Rumors have it that a controversial judge of the Bangladesh High Court, and former chairman of the International Crimes Tribunal in Bangladesh, may soon be elevated to the appellate division of the Bangladesh Supreme Court. If proven true, this would be a remarkable reward for Nizamul Huq Nasim, a man who has shown extraordinary contempt for the notion underpinning the modern philosophy of the administration of justice: that justice must be seen to be done.
Nizamul Huq Nasim has an interesting profile. Prior to his appointment as a High Court Judge, Mr Nasim worked for “Gono Adalot”, an activist initiative that campaigned for the execution of its own designated “war criminals” of Bangladesh’s war of independence in 1971. This group staged a mock trial of leading figures of Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, the countries largest religious political party. Mr Nasim played an important role as a member of the Secretariat which “assisted with evidence gathering” of the mock trial process.
Appointed to the High Court Division of the Bangladesh Supreme Court during the tenure of the Awami League government in 1996, Nasim was among a handful of judges viewed as too political by the BNP-led coalition that was elected to power in 2001, and was not therefore made permanent in his position. However, in 2009, the returning Awami League government ensured that his re-appointment, rewarding him for his loyalty to the party by appointing him to preside over what was at the time the only Tribunal.
However, Mr Nasim really came to global prominence late last year, for his infamous role in colluding with the prosecution, government and external actors to stage verdicts finding key leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami guilty of crimes against humanity, before their defence arguments had even been completed.
On 8 December, the Economist published a report in which it claimed to have acquired hours of recorded conversation between Mr Nasim and a Belgium based Bangladeshi lawyer, Ahmed Ziauddin. The recordings and email correspondences were claimed to have exposed the collusion between the Bangladesh government and the Judges of the International Crimes Tribunal to stage justice where decisions are pre-determined. In other words, to cook up a decision before justice was served.
A Bangladeshi national daily subsequently published a verbatim transcript of the conversations in a series of reports. The reporter, now in exile, subsequently published a book in Bengali cataloguing the conversation, his editor Mahmudur Rahman was arrested on charges of sedition relating to running the story.
The Economist published a summary of what it had in its possession. Commenting on the revelations, the Economist stated –
“The e-mails and phone conversations we have seen raise profound questions about the trial. The material suggests the government tried to put pressure on Mr Nizamul, albeit he seems to have resisted it. It seems to show he worked improperly with a lawyer based in Brussels, and that the lawyer co-operated with the prosecution—raising questions about conflicts of interest. And in Mr Sayeedi’s case it points to the possibility that, even before the court had finished hearing testimony from the defence witnesses, Mr Nizamul was already expecting a guilty verdict.”
Mr Nasim resigned from his position as Chairman of the ICT-1 on 11 December 2012, citing poor health, but retained his position as a Justice of the High Court. It was widely accepted that he resigned for reasons of improper conduct.
One wonders what new lows Bangladesh’s justice system must go through to really hit rock bottom.
It is worth noting that the International Crimes Tribunal (the ICT), also known as the War Crimes Tribunals, are domestic tribunals set up under domestic law and have consistently refused to allow international oversight or even grant the defence permission to appoint international lawyers. Furthermore, the legislative framework and operation of the tribunals has come under intense criticisms from respectable bodies across the world including the UN, various states including the US, and almost all international human rights organisations.
If these rumours of Nizamul Huq’ return to the proceedings are proven true, this would surely be the straw that breaks the proverbial back of the Tribunal in terms of its credibility. Yet, considering the catalogue of its controversial operations to date and the Tribunal’s tendency for irrational and illogical decision-making, it would not be surprising.
This article is written at a time when the discredited Tribunal will pass judgement on the nonagenarian, retired and frail grandee of the Jamaat-e-Islami, Professor Ghulam Azam. There is no doubt that it will pass a guilty verdict and award the most severe punishment, prompting the defence team to go through the motions and appeal the decision. They would potentially then be up against Nizamul Haq — injustice personified.
This comes after many questions remain of the well being of Shukhranjan Bali, the Hindu witness who decided not to testify against another accused, Delwar Hussain Sayedee. When he decided to testify for the accused, he was abducted (by the police, it is alleged) outside the doors of the Tribunal and found, months later, last week, in an Indian jail in Kolkatta. How he got there, and why, remains a mystery. We witness therefore a Kafkaesque justice system whose only logic is to submit to the will of the Awami League.
When the International Crimes Tribunal was promulgated, the government and its supporters promised this to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to heal Bangladesh’s wounds and end impunity. Yet those wounds have been deepened. We now know the turmoil the country is going through.
Of course, it should be noted that it is only rumour at this stage which may or may not be true. We of course hope that for the sake of justice, fairness and for a better future for Bangladesh, the Government will show good will and wisdom and will not succumbed to such temptations.
Source: The Khichuri