Justice eludes victims of 2001 post-poll communal violence
Justice for the victims of the gruesome attacks carried out on minorities and then opposition members following the 2001 general elections still remains a far cry.
Eleven long years have gone by since a judicial probe report on the atrocities committed across the country was published.
Sadly, the High Court order to take appropriate legal action against the offenders is yet to be implemented.
The three-member judicial probe body in its 1,100-page report had identified some 26,000 perpetrators.
It said several top BNP and Jamaat leaders, including then ministers Motiur Rahman Nizami, Ruhul Quddus Talukder Dulu, Abdus Salam Pintu, Altaf Hossain Chowdhury, Tariqul Islam, and Maj (retd) Hafiz Uddin Ahmed, had directly incited the attacks.
As per the commission's findings, which was later released as a gazette notification in 2014, Dhaka witnessed a total of 276 incidents of post-election violence in 2001.
The figures were 497 in Chattogram, 17 in Sylhet, 478 in Khulna, 170 in Rajshahi, and a staggering 2,227 in Barishal.
The serious crimes committed back then, mainly against members of the Hindu community, include murders, rapes, gang-rapes, and arson attacks.
Officials concerned and experts believe that had the recommendations made by the probe body – a first of its kind in Bangladesh – been implemented promptly and properly, the recent incidents of communal violence could have been averted.
A vicious cycle that never ends
It was Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh President Manzill Murshid who had moved a writ petition with the High Court in 2009, which resulted in the formation of the judicial commission.
Speaking to The Business Standard, advocate Manzill Murshid, said: "Over 26,000 were found responsible for the attacks by the probe body. But the government only took action against two or three of them.
"The commission had submitted its report to the home ministry on 24 April 2011. But, it did not release the findings to the general public. Why they didn't remains a mystery."
Advocate Manzill said on 11 April 2014, the High Court directed the authorities concerned to take immediate legal action against those involved in the attacks. "Even after two follow-up hearings in 2015, the home ministry failed to submit a report on the measures taken against the culprits. No further hearings were held after this," he added.
When contacted, former district judge Md Shahabuddin – who had led the judicial probe body – said they had received about 5,000 complaints from across the country and of these, 3,625 were investigated.
"We saw that around 80% of the victims were members of the minority communities, especially Hindus and ethnic people. Thousands of them were forced to flee the country. Their houses, temples, and places of worship were vandalised. Their valuables were looted. The number of rapes and gang-rapes during that period was also high," Shahabuddin said.
"A total of 221 cases were filed following the violence during the 2001 general elections under the BNP-Jamaat government. Names of the main culprits were left out of the chargesheets. Instead, the leaders and activists of the then opposition party [Awami League] were made the targets. We had recommended reinvestigation of the cases and revision/appeal against the final reports submitted by the police.
"We, in our report, had also recommended the formation of inquiry committees, headed by the relevant district magistrates and superintendents of police, to take legal action regarding the violent incidents we investigated. We also urged the government to take steps to better the country's political and social landscape to end all existing divide," the former judge added.
There was also a recommendation for forming a cell under the Ministry of Home Affairs to monitor these legal processes, said Md Shahabuddin.
Expressing anger and dissatisfaction over the nonexecution of the recommendations made by the judicial probe body, he said, "Anti-Bangladesh forces would not have dared to carry out any more communal attacks if proper initiatives had been taken back then."
The order to form the commission was issued by the then High Court Justice ABM Khairul Haque. He was later appointed as the country's chief justice.
The current Judicial Service Commission of Bangladesh's Chairman Justice Hasan Foez Siddique echoed Md Shahabuddin.
Commenting on the recent attacks on minorities, he said, "I am completely speechless. The court had given an order. Now if the government does not obey that, there remains nothing more to say."
However, the former chief justice observed that the High Court, if it wanted, could again take an initiative to give justice to the victims.
Rana Dasgupta, general secretary of the Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Oikya Parishad, said, "I do not why the recommendations made by the judicial body were not implemented. I have nothing more to say about what is happening right now. Our only hope now is Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina."
Asked about the present situation of the much-talked-about probe report, Secretary of home ministry's Public Security Division Mustafa Kamal Uddin said, "There is a cell in the ministry that was assigned to work on the report. I would be able to say more after getting an update from them."