Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin was born on 27 November 1948 in East-Bengal (now Bangladesh).
Mueen-Uddin studied literature at the University of Dhaka, where he became member of the lslami Chatra Sangha, the student branch of the Pakistani Islamic party Jamaat-e-Islami.
He left university in 1970 and started working as a journalist for the Daily Purbadesh.
In 1971, during the Bangladesh liberation war, he is alleged to have been one of the leaders of the pro-Pakistan Islamic paramilitary force Al-Badr, and to have taken part, in the last days of the war, in the abduction and murder of 18 Bengali intellectuals (journalists, doctors and professors).
After the proclamation of independence of Bangladesh, Mueen-Uddin fled to Pakistan before settling in London, where he became an influential Muslim leader.
He became Imam of the Tottenham Mosque, was involved in the establishment of the Muslim Council of Britain and became the director of the Muslim Spiritual Care Division of the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS). He is also believed to have been involved in a range of charity initiatives.
In early 2013, the investigative agency of the Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal launched an investigation against him.
On 28 April 2013, the Prosecutor of the Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal indicted Mueen-Uddin and Ashrafuzzaman Khan, another alleged member of Al-Badr, of crimes against humanity for the murder of 18 intellectuals during the 1971 Liberation war.
On 28 April 2013, the Prosecutor of the Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal indicted Mueen-Uddin and Ashrafuzzaman Khan, another alleged member of Al-Badr, for crimes against humanity for the murder of 18 intellectuals during the 1971 Liberation war.
On 2 May 2013, the Tribunal issued an arrest warrant for the two accused to appear before the court. However, as there is no extradition treaty signed between Bangladesh and the United Kingdom and as the latter does not extradite when the accused may face the death penalty, Mueen-Uddin did not appear before the court and was instead tried in absentia, and so was his co-accused Khan.
The trial commenced on 15 July 2013. Eleven charges were laid. The defence lawyers pleaded not guilty, claiming that the Pakistani army was instead responsible for the alleged murders. However, no defence witnesses whatsoever took the stand to support this version of events.
On 3 November 2013, the two accused were sentenced to death by hanging after the Tribunal found him guilty in absentia of having “encouraged, (…) provided moral support to and (…) participated in the murder of 18 intellectuals.”
Following the announcement of the verdict, violent protests erupted in Dhaka, with the political opposition asking for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to step down.
THE 1971 BANGLADESH LIBERATION WAR
The 1947 partition of India resulted in the emergence of the country of Pakistan out of two territories: West Pakistan (today’s Pakistan) and East Pakistan (today’s Bangladesh). As a response to the Awami League victory in the 1970 general elections, the Pakistan Army launched Operation Searchlight on 25 March 1971, a massive military operation designed to curb the nationalist movement in East Pakistan. The armed conflict became known as the “Liberation War” and lasted until 16 December 1971.
The conflict involved widespread killings and other atrocities –forced displacement, disappearances, destruction and confiscation of property, torture and sexual violence– carried out by the Pakistan Army with the assistance of religious and political groups from East and West Pakistan. The exact number of victims of the conflict is not established. Bangladeshi authorities claim that 3 million people were killed while a Pakistan Government investigation states the figure of 26,000. The conflict also led to a major humanitarian crisis, with eight to ten millions refugees fleeing to India. Sexual violence was allegedly used as a weapon of war, with an estimated 200.000 women victims of rape.
INTERNATIONAL CRIMES TRIBUNAL ACT (ICTA)
On 20 June 1973, the ICTA was adopted to provide for the prosecution of any persons for “crimes against humanity, genocide, crimes against peace, war crimes, violation of any humanitarian rules and any other crimes under international law” committed in Bangladesh. The ICTA, using the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal Charter as a template, was to serve as a basis for a national tribunal.
However, efforts ended with the military coup of 1975. The new regime also repealed the 1972 Collaborator’s Act, which had been designed to bring to account those who had collaborated with the Pakistan Army. As a result, prosecutions of “collaborators” who did not fall under the 30 November 1973 amnesty were stopped, and all those detained and convicted were pardoned and released.
INTERNATIONAL CRIMES TRIBUNAL (ICT)
In 2008, the ICTA was resuscitated in the election manifesto of the Awami League. In 2009, the elected Awami League government adopted a resolution to initiate the establishment of a civilian court, which led to the 2009 amendment of the ICTA. In March 2010, the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) was set up and its Rules of Procedure were adopted on 15 July 2010.
The ICT has generated criticism from the international community, including the UN Working Group on arbitrary detention, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the US Ambassador-at-large for War Crimes Issues. This criticism mainly addresses the lack of fair trial standards. The European Union has also voiced its concern with regards to the potential application of the death penalty.
LIMITATIONS TO THE TRIAL OF INTERNATIONAL CRIMES
Several legislative and executive orders granted immunity to groups involved in the 1971 Liberation War. In February 1973, shortly before the ICTA, the Bangladesh National Liberation Struggle (Indemnity) Order granted immunity to all freedom fighters for acts committed in connection with the “Liberation Struggle”. On 30 November 1973, a general amnesty was declared for all Bangladesh citizens who had collaborated with the Pakistan Army, with the exception of those accused of murder, rape, arson or genocide. Finally, the early 1974 tripartite agreement organised the return of Pakistani prisoners of wars, including those accused of committing war crimes, without charging them.
The ICTA was, however, never repealed. It provides for the prosecution of Bangladeshi nationals who were not granted immunity for international crimes committed during the Liberation War.