Appeals filed by convicted war criminals or the government with the Supreme Court have been piling up as the apex court did not hear any of them in over two years.
Investigators, prosecutors and war crimes trial campaigners have been frustrated by the delay.
A total of 23 appeals--22 filed by convicts and one by the government--have been pending with the Appellate Division.
The apex court on February 24, 2016 concluded proceedings of an appeal filed by war criminal and Jamaat-e-Islami leader Mir Quasem Ali challenging his death sentence. The SC upheld the death penalty in a verdict delivered about two weeks later.
That was the last time the SC heard any appeals.
The appeals, filed by convicts Abdus Subhan, ATM Azharul Islam and Syed Mohammad Qaisar, were included in the SC hearing list on several occasions in the last two years, but the hearings did not take place.
As the much-cherished war crimes trial enters ninth year next week, the investigators, prosecutors and war crimes trial campaigners say they were frustrated.
The Awami League-led government formed the International Crimes Tribunal-1 on March 25, 2010 to bring the war criminals to book. A second tribunal, formed in March 2012, has been inoperative since September 2015.
The tribunals have so far delivered 31 judgements convicting 68 accused. Forty-two of them have been sentenced to death.
Six war criminals were executed. Two convicts died of old age related complications while their appeals remained pending with the SC.
Investigators said 23 cases were pending with tribunal 1 while 30 other cases were being investigated.
FRUSTRATED AND AGGRIEVED
“It is frustrating for us,” said Sanaul Huq, co-coordinator of the investigation agency of the International Crimes Tribunal.
He said witnesses and victims testified risking their lives and a lot of work went into taking the cases into final stages.
Having the appeal proceedings piled up at the SC like any other cases goes against the spirit of International Crimes (Tribunals) Act-1973, which advocated for expediting the trials, he added.
“Witnesses and other stakeholders are frustrated. We have to face many questions from them,” Sanaul told a press conference on Wednesday.
The press conference was held at the agency's Dhanmondi office.
The senior investigator said they have very little to do in this regard. They wrote to the home ministry on multiple occasions about the issue.
The attorney general and law minister may play a role in this regard, he said, adding that the SC can form a separate bench for quick disposal of the cases.
Contacted, Tureen Afroz, a senior member of tribunal's prosecution team, said due to backlogs in the SC, convicts were getting “biological impunity” as they were gradually moving towards natural death.
“It is not acceptable at all… We have worked hard to complete the trials quickly. We are not seeing any speed at the SC. It is frustrating,” she said.
Prominent campaigner for war crimes trial Shahriar Kabir said, “We are aggrieved.”
Due to the long delay, victims' family members are dying without seeing justice, he said.
“We know, there is a huge backlog of cases in the Supreme Court and that is why we suggested the last chief justice on several occasions to form a separate appeal chamber at the tribunal building where the judges would sit on two or three days a week.
“These are not ordinary cases. These involve 30 lakh martyrs. It is unfortunate that the SC is not taking this into consideration,” Shahriar, also the president of Ekattarer Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee, said.
He, however, hoped that the new chief justice would prioritise the disposal of the appeals.
Contacted, Attorney General Mahbubey Alam said the appeals of war crimes cases were not heard by the SC for many reasons, including the hearing and disposal of 16th amendment case and the resignation of Justice SK Sinha and many other important cases.
“I hope hearing of these appeals will start soon,” he said.
Mobarak Hossain, Abdus Subhan, ATM Azharul Islam, Syed Mohammad Quasar, Mahidur Rahman, Forkan Mallik, Serajul Haque alias Siraj Master, Khan Akram Hossain, Obaidul Haque Taher, Ataur Rahman Nani, Shamsuddin Ahmed, SM Yousuf Ali, Shamsul Haque, Muhibur Rahman Boro Mia, Mujibur Rahman Angur Mia, Abdur Razzak, Shakhawat Hossain, Billal Hossain, Moslem Prodhan, Abdul Latif, Ujer Ahmed and Yunus Ahmed are the convicts who filed appeals with the apex court.
The government also submitted an appeal seeking death penalty for former Jatiya Party lawmaker Abdul Jabbar, who is on the run.
On February 24, 2015, the ICT-1 sentenced Jabbar to imprisonment until death in absentia for crimes against humanity.