Bangladesh's International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) announced Sunday that it had issued four arrest warrants for the leaders of the Islamist group Jamaat e Islami (JI) for crimes committed during 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War [GlobalSecurity backgrounders]. The ICT was established in March [JURIST report] to try those accused of committing war crimes during the 1971 war, in which Bangladeshi forces succeeded in gaining independence from Pakistan. The warrants, announced by Chief Justice Nizamul Haque [bdnews24 report] at the tribunal's first hearing, lay charges of genocide, murder and torture on JI head Motiur Rahman Nizami, Secretary General Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid and senior assistant secretaries general Muhammad Qamaruzzaman and Abdul Quader Mollah. A fifth JI leader, Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, is expected to be charged with war crimes as well. JI has alleged that the government is using the ICT to reign in the activities of opposition parties. The suspects are charged with killing 345 people [Reuters report] during the war, in which JI is suspected of supporting Pakistani forces. The four are already in custody for separate charges or murder and sedition. The warrants were issued at the request of prosecutors to make sure the suspects remain in custody during the investigation. The suspects will not have the opportunity to seek bail. The next hearing in the case is set for early August.
In March, Bangladeshi officials announced the establishment of the tribunal, fulfilling a campaign promise of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina [BBC profile]. The tribunal includes three high court judges and six investigators retired from civilian, law enforcement and military careers. The trials investigating the 1971 war crimes will take place under the recently amended International Crimes (Tribunals) Act 1973 [text, PDF]. Officials estimate that Pakistani soldiers and local militia participated in more than three million killings and 200,000 rapes. The announcement of the tribunal came the same week as the Bangladesh Cabinet ratified the Rome Statute [JURIST report] of the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website; JURIST news archive]. Although the ratification will not directly affect Bangladesh's pending war crimes trials for the 1971 Liberation War because the ICC can only hear cases arising since its formation in 2002, it will require the country to update its laws to reflect provisions of the statute.