Zahid Hossain Khokon
Zahid Hossain Khokon, also known as Khokon Razakar, was born on 11 January 1942 in Nagarkanda, a village under Nagarkanda Upazila, in Faridpur, Bangladesh. Khokon was a local Jamaat-e-Islami leader in Nagarkanda during the Bangladesh Liberation War and became chief of Nagarkanda Razakar Bahini, an auxiliary force supporting the Pakistani army.
On 21 April, 1971, Khokon took arms training in order to become a Razakar.
In May, 1971 Khokon, along with his elder brother, Zafor Khokon, formed a Razakar Bahini in their local area. After the death of his elder brother in a combat with freedom fighters, Zahid Khokon took absolute leadership, becoming commander of the local Razakar Bahini. Khokon was directly involved in the commission of crimes against humanity and genocide, committed in the district of Nagarkanda, Faridpur.
During the Bangladesh Liberation War, Khokon maintained close and active association with the Pakistani occupation army.
On 27 April 1971 Khokon and his accomplices went to the village of Bangram where they plundered and set fire to the houses of two villagers. They also took seventeen innocent locals to the police station and detained and tortured them there for two days.
Khokon was also involved in several war crimes which left at least 50 people dead, and eight others seriously injured; two women were also raped. In addition Khokon was directly involved in the deportation of seven people and in the forced conversion to Islam of nine Hindus, and in setting fire to numerous houses and two temples.
In the aftermath of the Liberation War, Khokon joined the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) giving up Jamaat-e-Islami politics. He became the senior vice-president of BNP of Nagarkanda Thana unit and elected Mayor of Nagarkanda Pourashava. The government removed him from office after his trial started in 2013.
The trial against Khokon began on 23 June 2013 when the Chief Prosecutor submitted formal charges under section 9(1) of the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act of 1973 before the International Crimes Tribunal – 1.
The trial against Khokon began on 23 June 2013 when the Chief Prosecutor submitted formal charges under section 9(1) of the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act of 1973 before the International Crimes Tribunal – 1 (ICT-1).
On 13 September 2013, the ICT-1 indicted Khokon on 11 charges of crimes against humanity including extermination, murder, rape, abduction, confinement, oppression, arson, looting and forced conversion of Hindus to Islam and deportations. The Tribunal issued an arrest warrant against Khokon, but this remained unserved as he was absconding, most probably in Sweden.
Khokon’s defense team has categorically challenged the identity of the accused. However, according to the Judges of the ICT-1, the evidence of witnesses regarding the identity of the accused left no room to doubt that the prosecution has brought the real perpetrator to book.
The ICT– 1 agreed the view that all of the charges with the exception of the first charge of abduction brought against the accused have been proved beyond reasonable doubt, thanks to reliable investigations and the evidence provided by several witnesses.
On 13 November 2014, Khokon was found guilty of the offences of murder, torture, deportation, rape, confinement, abduction and other inhumane acts, which fall within the purview of crimes against humanity as specified in section 3(2)(a)(g) and (h) of the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act, 1973. He has been sentenced to death for six charges and a total of 40 years imprisonment for the remaining four. These sentences will be merged into a single death sentence to be applied after Khokon’s arrest or when he surrenders before the ICT-1.
After the verdict was handed down, the Prosecutor told reporters that he believed that Khokon had fled to Sweden where he is currently hiding out with his relatives, who are currently residing there.
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.