1971 Bangladesh genocide…

The genocide in Bangladesh began on 26 March 1971 with the launch of Operation Searchlight,[3] as West Pakistan began a military crackdown on the Eastern wing of the nation to suppress Bengali calls for self-determination.[4] During the nine-month-long Bangladesh war for independence, members of the Pakistani military and supporting militias killed between 300,000[1]–3,000,000[2] people and raped between 200,000–400,000 Bangladeshi women in a systematic campaign of genocidal rape.[5][6]

The war also witnessed sectarian violence between Bengalis and Urdu-speaking Biharis. There is an academic consensus that the events which took place during the Bangladesh Liberation War were a genocide.[7]

Background
Female students of Dacca university marching on Language Movement Day, 21 February 1953.

Following the partition of India, Pakistan was a geographical anomaly, with both wings separated by 1000 miles of Indian territory.[8] The wings were not only separated geographically, but also culturally. The authorities of the West viewed the Bengali Muslims in the East as “too Bengali” and their application of Islam as “inferior and impure”, and this made them unreliable “co-religionists”. To this extent the West began a strategy to forcibly assimilate the Bengalis culturally.[9]

The Bengali people were the demographic majority in Pakistan, making up an estimated 75 million in East Pakistan compared with 55 million in the predominately Punjabi-speaking West Pakistan.[10] The majority in the East were Muslims, with large Hindu, Buddhist and Christian minorities. The people of the East were looked upon as second-class citizens by the West, and Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi, who served as head of the Pakistani Forces in East Pakistan in 1971, referred to the region as a “low-lying land of low, lying people”.[11]

In 1948, a few months after the creation of Pakistan, Governor-General Mohammad Ali Jinnah declared Urdu as the national language of the newly formed state,[12] although only four per cent of Pakistan’s population spoke Urdu at that time.[13] He branded those who supported the use of Bengali as communists, traitors and enemies of the state.[14] The refusal by successive governments to recognise Bengali as the second national language led to the formation of the Bengali language movement and strengthened support for the newly formed Awami League which was founded in the East as an alternative to the ruling Muslim League.[15] A 1952 protest in Dhaka, the capital of East Pakistan, was forcibly broken up, resulting in the deaths of several protesters. Bengali nationalists viewed those who had died as martyrs for their cause, and the violence led to calls for secession.[16] The Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 caused further grievances, as the military had assigned no extra units to the defence of the East.[17] This was a matter of concern to the Bengalis who saw their nation undefended in case of Indian attack during the conflict of 1965,[18][19] and that Ayub Khan, the dictator ruler of Pakistan, was willing to lose the East if it meant gaining Kashmir.[20]

The slow response to the Bhola cyclone which struck on 12 November 1970 is seen as a contributing factor in the December 1970 general election, the East Pakistan-based Awami League, headed by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, won a national majority in the first democratic election since the creation of Pakistan. The West Pakistani establishment prevented them from forming a government.[21] President Yahya Khan banned the Awami League and declared martial law.[22]
Operation Searchlight

Operation Searchlight was a planned military operation carried out by the Pakistani Army to curb elements of the separatist Bengali nationalist movement in East Pakistan in March 1971.[23] Ordered by the government in West Pakistan, this was seen as the sequel to Operation Blitz which had been launched in November 1970.

The original plan envisioned taking control of the major cities on 26 March 1971, and then eliminating all opposition, political or military,[24] within one month. The prolonged Bengali resistance was not anticipated by Pakistani planners.[25] The main phase of Operation Searchlight ended with the fall of the last major town in Bengali hands in mid May.
Estimated killed

Bangladeshi authorities claim that as many as 3 million people were killed, although the Hamoodur Rahman Commission, an official Pakistan Government investigation, put the figure as low as 26,000 civilian casualties.[26] As a result of the conflict, a further eight to ten million people, mostly Hindus,[27] fled the country at the time to seek refuge in neighbouring India.

American political scientists Richard Sisson and Leo E. Rose, give an estimate of 300,000 dead, killed by all parties and deny a genocide occurred.[28]

According to Sarmila Bose’s controversial book Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War, the number is between 50,000 and 100,000.[29][30] However, her book was the subject of strong criticism among historians.[29][31][32] A 2008 British Medical Journal study by Ziad Obermeyer, Christopher J. L. Murray, and Emmanuela Gakidou estimated that up to 269,000 civilians died as a result of the conflict; the authors note that this is far higher than a previous estimate of 58,000 from Uppsala University and the Peace Research Institute, Oslo.[33] This figure was supported by Bangladeshi intellectual Ahmed Sharif.[34]

Many of those killed were the victims of militias who fought with the West Pakistan Army: Razakars, Al-Shams and Al-Badr forces,[35] at the instruction of the Pakistani Army.[36] There are many mass graves in Bangladesh, and more are continually being discovered (such as one in an old well near a mosque in Dhaka, located in the Mirpur region of the city, which was discovered in August 1999).[37] The first night of war on Bengalis, which is documented in telegrams from the American Consulate in Dhaka to the United States State Department, saw indiscriminate killings of students of Dhaka University and other civilians.[38]

There was significant sectarian violence not only perpetrated by the West Pakistani army,[39] but also by Bengali nationalists against non-Bengali minorities, especially Biharis.[40]

On 16 December 2002, the George Washington University’s National Security Archive published a collection of declassified documents, consisting mostly of communications between US embassy officials and USIS centres in Dhaka and India, and officials in Washington DC.[38] These documents show that US officials working in diplomatic institutions within Bangladesh used the terms selective genocide[41][42] and genocide (see The Blood Telegram) to describe events they had knowledge of at the time. The complete chronology of events as reported to the Nixon administration can be found on the Department of State website.[43]
Militias

According to political scientist Peter Tomsen, Pakistan’s secret service, in conjunction with the political party Jamaat-e-Islami, formed militias such as Al-Badr (“the moon”) and the Al-Shams (“the sun”) to conduct operations against the nationalist movement.[44][45] These militias targeted noncombatants and committed rapes as well as other crimes.[46] Local collaborators known as Razakars also took part in the atrocities. The term has since become a pejorative akin to the western term “Judas”.[47]

Members of the Muslim league such as Nizam-e-Islam, Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamiat Ulema Pakistan, who had lost the election, collaborated with the military and acted as an intelligence organisation for them.[48] Jamaat-e-Islami members and some of its leaders collaborated with the Pakistani forces in rapes and targeted killings.[49] The atrocities by Al-Badr and the Al-Shams garnered worldwide attention from news agencies; accounts of massacres and rapes were widely reported.[45]
Killing of intellectuals
Main article: 1971 killing of Bengali intellectuals
Rayerbazar killing field photographed immediately after the war started, showing bodies of Bengali nationalist intellectuals (Image courtesy: Rashid Talukdar, 1971)

During the war, the Pakistan Army and its local collaborators, mainly Jamaat e Islami carried out a systematic execution of the leading Bengali intellectuals. A number of professors from Dhaka University were killed during the first few days of the war.[50][51] However, the most extreme cases of targeted killing of intellectuals took place during the last few days of the war. Professors, journalists, doctors, artists, engineers and writers were rounded up by Pakistan Army and the Razakar militia in Dhaka, blindfolded, taken to torture cells in Mirpur, Mohammadpur, Nakhalpara, Rajarbagh and other locations in different sections of the city to be executed en masse, most notably at Rayerbazar and Mirpur.[52][53][54][55] Allegedly, the Pakistani Army and its paramilitary arm, the Al-Badr and Al-Shams forces created a list of doctors, teachers, poets, and scholars.[56][57]

During the nine-month duration of the war, the Pakistani army, with the assistance of local collaborators systematically executed an estimated 991 teachers, 13 journalists, 49 physicians, 42 lawyers, and 16 writers, artists and engineers.[54] Even after the official ending of the war on 16 December there were reports of killings being committed by either the armed Pakistani soldiers or by their collaborators. In one such incident, notable film-maker Jahir Raihan was killed on 30 January 1972 in Mirpur allegedly by the armed Beharis. In memory of the persons who were killed, 14 December is observed in Bangladesh as Shaheed Buddhijibi Dibosh (“Day of the Martyred Intellectuals”).[36][58][59]

Several notable intellectuals who were killed from the time period of 25 March to 16 December 1971 in different parts of the country include Dhaka University professors Dr. Govinda Chandra Dev (Philosophy), Dr. Munier Chowdhury (Bengali Literature), Dr. Mufazzal Haider Chaudhury (Bengali Literature), Dr. Anwar Pasha (Bengali Literature), Dr M Abul Khair (History), Dr. Jyotirmoy Guhathakurta (English Literature), Humayun Kabir (English Literature), Rashidul Hasan (English Literature), Ghyasuddin Ahmed, Sirajul Haque Khan, Faizul Mahi, Dr Santosh Chandra Bhattacharyya[60] and Saidul Hassan (Physics), Rajshahi University professors Dr. Hobibur Rahman (Mathematics), Prof Sukhranjan Somaddar (Sanskrit), Prof Mir Abdul Quaiyum (Psychology) as well as Dr. Mohammed Fazle Rabbee (Cardiologist), Dr. AFM Alim Chowdhury (Ophthalmologist), Shahidullah Kaiser (Journalist), Nizamuddin Ahmed (Journalist),[61] Selina Parvin (Journalist), Altaf Mahmud (Lyricist and musician), Dhirendranath Datta (Politician), Jahir Raihan (novelist, journalist, film director) and Ranadaprasad Saha (Philanthropist).[62][63]
Violence against women
Main article: Rape during the Bangladesh Liberation War

The generally accepted figure for the mass rapes during the nine-month long conflict is 200,000.[64] Numerous women were tortured, raped and killed during the war.[65] Again, exact numbers are not known and are a subject of debate. Bangladeshi sources cite a figure of 200,000 women raped, giving birth to thousands of war-babies. The Pakistani Army also kept numerous Bengali women as sex-slaves inside the Dhaka Cantonment. Most of the girls were captured from Dhaka University and private homes.[66]

Among other sources, Susan Brownmiller refers to an even higher number of over 400,000. Pakistani sources claim the number is much lower, though having not completely denied rape incidents.[67][68][69] Brownmiller quotes:[70]

Khadiga, thirteen years old, was interviewed by a photojournalist in Dacca. She was walking to school with four other girls when they were kidnapped by a gang of Pakistani soldiers. All five were put in a military brothel in Mohammedpur and held captive for six months until the end of the war.

In a New York Times report named ‘Horrors of East Pakistan Turning Hope into Despair’, Malcom W. Browne[71] wrote:

One tale that is widely believed and seems to come from many different sources is that 563 women picked up by the army in March and April and held in military brothels are not being released because they are pregnant beyond the point at which abortions are possible.

The licentious attitude of the soldiers, although generally supported by their superiors, alarmed the regional high command of the Pakistani army. On 15 April 1971, in a secret memorandum to the divisional commanders, Niazi complained,
“ Since my arrival, I have heard numerous reports of troops indulging in looting and arson, killing people at random and without reasons in areas cleared of the anti state elements; of late there have been reports of rape and even the West Pakistanis are not being spared; on 12 April two East Pakistani women were raped, and an attempt was made on two others.[72] ”

Another work that has included direct experiences from the women raped is Ami Birangona Bolchhi (“I, the heroine, speak”) by Nilima Ibrahim. The work includes in its name from the word Birangona (Heroine), given by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman after the war, to the raped and tortured women during the war. This was a conscious effort to alleviate any social stigma the women might face in the society. How successful this effort was is doubtful, though. In October 2005 Sarmila Bose, published a paper suggesting that the casualties and rape allegations in the war have been greatly exaggerated for political purposes.[23][73] A number of researchers have shown inaccuracies in the work, including flawed methodology of statistical analysis, misrepresentation of referenced sources, and disproportionate weight to Pakistan army testimonies.[74]

A 2014 film titled Children of War focussed on the harrowing condition in the ‘rape camps’ set up by the Pakistan Army.[75]
Violence against minorities

The minorities of Bangladesh, especially the Hindus, were specific targets of the Pakistani army.[39][50] There was widespread killing of Hindu males, and rapes of women. Documented incidents in which Hindus were massacred in large numbers include the Chuknagar massacre, the Jathibhanga massacre, and the Shankharipara massacre.[76] More than 60% of the Bengali refugees who fled to India were Hindus.[77] It is not exactly known what percentage of the people killed by the Pakistan army were Hindus, but it is safe to say it was disproportionately high.[78] This widespread violence against Hindus was motivated by a policy to purge East Pakistan of what was seen as Hindu and Indian influences. The West Pakistani rulers identified the Bengali culture with Hindu and Indian culture, and thought that the eradication of Hindus would remove such influences from the majority Muslims in East Pakistan.[79] Buddhist temples and Buddhist monks were also attacked through the course of the year.[80]

According to R.J. Rummel, professor of Political Science at the University of Hawaii,
“ The genocide and gendercidal atrocities were also perpetrated by lower-ranking officers and ordinary soldiers. These “willing executioners” were fueled by an abiding anti-Bengali racism, especially against the Hindu minority. “Bengalis were often compared with monkeys and chickens. Said General Niazi, ‘It was a low lying land of low lying people.’ The Hindus among the Bengalis were as Jews to the Nazis: scum and vermin that [should] best be exterminated. As to the Moslem Bengalis, they were to live only on the sufferance of the soldiers: any infraction, any suspicion cast on them, any need for reprisal, could mean their death. And the soldiers were free to kill at will. The journalist Dan Coggin quoted one Pakistani captain as telling him, “We can kill anyone for anything. We are accountable to no one.” This is the arrogance of Power.[81] ”
Violence against Biharis
Main article: Persecution of Biharis in Bangladesh

In 1947, at the time of partition and the establishment of the state of Pakistan, Bihari Muslims, many of whom were fleeing the violence that took place during partition, migrated from India to the newly independent East Pakistan. These Urdu-speaking people were averse to the Bengali language movement and the subsequent nationalist movements because they maintained allegiance toward West Pakistani rulers, causing anti-Bihari sentiments among local nationalist Bengalis. When the war broke out in 1971, the Biharis sided with the Pakistani army. Some of them joined Razakar and Al-Shams militia groups and participated in the persecution and genocide of their Bengali countrymen including the widespread looting of Bengali properties and abetting other criminal activities.[50] It is alleged that Awami League-aligned militias carried out large scale massacres of Biharis and other ethnic groups, but these claims are disputed. Rudolph Rummel estimated that 150,000 non-Bengals were massacred, with a low estimate of 50,000 and a high estimate of 500,000.[82] According to The Minorities at Risk Project the number of Bihari killed is about 1,000.[83]

There are many reports of massacres of Biharis and alleged collaborators that took place in the period following the surrender of the Pakistani Army on 16 December 1971.[84] In an incident on 19 December 1971, captured on camera and attended by members of the foreign press, Abdul Kader Siddiqui and Mukti Bahini guerrillas under his command bayoneted and shot to death a group of prisoners of war who were accused of belonging to the Razakar paramilitary forces.[85][86] But Siddiqui later stated on his book Swadhinota’71 that he bayoneted those persons who were Bengali and they were kidnapping two non-Bengali girls. Because no court or other judicial system was there, they were executed.[87]
International reactions

Time reported a high US official as saying “It is the most incredible, calculated thing since the days of the Nazis in Poland.”[88] Genocide is the term that is used to describe the event in almost every major publication and newspaper in Bangladesh,[89][90] and is defined as “the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group”[91]

A 1972 report by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) noted that both sides in the conflict accused each other of perpetrating genocide. The report observed that it may be difficult to substantiate claims that the ‘whole of the military action and repressive measures taken by the Pakistani army and their auxiliary forces constituted genocide’ that was intended to destroy the Bengali people in whole or in part, and that ‘preventing a nation from attaining political autonomy does not constitute genocide: the intention must be to destroy in whole or in part the people as such’. The difficulty of proving intent was considered to be further complicated by the fact that three specific sections of the Bengali people were targeted in killings committed by the Pakistani army and their collaborators: members of the Awami League, students, and East Pakistani citizens of the Hindu religion. The report observed, however, that there is a strong prima facie case that particular acts of genocide were committed, especially towards the end of the war, when Bengalis were targeted indiscriminately. Similarly, it was felt that there is a strong prima facie case that crimes of genocide were committed against the Hindu population of East Pakistan.[92]

As regards the massacres of non-Bengalis by Bengalis during and after the Liberation War, the ICJ report argued that it is improbable that ‘spontaneous and frenzied mob violence against a particular section of the community from whom the mob senses danger and hostility is to be regarded as possessing the necessary element of conscious intent to constitute the crime of genocide’, but that, if the dolus specialis were to be proved in particular cases, these would have constituted acts of genocide against non-Bengalis.[92]

After the minimum 20 countries became parties to the Genocide Convention, it came into force as international law on 12 January 1951. At that time however, only two of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council were parties to the treaty, and it was not until after the last of the five permanent members ratified the treaty in 1988, and the Cold War came to an end, that the international law on the crime of genocide began to be enforced. As such, the allegation that genocide took place during the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971 was never investigated by an international tribunal set up under the auspices of the United Nations.

Even in the US, senator Kennedy charged Pakistan with committing genocide and called for a complete cut-off of American military and economic aid to Pakistan.[93] It is also used in some publications outside the subcontinent; for example, The Guinness Book of Records lists the Bengali atrocities as one of the largest five genocides in the twentieth century.[94]

On 16 December 2002, the George Washington University’s National Security Archives published a collection of declassified documents, mostly consisting of communications between US officials working in embassies and USIS centres in Dhaka and in India, and officials in Washington DC.[38] These documents show that US officials working in diplomatic institutions within Bangladesh used the terms ‘selective genocide'[41] and ‘genocide’ (Blood telegram) to describe events they had knowledge of at the time. They also show that President Nixon, advised by Henry Kissinger, decided to downplay this secret internal advice, because he wanted to protect the interests of Pakistan as he was apprehensive of India’s friendship with the USSR, and he was seeking a closer relationship with China, who supported Pakistan.[95]

In his book The Trial of Henry Kissinger, Christopher Hitchens elaborates on what he saw as the efforts of Kissinger to subvert the aspirations of independence on the part of the Bengalis. Hitchens not only claims that the term genocide is appropriate to describe the results of the struggle, but also points to the efforts of Henry Kissinger in undermining others who condemned the then ongoing atrocities as being a genocide.

Sarmila Bose, a senior research fellow at Oxford University, says many Bangladeshi civilians took part in the atrocities and Pakistani troops did not act alone. Her book has proved highly controversial within India and Bangladesh. She also stated that the death toll was highly inflated.[96]
War crimes trial attempts

As early as 22 December 1971, the Indian Army was conducting investigations of senior Pakistani Army officers connected to the massacre of intellectuals in Dhaka, with the aim of collecting sufficient evidence to have them tried as war criminals. They produced a list of officers who were in positions of command at the time, or were connected to the Inter-Services Screening Committee.[97]
1972—1975

On 24 December 1971 Home minister of Bangladesh A. H. M. Qamaruzzaman said, “war criminals will not survive from the hands of law. Pakistani military personnel who were involved with killing and raping have to face tribunal.” In a joint statement after a meeting between Sheikh Mujib and Indira Gandhi, the Indian government assured that it would give all necessary assistance for bringing war criminals into justice. In February 1972, the government of Bangladesh announced plans to put 100 senior Pakistani officers and officials on trial for crimes of genocide. The list included General A. K. Niazi and four other generals.[98]

After the war, the Indian Army held 92,000 Pakistani prisoners of war,[99] and 195 of those were suspected of committing war crimes. All 195 of them were released in April 1974 following the tripartite Simla agreement between Bangladesh, Pakistan and India, and repatriated to Pakistan, in return for Pakistan’s recognition of Bangladesh.[100] Pakistan expressed her interest to perform a trial against those 195 officials and furthermore fearing for the fate of 400,000 Bangalis trapped in Pakistan, Bangladesh agreed to handover them to Pakistani authority.[101]

The Bangladeshi Collaborators (Special Tribunals) Order of 1972 was promulgated to bring to trial those Bangladeshis who collaborated with and aided the Pakistani Armed forces during the Liberation War of 1971.[102] There are conflicting accounts of the number of persons brought to trial under the 1972 Collaborators Order, ranging between 10,000 and 40,000.[103] At the time, the trials were considered problematic by local and external observers, because they appear to have been used for carrying out political vendettas. R. MacLennan, a British MP who was an observer at the trials stated that ‘In the dock, the defendants are scarcely more pitiable than the succession of confused prosecution witnesses driven (by the 88-year-old defence counsel) to admit that they, too, served the Pakistani government but are now ready to swear blindly that their real loyalty was to the government of Bangladesh in exile.'[104]

The government of Bangladesh issued a general amnesty on 30 November 1973, applying it to all persons except those who were punished or accused of rape, murder, attempted murder or arson.[103] The Collaborators Order of 1972 was revoked in 1975.

The International Crimes (Tribunals) Act of 1973 was promulgated to prosecute any persons, irrespective of nationality, who were accused of committing crimes against peace, crimes against humanity, war crimes, “violations of any humanitarian rules applicable in armed conflicts laid out in the Geneva Conventions of 1949” and “any other crimes under international law”.[105] Detainees held under the 1972 Collaborators order who were not released by the general amnesty of 1973 were going to be tried under this Act. However, no trials were held, and all activities related to the Act ceased after the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975.

There are no known instances of criminal investigations or trials outside Bangladesh of alleged perpetrators of war crimes during the 1971 war. Initial steps were taken by the Metropolitan Police to investigate individuals resident in the United Kingdom who were alleged to have committed war crimes in a Channel 4 documentary film aired in 1995. To date, no charges have been brought against these individuals.[106]
1991—2006

On 29 December 1991 Ghulam Azam, who was accused of being a collaborator with Pakistan in 1971, became the chairman or Ameer of the political party Jamaat-e-Islami of Bangladesh, which caused controversy. This prompted the creation of a ‘National Committee for Resisting the Killers and Collaborators of 1971’, after a proposal by writer and political activist Jahanara Imam. A mock people’s court was formed which on 26 March 1992, found Ghulam Azam guilty in a mock trial and sentenced him to death.

A case was filed in the Federal Court of Australia on 20 September 2006 for alleged crimes of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity during 1971 by the Pakistani Armed Forces and its collaborators. Raymond Solaiman & Associates acting for the plaintiff Mr. Solaiman, have released a press statement which among other things says:[107]
“ We are glad to announce that a case has been filed in the Federal Magistrate’s Court of Australia today under the Genocide Conventions Act 1949 and War Crimes Act. This is the first time in history that someone is attending a court proceeding in relation to the [alleged] crimes of Genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity during 1971 by the Pakistani Armed Forces and its collaborators. The Proceeding number is SYG 2672 of 2006. On October 25, 2006, a direction hearing will take place in the Federal Magistrates Court of Australia, Sydney registry before Federal Magistrate His Honor Nicholls. ”

On 21 May 2007, at the request of the applicant “Leave is granted to the applicant to discontinue his application filed on September 20, 2006.” (FILE NO: (P)SYG2672/2006)[108]
2007—Present

On 30 July 2009, the Minister of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs of Bangladesh stated that no Pakistanis would be tried under the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act of 1973.[109] This decision has drawn criticism from international jurists, because it effectively gives immunity to the commanders of the Pakistani Army who are generally considered to be ultimately responsible for the majority of the crimes that were committed in 1971.[109]

The International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) is a war crimes tribunal in Bangladesh set up in 2009 to investigate and prosecute suspects for the genocide committed in 1971 by the Pakistan Army and their local collaborators, Razakars, Al-Badr and Al-Shams during the Bangladesh Liberation War.[110] During the 2008 general election, the Awami League (AL) pledged to establish the tribunals in response to long-demanded popular calls for trying war criminals. The first indictments were issued in 2010.

The government set up the tribunal after the Awami League won the general election in December 2008 with more than two-thirds majority in parliament.[111] The War Crimes Fact Finding Committee, tasked to investigate and find evidence, completed its report in 2008, identifying 1600 suspects.[112][113] Prior to the formation of the ICT, the United Nations Development Programme offered assistance in 2009 on the tribunal’s formation.[114] In 2009 the parliament amended the 1973 act that authorised such a tribunal to update it.[115]

By 2012, nine leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami, the largest Islamist party in the nation, and two of the Bangladesh National Party, had been indicted as suspects in war crimes. Three leaders of Jamaat were the first tried; each were convicted of several charges of war crimes. The first person convicted was Abul Kalam Azad, tried in absentia as he had left the country; he was sentenced to death in January 2013.

While human rights groups[116] and various political entities[117][118] initially supported the establishment of the tribunal, they have criticised it for issues of fairness and transparency, as well as reported harassment of lawyers and witnesses representing the accused.[116][119][120][121] Jamaat-e-Islami supporters and their student wing, Islami Chhatra Shibir, called a general strike nationwide on 4 December 2012, which erupted in violence. They have demanded the tribunal be scrapped permanently and their leaders be released immediately.[122] [123][124]

After Abdul Quader Molla, assistant secretary general of Jamaat, was convicted in February 2013 and sentenced to life imprisonment rather than capital punishment, a peaceful demonstration started at Shahbag intersection in Dhaka. Tens of thousands of mostly young demonstrators, including women, have called for the death penalty for those convicted of war crimes. Non-violent protests supporting this position have occurred in other cities as the country closely follows the trials. Abdul Quader Molla was subsequently executed at 10:01 pm on Thursday 12 December 2013 amid controversy on the legitimacy of the war tribunal hearings that drew wide criticism from countries such as US, UK and Turkey and also the UN. A period of unrest ensued organised by the Jamaat-e-Islam. The majority of the population were however found to be in favour of the execution.[12

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