Syed Mohammad Qaiser
Syed Mohammad Qaiser was born in 1941 in the village of Itakhola in Habiganj, north-eastern Bangladesh. He was politically active at an early age and in 1962 became an activist for the Pakistan Convention Muslim League.
Qaiser has been formally charged with 16 counts including genocide, crimes against humanity, and rape, in reference to his alleged actions from 27 April 1971 to 15 November 1971 during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. Qaiser is alleged to have founded “Qaiser Bahini” an anti-liberation militia of between 500-700 participants that worked in conjunction with the Pakistani Army to conduct mass killings, rape, and destruction of property in the Habiganj and Brahmanbaria districts of the country. Qaiser is additionally accused of leading both the Razakar and the Peace Committee, two local anti-liberation groups that collaborated with the Pakistani Army also within Habiganj and Brahmanbaria.
As leader of “Qaiser Bahini”, Qaiser has been charged with 11 instances of killing that left 47 dead, two rapes one which resulted in pregnancy, as well as two instances of abduction and torture in Habiganj. Moreover, while leading the Razakar and the Peace Committee, Qaiser purportedly participated and abetted in acts of genocide across 22 villages throughout the Nasirnagar Upazila (a sub-unit of the district of Brahmanbaria) on 15 November 1971 that resulted in the deaths of 108 Hindus. Qaiser allegedly also participated in significant amount of destruction of property in Habiganj and Brahmanbaria, including raiding an estimated 1200-1300 houses as well as arson on an estimated 1500-1600 houses.
Qaiser fled to London after Bangladesh had officially seceded from Pakistan on 16 December 1971 and remained in exile until 1975, upon which he returned to Bangladesh. In 1979, he was elected as a Member of Parliament (MP) in the Bangladesh Parliament as an independent candidate. Qaiser then joined the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and served as both president of the Habiganj Unit as well as joint secretary general of the Shah Azizur Rahman Group. Following dictator Hussain Muhammad Ershad’s rise to power, Qaiser joined the Jayita party in 1986 and in 1988 served as State Minister for Agriculture.
On 10 November 2013 the prosecution for Bangladesh’s International Crimes Tribunal (ITCB) submitted formal charges against Qaiser. Consequently, Qaiser was arrested on May 16 2013, but was kept a private hospital in Dhaka, Bangladesh due to health concerns. On 5 August 2013 he was granted conditional bail because of his ongoing health issues. Qaiser was formally indicted on 2 February 2014 and charged with 16 counts of crimes against humanity including genocide, rape, torture, and murder. Qaiser’s trial was scheduled to begin 4 March 2014.
Qaiser was formally indicted on 2 February 2014 and charged with 16 counts of crimes against humanity including genocide, rape, torture, and murder. Qaiser’s trial was scheduled to begin 4 March 2014, during which Qaiser pled “not guilty” to the charges.
The prosecution summoned 32 witnesses to testify against Qaiser, the majority of whom were liberation fighters in the war. In addition, one of Qaiser’s alleged rape victims also testified against him. The defense did not utilise any witness testimony and denied both Qaiser’s involvement in any anti-liberation group as well as these groups’ presence in Habiganj and Brahmanbaria during the war.
The trial’s closing arguments concluded on 20 August 2014, but did not include a final verdict. The prosecution is seeking capital punishment, while the defense is seeking acquittal. This case is the fifth of recent ITC cases to have a delayed verdict delivery. The tribunal has not specified a date when the verdict may be delivered, although one of the Tribunal’s prosecutors has made a statement attributing the delay to the complexities inherent to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
With 16 charges against Qaiser, he was found guilty of 14, including genocide, rape, arson and torture committed during the liberation war of 1971. On 23 December 2014 Qaiser was sentenced to death. Qaiser denied the charges against him and will appeal this decision.
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.