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Bangladesh earned her independence from Pakistan in 1971 after a bloody war that continued for nine months. By December 16 of 1971, the day Bangladesh declared victory, an estimated 30 million people died and 200,000 women reported sexual violence by the Pakistani Army and their Bengali accomplices. Known as one of the worst genocide in history, the systematic killing of Bengalis included a chilling attempt to exterminate the intellectuals from within Bangladeshi society. A published report claims that by 19 April, 1975 individuals were arrested for war crimes and 752 were convicted. After the assassination of the country’s first Prime Minister and leader of the independence movement, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, in August, 1975 the issue of war crimes against Pakistanis and their Bengali accomplices took a back seat. Military dictatorships tortured the soul of the nation and created a financial elite class whose only motivation was to reach for the riches. As people’s revolution toppled the worst of the lot, General Ershad in 1990, democracy flourished and so did the free will of the people. With the exception of 2006, the topic of war crimes Tribunal returned in the nation’s memory and preparation began to form such platform. By 2008, the War Crimes Fact Finding Committee published a list of 1,597 criminals which included names of influential ministers, parliamentarians and political figures from two major political parties. In 2009 the Government led by the Awami League, the same political party that led Bangladesh to independence, announced its plan to hold a war crimes Tribunal for the 1971 criminals under the International Was Crimes (Tribunal) Act, 1973. I plan to discuss and comment on the Act in the light of recent developments in international criminal law.


This paper was first published as chapter 13 in the Indian Yearbook of International Law and Policy, 2009. Posted with permission.