The UN said yesterday that some of its top war crimes experts would advise Bangladesh on how to try those accused of murder and rape during its bloody 1971 liberation struggle.
The government of Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, in power since the beginning of the year, has promised to hold the trials as soon as possible.
“We have suggested the names of some top international experts who have experience in how war crimes tribunals operate across the globe,” said Renata Lok Dessallien, head of the UN in Bangladesh.
“This is the first time Bangladesh is conducting war crimes tribunals and it is important it understands how other countries have held them. There are some countries where mistakes were made and we don’t want Bangladesh to repeat those mistakes,” she said.
The UN would also look into Bangladeshi law to see whether it complied with international war crimes legislation, she said.
Bangladeshi Law Minister Shafiq Ahmed welcomed the move and said the government was expected to announce today that it would begin the investigation into the alleged crimes.
“The UN will advise us so that we don’t make any mistakes and so that the process is transparent and does not create any questions,” Ahmed said.
The UN’s move was also welcomed by Amnesty International.
“I hope that the initiative to seek UN assistance to address the 1971 war crimes marks the beginning of a process to heal the wounds of this war in the national psyche,” said Amnesty International secretary-general Irene Khan, who is of Bangladeshi origin.
The alleged war criminals — who sided with what was then West Pakistan — committed murder, rape and arson as they fought against East Pakistan’s struggle to become the independent country of Bangladesh.
The government said 3 million people were killed during the war.
A private group that has investigated the conflict has blamed 1,775 people, including top Pakistani generals and local Islamists allied with Pakistan, for the atrocities.