Cicero, the law maker and politician of Rome said, “When Wars begin, Law takes a back seat.” It was so perhaps in Roman Empire. But Time has changed, millenniums later legal authorities like Hugo Grotious and Lauterphcht told us that the wars have law, wars have to be fought within the bounds of law, and slowly but steadily this concept stopped and following the Second World War when six million Jews were murdered by the Germans.The Nuremberg trial convicted those responsible for gassing to death men, women and children. The principal perpetrators were hanged.
Again law has been misinterpreted in many ways. In the imperial Rome, when the British historian visited the Roman Forum, where the barefoot friars were singing vespers in the Temple of Jupiter captured better than any the actuality of the history: The various models of warship which prevailed in the Roman Empire were all considered by the PEOPLE as equally TRUE, by the PHILOSOPHER as equally FALSE and by the MAGISTRATE as equally USEFULL!
The constitutional process in Bangladesh reached its nadir when General Ziaur Rahman through a transnational conspiracy had the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, along with almost the entire family, brutally murdered. His murderers Faruk Rahman and Khandakar Adbur Rashid boasted about this in Granada TV and channel 4 BBC. The worst act by Ziaur Rahman in independent Bangladesh was the appointment of Supreme Court judges Justice Sayem and Justice Satter as presidents of the Republic. It was a double whammy: First the appointments (which are wrong), second, the chief justice accepting the position, by assenting to become president of the country, thus violating the basic principle of the Constitution of Bangladesh.
Cool headed use of judiciary had two purposes: One - the optic, to deceive people in the name of judicial sanction of his unlawful takeover, second, to facilitate the long term plan of forging a confederation with Pakistan. By peddling snake-oil, he attempted to befool the people of Bangladesh that, “All is well, God is nigh”.
But not so, law has a life of its own. Today it is co-terminus with human civilisation.
Just as “George Washington helped shape the actual form that the executive branch would take”, so the Chief justice John Marshall shaped the role that the courts would play. This is demonstrated in Marbury V. Madison (1803) case and Exparte Miligan (1866) case among others.
In this case, a landmark in constitutional protection of civil liberties, the court decided that military rule could not supersede the civil courts.
It is not a surprise, therefore, that justice Stephen Breyer of the US Supreme Court would always look at the “purpose and consequences“ of a judgment. He would like us to read the WORD and come to a pragmatic conclusion after all law is for the people. A Supreme Court judge doesn’t have to always refer to precedents. He has to see what will be the consequence of the judgment. After all, in Breyer’s view (2006), “Democratic means“ did not bring about an end to slavery or the concept of “one man, one vote” which allow corrupt and discriminatory (but democratically-inspired) state laws to be overturned in favour of civil rights.
In case of Bangladesh, Father of the Nation was murdered on August 15, 1975. The murderers were given immunity by law passed in the parliament. They could not be tried in any court in the country. They were sent out as diplomats. Unprecedented in the history of human civilisation!
Similarly, the collaborators during the great War of Liberation in Bangladesh against Pakistan, the anti-Bengali elements like Razakars, Al Badars and Al Shams joined the Pakistani military Junta to murder maim burn and rape the Bengalis - with the minority Hindu community as the main target and then the Muslims and Buddhists or Christians. Ziaur Rahman brought these murderers in his cabinet. The Prime Minister was Shah Azizur Rahman who was a razakar. Ziaur Rahman brought back the chief of Jamat, allowed him to conduct political activities in the secular and non-communal Bangladesh. Bengalis fought against Pakistan and three million Bengalis sacrificed their lives in the war and three hundred thousand mothers, daughters and sisters were victims of sexual assaults.
In both the cases, the perpetrators were getting away without being punished. It was Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the daughter of the Father of the Nation, who firmly decided that the murderers must be brought to justice. There is no place of impunity in Bangladesh. Bangabandhu’s murderers have been brought to justice and the collaborators of 1971 are facing trial in the International Crimes Tribunal.
These two acts under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina have brought in a new sense of pride and robust determination in the minds of the people of Bangladesh to take the country forward. Sheikh Hasina’s inspirational statesmanship has brought in the words of Justice Breyer to their logical consequence, meaning that you can’t commit a crime and go punished, meaning there is no place of impunity in Bangladesh.
When the correct history of Bangladesh would be written, may be after 50 or 100 years, this two incidents will figure as the most important decision taken by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, to make this country golden Bengal - the dream of Bangabandhu. It may not be out of context to say that the sudden resurgence in the economic development of the country and the growth and productivity in every sector of the country is a direct result of the realisation that there is a government that ensures stability and supports the downtrodden and the poor and inspires people to move forward to make Bangladesh a great country.
The world has opened up, as it were, to notice a new Bangladesh – a country which has been held up as a model of growth in the World: A positive Bangladesh, bestowed by the positive statesmanship of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Lord Denning quoted St. Paul:
Whatsoever things are true
Whatsoever things are honest
Whatsoever things are just
Think on these things.
The writer is Chairman, Bangladesh Heritage Foundation, National Security and Counterterrorism.