21 Nov 2011

Bangladesh war crimes tribunal begins hearing

9:09 am on 21 November 2011

The first trial has begun in Bangladesh of suspects accused of crimes against humanity and collaborating with Pakistani forces during the fight for independence from Pakistan in 1971. More than three million people died in the conflict.

Delawar Hossain Sayedee is the first of seven suspects set to face a tribunal on charges relating to the 1971 war.

The Jamaat-e-Islami party leader was arrested last year. Charges against him include genocide, rape and religious persecution - all of which he denies.

More than three million people were killed and many more were left homeless, according to official figures. Hundreds of thousands of women were also raped during the war.

Bangladeshi Attorney General Mahbubey Alam said the country had waited 40 years for the trial to come to court.

"We lost many professors, teachers, musicians - the bright sons of our country at the time of the liberation movement," he said.

"So it was our moral duty, our constitutional responsibility to try these offenders."

Chief prosecutor Ghulam Arif Tipoo said the trial was essential for the establishment of rule of law and democracy, and also key to the future of Bangladesh.

Tribunal set up last year

The tribunal investigating events in 1971 was set up in Dhaka last year without any involvement from the United Nations.

Human rights groups had urged the government to ensure the trials are carried out in accordance with international standards.

But the government insisted Bangladeshi law and its legal structure were competent enough to handle the trials.

Bangladesh was called East Pakistan until 1971 when a nine-month war of secession broke out.

The trial is likely to last for months.