Published:  01:11 AM, 12 January 2021 Last Update: 01:13 AM, 12 January 2021

The arc of the moral universe may be long, but we’ll get there in the end– Last part


This state of affairs may create similar thoughts in the mind of the intimidated witnesses and victims like the Japanese proverb which was used during the Middle Ages, when entire Japan was lawless due to civil war among mighty warlords. It says -"In a state of ultimate corruption, expecting justice appears to be a form of madness."

Despite every setback, we dare hope to see a bright day when this act has not only been passed, but fully implemented, paving the way to a just society. Only then, the victims and witnesses shall be able to believe applicability of that motto of rule of law which declares it to everyone including even the most powerful persons that "Be you never so high; the Law is above you."

Witness protection is protection of a threatened witness involved in the justice system, including defendants and other clients, before, during, and after a trial, usually by police. While a witness may only require protection until the conclusion of a trial, some witnesses are provided with a new identity and may live out the rest of their lives under government protection. Witness protection is usually required in trials against organized crime, where law enforcement sees a risk for witnesses to be intimidated by colleagues of defendants. It is also used at war crime trials.

On 25 August 2014, the-then foreign minister AH Mahmood Ali called for identifying and plugging the loopholes in the “entire victim support and witness protection” mechanism in Bangladesh as the trials of alleged war criminals are on. He cited the murder of Mostafa Howladar in Pirojpur in December 2013 for testifying against Jamaat-e-Islami leader Delwar Hossain Sayedee who was in the dock for committing crimes against humanity in 1971 War of Independence. “

We should not be surprised if those testifying against the alleged criminals in other sensational cases too meet the similar fate,” he added. He said the unfortunate case of Howladar “may discourage critical witnesses to give testimony against powerful or intimidating forces, and thus frustrate the course of justice”. The minister was speaking at a workshop on “strengthening national legal frameworks for the protection and support of victims and witnesses of terrorism”. The government organized the workshop, with the support of US and the UN, bringing together judicial, prosecutorial, and investigating officials.

Former Foreign Secretary Md Shahidul Haque and US Ambassador Dan Mozena addressed the inaugural session among others. The foreign minister said Howladar was killed even after the International Crimes Tribunal asked for providing minimum protection to witnesses. “This merit serious introspection on our part to review our entire victim support and witness protection legislation and mechanism with a view to identifying and addressing the gaps,” he said.

The minister also cited grenade attacks on Awami League rally and BNP-Jamaat mayhem in 2014 in the run-up to the elections. He said under the pretext of derailing the 10th parliamentary elections, the BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami committed “mindless atrocities murdering and maiming scores of people, most of them innocent civilians including women and children.”

“Their wanton killing spree stunned the whole world, and the international community kept urging for restraint,” he said. “What we find most regrettable is that there seems to be no remorse among the masterminds of these attacks for what they have done”. He suggested “adequate support and protection” for the victims from the State. “In addition, they must be given due recourse to justice to hold the perpetrators accountable and shatter the culture of impunity that often allow the culprits to remain above the law”.

He, however, said in a resource-constrained setting such as Bangladesh victims often found themselves pushed to the margins. The price that terrorism and violent extremism exert on their victims was “indeed too high to be measured in compensatory terms”. He said Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has taken it upon herself to ensure support and compensation for many of these victims.  “This is indeed befitting of her exemplary leadership style,” he said.

In many cases, some witnesses or victim families have succumbed to the threat of reprisals, and stopped testifying in courts against the accused. Unless witness protection measures are seriously implemented, witnesses will continue to turn hostile in criminal cases. A well-designed witness justice program would no doubt encourage witnesses to come forward and testify against the accused in their cases, even if it involves powerful persons.

The Rome Statute that created the International Criminal Court (ICC) has recognized this problem and mandated the protection of witnesses; otherwise, it would be impossible to gather evidence even for mass crimes. The ICC has established a separate unit that provides support to the witnesses and responds immediately if witnesses receive threats or intimidation.

Moreover, the protection and support services are provided not only during the trial stage, but if required, at all stages of the criminal proceedings, from investigation to post-trial. It is true the ICC has more resources available than most criminal justice systems; nevertheless, putting victim and witness protection measures in place is inextricably linked to the dispensation of justice anywhere.

For successful prosecution of the criminal cases, protection to witnesses is necessary as the criminals often have access to the police and influential people. While witness intimidation and harassment continue, it is hoped that not only does the witness family receive all the protection and support, but that the case goads the government to implement much needed amendments to criminal law vis-à-vis witness protection.

The war criminals’ cases have thrown up yet another important question that nags the criminal justice system: that of protection of witnesses and victims’ families who pursue criminal proceedings or name perpetrators. The lack of a comprehensive witness protection program as part of the criminal justice system is effectively facilitating attempts to subvert justice.

The complete lack of witness protection in Bangladesh is evidenced. In a sense, for many of these courageous witnesses and others conscientiously pursuing criminal prosecution, fearing for their lives is a refrain.A plea for witness protection laws: Witness protection is protection of a threatened witness involved in the justice system, including defendants and other clients, before, during, and after a trial, usually by police.

While a witness may only require protection until the conclusion of a trial, some witnesses are provided with a new identity and may live out the rest of their lives under government protection. Witness protection is usually required in trials against organized crime, where law enforcement sees a risk for witnesses to be intimidated by colleagues of defendants. It is also used at war crime trials.

After Bangladesh, lessons for witness protection, International criminal prosecutions depend on credible witness testimony. In particular, victim-witnesses can provide essential evidence regarding both crimes and those who committed or orchestrated them. However, for many, testifying in an international trial requires an act of great courage, especially when perpetrators still walk the streets of their villages and towns.

Terror fell upon our people. Wailing, they ran toward our arms—small, pale with fright.  They seemed eternities from us—so distant!  Their day exploded. Now we live in night.  "Made in Jamaat-e-Islami." I find that tragic. Though far less tragic than our sweet doves, we are blown to atoms by your profits that ill-bought magic. 

Land of the "brave," the "free"? Brave freedom’s flown to heights unknown—too high to see our people crushed in the dust by those felons so well. Sing hymns. Praise God. Erect some higher steeple. Condemn our kind to poverty, and hell. "Shock and awe?" Yes, we feel awe—and shock. The jackals killed our doves, cows, goats, lambs, and our flock! In fact, the runaway warfare felons must not escape the noose of gallows under any circumstances. The arc of the moral universe may be long, but we’ll get there in the end. (Concluded)


The writer is an independent political analyst who writes on
politics, political and human-centered figures, current and
international affairs.


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