The extradition of Bangabandhu’s killers can be a rallying point for implementing reforms
Bangladesh’s most wanted fugitives are the assassins of the country’s founding leader. The 15 convicted assassins of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman were prosecuted during a historic trial on the basis of robust, thorough and strong evidence.
The historic case was lodged on October 2, 1996. A court sentenced 15 of the accused and acquitted four others on November 8, 1998. The chief prosecution lawyer at the time is now serving as Bangladesh’s law minister.
Of these convicted assassins, five continue to be Bangladesh’s most wanted fugitives. The whereabouts of two of these fugitives are widely known. One lives in Canada. Another is reportedly in the US state of California. The government has sought their extradition.
During the state of emergency in 2007, the self-confessed assassin Khandaker Abdur Rashid was interviewed by Channel-i talk show host Zillur Rahman on Bangladeshi television. There are certain questions which remain unanswered.
Was the interview conducted inside Bangladesh? If so, why was Rashid not arrested due to his conviction? When a fugitive enters the country, it is the duty of the security forces to detain the convict. Was this fugitive given safe passage unlawfully?
From a legal standpoint, we need to analyze ideas and reforms to bring these fugitives to justice. Bangladesh, Canada, and the US are common law jurisdictions due to a shared heritage as former parts of the British Empire.
Like US and Canadian courts, Bangladeshi courts continue to refer to case law from other common law jurisdictions. Bangladesh continues to retain many laws from the 19th century when it was a part of the Bengal Presidency. This includes the penal code, the code of criminal procedure, the code of civil procedure, the Contract Act, the Evidence Act, and many more.
The extradition of Bangladesh’s most wanted fugitives is being held back due to modern legal benchmarks, a lack of political will, and the obstruction of justice. Legal benchmarks in Canada are influenced by the country’s abolition of capital punishment. A lack of political will in the US can explain the inaction which has been festering with regard to the extradition of Bangabandhu’s assassin.
Finally, a weak case was presented in the asylum case of Rashed Chowdhury, which resulted in the judge giving “full evidentiary weight” to Rashed’s claims.
In 2021, it was reported that Bangladesh executed 11 convicts between 1990 and 2000. 57 convicts were executed between 2001 and 2010. 33 convicts were executed between 2011 and 2021.
Figures from the home ministry show that no executions were carried out between 1988 and 1990. There were zero executions in 2014 and 2018.
Hence, Bangladesh is clearly capable of implementing a moratorium on the death penalty. A moratorium can strengthen Bangladesh’s position during negotiations with Canada for the extradition of the fugitive Bangabandhu assassin Nur.
Bangladesh and Canada should sign a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT). At present, Canada and Bangladesh have three bilateral treaties in force, including on investment, development cooperation, and taxes.
If a MLAT was concluded, it would be easier for Bangladesh to request the extradition of the fugitive Nur. Without MLAT, the process has to rely on scrutiny in the courts, including questions on the application of the death penalty.
Under a MLAT request, Canada does not necessarily have to seek an assurance regarding the form of punishment to be meted out to the fugitive. MLAT has been described as a confidential procedure.
US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) can terminate political asylum under several conditions, including criminal culpability, guilt in a serious “nonpolitical” crime outside the US, and the persecution of people on grounds of race, religion, nationality, social identity, or political opinion.
Rashed’s case clearly meets the latter condition, due to the widespread persecution of the Awami League after Bangabandhu’s assassination on August 15, 1975. The Awami League has to argue meticulously on this point.
Rashed’s asylum request was permitted by a seriously flawed decision. Moreover, there is a preponderance of evidence against Rashed. There is overwhelmingly strong evidence which proves his guilt in the assassination of Bangabandhu.
Reopening the case
In 2020, Rashed’s asylum case was reopened by US attorney general Bill Barr in the final days of the Trump administration. The reopening got attention in US media after Politico ran a biased commentary against Rashed’s extradition to Bangladesh. Withholding Rashed is an obstruction of justice from the standpoint of Bangladesh.
The status of the case remains unclear under the Biden administration. US President Joe Biden is potentially capable of issuing an executive order to deport Rashed to Bangladesh.
A congressional executive agreement can also be applied to US-Bangladesh relations, because such agreements can be passed with a simple majority in Congress instead of the two thirds majority needed in the Senate to ratify a treaty.
An extradition treaty between Bangladesh and the US can be a strategic imperative. A treaty is not only necessary for justice in the Bangabandhu murder case; but also in terms of counter-terrorism and international security.
The US should consider the strategic benefits of extradition. If it wants a genuine partnership with Bangladesh, sending back Bangabandhu’s killer will be a strong goodwill gesture.
It is time for the US to open its eyes to the reality of a new, confident, and forward-looking Bangladesh. Given the heritage and capacity that Bangladesh brings to the table, the US will be wrong to look away.
For Bangladesh, the extradition of Bangabandhu’s killers can be a rallying point for implementing reforms. From a moratorium on the death penalty to the suggested legal changes being discussed by the Bangladeshi government and its international partners, this can be a historic opportunity.
Let us not hold ourselves hostage to the narrow minded and deceitful politics of the opposition. It is time for the Awami League to be visionary in order to secure its next term, as Bangladesh prepares for a general election by the end of this year. Let this time be different. A slew of reforms can pave the way for a stable and prosperous Bangladesh.
Umran Chowdhury works in the legal field.
Source: Dhaka Tribune.