Ghulam Azam verdict: Has justice been served?
FOOLISH men imagine that because judgment for an evil thing is delayed, there is no justice; but only accident here below. Judgment for an evil thing is many times delayed some day or two, some century or two, but it is sure as life, it is sure as death": Thomas Carlyle
The Ghulam Azam case has finally come to an end after forty two long and painful years of waiting. The verdict may not be perfect fitting the crimes, and it may have been sad for some. But as far as the legal system is concerned, it has been able to successfully try and convict the perpetrator of some of the most heinous crimes against the nation. But has justice been served by this verdict?
The trial of Ghulam Azam and others charged with war crimes began only two years ago. This is a trial that the country had waited for since its inception. But it hobbled for years. It hobbled because the politics that dominated the country following 1975 mayhem gave birth to a set of actors in the political scene who sought alliances with the very forces who would be the primary candidates in a war crimes trial. The new alliances gave platforms for rebirth and rejuvenation of the old order that had not only opposed the creation of Bangladesh but had provided support -- both moral and physical -- to a war that was launched by a ruthless junta on innocent Bangladeshis. All this was done in the name of religion and preservation of an ideology that the majority of us Bangladeshis could not relate to. Saddest of all is that the collaboration and active help for the junta's slaughter in Bangladesh came from fellow Bangladeshis, led by Ghulam Azam. But the worst was yet to come.
The war crimes trial of the Pakistan junta collaborators and their ideological acolytes would not only be shelved post 1975; these elements would turn into a political force who would also be power brokers in the new politics of the country. In this new game the hunted would become the hunters; the raiders of the nation would become the new saviours. The patrons of these elements would use them in forming new political parties and custom-fit their pseudo ideologies to bring these elements in their fold. A war crimes trial of these elements would gradually become a lunatic's dream, when these power brokers became power sharers later.
What has happened in last few months in war crimes trial is that the lunatic dream of a few years ago has become a reality. Four cases have come to closure, the most significant having been concluded last Monday. The verdicts may not please us all, but they need not. The most important aspects of these trials are the due process, weight of evidences, and judicious application of the law. The court has been transparent, the arguments persuasive, and the verdicts lawful. And there is the rub. Not all verdicts are pleasing for everyone. Yet we need to accept them.
The verdict of 35 years of prison sentence given to Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, a few years ago by the Cambodian Court of War Crimes stunned everybody. His party, under his leadership, was responsible for deaths of about 1.7 million in Cambodia in a blood bath between April 1975 and January 1979. The world was amazed at such a seemingly lenient sentence to a mass murderer. What the court stated in its verdict was that Duch was penitent for his conduct and also it was taking his age into consideration. More importantly, the court stated that it wanted a closure of the sordid chapter in Cambodian history from that verdict. Cambodians finally accepted the verdict.
Is death sentence really needed for all cases? In the Ghulam Azam verdict the court has not noted any penitence from the defendant, but it recognised his geriatric conditions in not awarding him capital punishment. Some of us may not be pleased with this dispensation from the court, but we must recognise that the defendant was found guilty of all the charges that were brought against him. The death sentence was not awarded for reasons of age, and not because the defendant could not disprove any of the charges.
What Ghulam Azam and his disciples stood and fought for does not live any more. His death sentence would not revive the country that he once lived in. More unfortunately, his death would not bring back the millions who we lost during the War of Liberation. In his defense, Ghulam Azam may not have shown any penitence, and with a death sentence he may have gone without remorse. With life in prison he will be well reminded by a saying from Martin Luther King: "Justice is temporary things that must at last come to an end; but the conscience is eternal and will never die." He would have his conscience to remind him of the pain and suffering he and his acolytes had caused to millions for the rest of his life.
The writer is US based writer and political analyst.