In March 1971, they arrested Sheikh Mujib and launched a major military campaign throughout East Pakistan known as Operation Searchlight.

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