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Asia Today ISSN 1861-4604 Saturday, January 20, 2018

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Bangladesh ’71 trial prosecutor packs a punch

Chief prosecutor, International Crimes Tribunal (ICT)

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Dhaka, 9 Dec. She's one of the most talked-about women in Bangladesh today and also one of the most admired and reviled. Tureen Afroz is the person responsible for sending the 1971 war criminals to the gallows and her feisty but well-crafted arguments as the chief prosecutor in the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) of Bangladesh has won her legions of followers across the country.
It also earned her a lot of death threats, abuse and even Molotov cocktails hurled at her bungalow in Dhaka's chic Uttara Model Town.

Afroz, in her mid-forties, in her small frame. She is unfazed by the death threats-—she moves around without any police escort—and the volley of verbal abuse infamously heaped on her inside the courtroom over the past four years by one of the recently executed (former BNP leader Salauddin Quader Chowdhury) did not detract her from her firm resolve to secure convictions for the accused.

Afroz is also a robust defender of the ICT that has been criticized by the UN, many western governments, legal bodies and human rights organisations like Amnesty International for being opaque and unfair. "All the criticism, levelled against the ICT is vague. They say the trial process is unfair, but don't specify what is unfair," she told TOI.

"Critics say that Bangladesh's ICT does not meet international standards. But what are these international standards? This is a fluid concept. In fact, our standards are far superior to many war crimes or international crimes tribunals. We are a signatory to the Rome Statute (the treaty that established the International Criminal Court in July 1998) and our ICT's practices are better than the ICC's. The trial process in Bangladesh's ICT is far superior to the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials and the war crimes tribunals for Cambodia, Yugoslavia and Timor," she asserts.

Afroz, who holds the designation of Additional Attorney General of Bangladesh, points out that Bangladesh's ICT gives bail to the accused, a practice that's alien to other such tribunals. "We have a structured system of appeals through which a person convicted of war crimes can, after his appeals before the tribunal are turned down, appeal to a special appellate bench of the Supreme Court. In no other war crimes tribunal is this permitted. We also allow the convicts to plead for clemency to the President through the prime minister. Our trial is so defense-friendly that the defense lawyers have managed to delay the trials, often by absenting themselves, for years," she said.

Afroz not only remains defiant in the face of death threats, but throws a daring challenge to the Islamist radicals who target her. "They call me anti-Islam, pro-Hindu and pro-India. I don't care. My answer to them is the bindi on my forehead that I started wearing regularly after they issued threats against me," she said.

 

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