Muhammad Kamaruzzaman was born on 4 July 1952 in Sherpur, Bangladesh. He is the assistant Secretary general of the Bangladesh islamic party Jamaat-e-Islami. Suspected of having committed crimes against humanity during the Bangladesh liberation war, he has been indicted on 13 July 2010 at the international crimes tribunal in Bangladesh.
The Bangladesh liberation war began on the evening of 25 March 1971, when western Pakistan launched a military operation against eastern Pakistan (present Bangladesh) to put an end to separatist claims.
On the evening of the 25 March, western Pakistan launched operation searchlight which consisted of the military occupation of several eastern Pakistan cities and the organized and systematic massacre of political opponents and Bengali intellectuals. As a response to the attack, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the leader of the political party of the Awami League, the main opposition party claiming independence, declared the independence of Bangladesh on 26 March 1971.
The Bangladeshi population then was divided between those supporting the independence of Bangladesh, regrouped in the “Mukti Bahini” (Liberation Army), and those supporting unity with West Pakistan. The latter were organized into militias actively supporting the Pakistani army. Kamaruzzaman is accused of having been a leader of one of these militias, the Al-Badr, suspected of having participated in operation searchlight. Pakistan signed its surrender on 16 December 1971 and Bangladesh acceded to independence.
A special court for international crimes was implemented on 25 March 2010 (see context). Seven people have been charged in this court. The fact that five of those charged, including Kamaruzzaman, are leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami party and the other two are members of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, the two main opposition parties, gives rise to severe criticism as to the suspicion of politically motivated trials. These criticisms are also aimed at the non-respect by the Court of international law standards in matters of rights of the victims and of fair trial.
Kamaruzzaman has been indicted and arrested on 13 July 2010.
Kamaruzzaman was indicted and arrested on 13 July 2010.
Nine charges are being retained against him including murder, attempted murder, intentional injury, theft of private home and acts of destruction by fire or explosion. According to the prosecutor, Kamaruzzaman is charged for acts committed personally and, as chief of militia, by his subordinates.
Provisional detention was accepted by the Court on 22 July 2010 and extended on 2 August 2010. Kamaruzzaman has applied for bail which was accepted by the Court on four counts of charge, but refused for two other. Kamaruzzaman thus remained in custody. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention condemned the fact that Kamaruzzaman was detained for more than a year without being formally informed of the charges as a breach of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The special court’s prosecutor formally presented charges to the judges on 11 December 2011. The judges dismissed the charges on 28 December of the same year, considering them improperly organized and classified. Charges have finally been deposited again on 15 January 2012. On the 31 January 2012, judges accepted to take them into cognizance, thus opening the formal procedure of the trial.
The first hearings were held on 29 February and 25 March 2012 in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Kamaruzzaman denied the charges and said that the trial was politically motivated. According to human rights activists, the proceedings didn’t meet international fair trial standards.
On 15 December 2012, the weekly newspaper The Economist leaked Skype conversations and emails between Mohamed Nizamul Huq, head judge and chairman of Bangladesh’s International Crimes Tribunal, and Ahmed Ziauddin, a Bangladeshi lawyer based in Brussels. The leaked material suggests that the Bangladeshi government pressured the Tribunal to speed up the proceedings. Judge Huq’s neutrality was called into question, as Ziauddin seemed to have helped him prepare documents for the tribunal, made recommendations and informed him on the prosecution’s strategies. On 11 December 2012, Huq resigned as chairman of the ICT. The defendant’s applications for retrials however were rejected.
On 9 May 2013, Kamaruzzaman was found guilty on five counts of charges including torture, genocide, killing, rape, looting, arson, and deportation of unarmed civilians and sentenced to death by hanging. The defence filed an appeal against the verdict.
After the appeals hearing had been deferred to 3 June 2014 on the defence’s request, the hearing actually took place on 5 June 2014. Only on 18 May 2014 had the bench hearing the appeals been constituted. Chief Justice Muzammel Hossain was surprisingly not on the bench. A first in the history of the court, the appellate division bench consists of only four judges.
On 3 November 2014, the Supreme Court upheld the trial judgment as well as the death penalty sentence. The full text of the judgement was released on 18 February 2015, and a death warrant was issued the following day. Kamaruzzaman’s defence team immediately filed a petition to obtain the review of the death penalty sentence.
The review hearings took place on 6 April 2015. The Appellate Division of the Bangladesh Supreme Court upheld the death sentence for Kamaruzzaman. The decision concluded Kamaruzzaman’s last remaining legal appeal meaning only a Presidential pardon could spare his life. Kamaruzzaman declined to seek a pardon.
Kamaruzzaman was hanged on 11 April 2015 at the Dharka Central Jail in Darkha, Bangladesh.
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.