A war crimes trail relating to atrocities that occurred four decades ago has begun in Bangladesh.
During the civil war in 1971 -- when East Pakistan sought to secede from West Pakistan and establish its own independent state of Bangladesh -- millions of people were killed during a conflict that also involved India.
Millions more flooded into India to escape the carnage.
According to official data, about three million people were murdered during the nine-month civil war and hundreds of thousands of women were raped. The Hindu minority of Bangladesh were specifically targeted for abuse and violence by both West Pakistani troops and Bengali Muslim collaborators.
While much of the blame for the killings and rapes of Bengalis was placed upon (West) Pakistani soldiers, there's evidence that many Bengalis were themselves complicit in the mayhem perpetrated against the civil population by collaborating with the Pakistanis.
Among those charged in the current trial in Dhaka is none other than Delawar Hossain Sayedee, the leader of Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, a prominent Bangladeshi Islamist party. Sayedee, who's joined on the docket by six other defendants, is facing charges of committing crimes against humanity, genocide, rape and religious persecution.
Sayedee, who was arrested last year, has denied all charges and claims they were politically motivated, noting that all defendants are members of opposition parties (two from the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and five from the Jamaat-e-Islami).
Indeed, during 1971, the Jamaat-e-Islami opposed Bangladesh's secession from Pakistan and some of its members allegedly fought for the Pakistani army.
The current president of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, is the daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founder of the country who was himself assassinated a few years later.
It took almost four decades for war crimes charges to be implemented after much wrangling between the governments in Dhaka, New Delhi and Islamabad. Last year, the ruling Awami League party of Hasina established up the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) to try Bangladeshis suspected of collaborating with Pakistani troops and committing atrocities.
Presumably, many other potential defendants have since died.
Bangladeshi Attorney General Mahbubey Alam commented about the trial: We lost many professors, teachers, musicians -- the bright sons of our country at the time of the liberation movement. So it was our moral duty, our constitutional responsibility to try these offenders.
There's some concerns by foreign watchdogs that the trial will be a farce, since there will be no oversight by the United Nations.
Bangladesh has promised to meet international standards in these trials, but it has some way to go to meet this commitment, Human Rights Watch said earlier in the year.
Abdur Razaaq, a senior lawyer for the defendants and also a leader of Jamaat, complained to the media: Both prosecution and defense do not have sufficient training in a trial of this [war crime] magnitude. Our legal infrastructure is also not adequate to handle this case. So, how we can expect a fair trial?
Ataur Rahman, professor of politics at Dhaka University, told reporters: “[There are] some misgiving about the fairness of the trial, in terms of the process and whether that process is conforming to the international standard or not. I think the government should take much more care than they did particularly in drafting some of the laws, in recruiting some of the prosecutors and in recruiting particularly the judges and the chairman of the tribunal.”
However, Bangladeshi law minister, Shafique Ahmed, countered, The trial will be transparent and independent. International observers will be allowed to come and watch the trial. The accused will be given full opportunity to defend their case.”