Michael Prue is a Canadian politician. He has just concluded a trip to Bangladesh. On Sunday he made it clear to newsmen here that the laws of his country did not allow extraditing Noor Chowdhury, a former army officer convicted of assassinating Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975, to Bangladesh. But, of course, if the Bangladesh authorities came up with a guarantee that this assassin would not be executed, Ottawa would send him back to Dhaka.
It is a typical, almost hypocritical Western response to our Eastern values. In the West, more and more people are coming round to the notion that capital punishment is wrong. In our part of the world, we still have not given up the idea that comeuppance, in that strictly legal and moral sense, for one guilty of having committed a crime is in order. This difference between their world and ours will remain, for a very long time yet.
But then comes this question of the rule of law, a truism nations in the West are forever reminding us of. We understand why the rule of law is necessary, why an enforcement of it is a vital ingredient in a strengthening of democracy. But what do you do about another question, the one which asks under what law an assassin like Noor was given shelter by Canada and then, as we have been informed, given its citizenship? The Canadians might now tell us that this man became their citizen long before his conviction, in absentia, by a Bangladesh court nearly three years ago. But that argument is spurious.
And here’s how. The people of Bangladesh as well as governments around the world knew, once the murders of August 1975 had been committed, of the identity of those involved in the crime. Any western government which wishes to inform us that they did not know who played what role in the overthrow of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s government is not enlightening us with the truth. Everyone has known since August 15, 1975 that Noor is one of the gang of soldiers who committed the bloodbath in that long-ago year. And yet the Canadian authorities, as we understand it, not only gave Noor asylum but also made him happy with citizenship. Rule of law, you say?
There are quite a few countries around the world which have demonstrated absolutely double standards in the matter of dealing with Bangabandhu’s assassins. Rashed Chowdhury, we have it on good authority, is leading a happy life in the United States. The Americans were prompt in sending Iraq’s Saddam Hussein to the gallows without giving him a fair trial. They found and swiftly pumped bullets into Osama bin Laden and then threw his body into the sea. Justice stayed suspended in a state of disbelief. Rule of law, is it?
Last week Bishop Desmond Tutu demonstrated before the world the moral responsibilities of anyone who wins the Nobel Prize for Peace. He refused to share a platform with a visiting Tony Blair because of his belief, shared by millions around the world, that the former British leader is a war criminal. Tutu thinks — and we agree with him — that if Africa’s fallen leaders can be hauled away to The Hague for war crimes related trials, the same ought to be done in the case of Tony Blair and George W. Bush. But Western hypocrisy gets in the way. Charles Taylor will be put away for life; Blair and Bush, despite destroying a country and pushing tens of thousands to death, will earn millions on the lecture circuit.
Which is when you realise that men like Noor Chowdhury and Rashed Chowdhury could, until they die natural deaths, lead peaceful lives in Canada and America, thanks to the questionable concept of the rule of law operating in those two countries. Morality does not have a chance, and not just in Ottawa and Washington. Some of the killers of the Father of the Nation were sent off to Bangladesh’s diplomatic missions in Beijing, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Harare and Nairobi by our first military dictator, General Ziaur Rahman. While you understand why Zia did that nasty thing (he was out to rewrite history in perfectly embarrassing ways), you are stupefied at the manner in which those foreign governments agreed to accept these killers in their countries. Diplomatic immunity? There is a clear line between diplomacy and criminality. You do not blur the distinction between the two. And let us not be told that China, Japan, Hong Kong, Zimbabwe and Kenya did not know of the background of these men.
Men like Shariful Haq Dalim and Khondokar Abdur Rashid have led charmed lives in Pakistan and Libya. The immorality with which the Pakistanis and the Libyans — they were thrilled at Bangabandhu’s murder — have offered their services to Mujib’s assassins has been appalling. It is behaviour you do not expect from governments in modern times. But then, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Ziaul Haq, Muammar Gaddafi and people like them lead warped lives in times they cannot believe are not medieval any more. And those men of power in Canada and the United States? They try to educate us in values, in matters of an aesthetic kind. And yet they have little compunction in giving refuge and even citizenship to murderers from abroad.
In recent times, hundreds of rendition flights have transported Islamic militants, all abducted by American forces, with a grinning Blair by their side, to Guantanamo. No law was at work, and the degrading treatment of those caught and placed in custody at Guantanamo commenced in utter disregard of the law. Rule of law, did you say?
The logic that murderers must feel safe, must not have the law catch up with them, indeed must live in honour as citizens of countries giving them refuge, is perverse. It is an insult to the societies these men once humiliated in macabre fashion. It is an abomination, for it gives short shrift to the ethical principles upon which life enriches itself.