August 21: A tragedy within a tragedy

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Published on August 21, 2021
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Dr. Rashid Askari:

The terrible killing of Bangabandhu along with his family members (except for two daughters) and his nearest relatives on the fateful August 15 night in 1975 is one of the biggest tragedies in human history. We call this pre-dawn killing 'August tragedy'. But the tragedy did not end there. It was again in another August (2004) on 21st, about twenty-eight years after the August 1975 tragedy, another tragedy struck Mujib's family and his politics and thereby the ideals of our Great Liberation War. Mujib's daughter and worthy successor, Sheikh Hasina, the then Leader of the Opposition narrowly escaped the monstrous carnage. This can be called a tragedy within a tragedy. As the August 15 tragedy resulting in Mujib's assassination was a deliberate attempt to vitiate the true spirit of our Liberation War, to trample democracy under military boot, to dissect the Constitution of 1972 and to throttle human rights; so was the assassination attempt targeted at Mujib's daughter and the heir to his politics, the Leader of the People, Sheikh Hasina. It was also a calculated plot to annihilate Mujib's political inheritance with a view to obstructing the Liberation War ideals and creating a situation to foster autocracy, communalism, and anti-liberation elements.

It was so unfortunate for us all that Bangladesh had to enter the new millennium with Khaleda-Nizami government in the ascendency. The pro-liberation stance of the country was stumbling around in the dark alley of reactionary rulers and regressive beliefs. The anti-liberation forces bagged power in alliance with the beneficiaries of Mujib's murder. They paved the way for the capture of the country by the Islamist militants which led to the 21 August 2004 grenade attack on Sheikh Hasina, the lone torch-bearer of the pro-liberation folks in the country.
On August 21, 2004, a little before twilight, a grenade attack was mounted on the Awami League leader, Sheikh Hasina while she was addressing a huge anti-terrorism rally in Dhaka held to protest the grenade attacks in Sylhet. No sooner had she concluded her speech, than about a dozen of grenades hurled at the rally exploded. In addition, there was indiscriminate firing that fortunately missed the target--Sheikh Hasina, as she was hurriedly escorted into her bullet-proof car. The incident left 24 dead and hundreds wounded. Committed in broad daylight, the gruesome terror attack was meticulously planned and executed. As a matter of fact, in the wake of the Udichi blast on March 6, 1999, such attacks had become commonplace in Bangladesh and in all the attacks were used such similar grenades as the ARGES 48 which were originally of Austrian make and were used in the Afghanistan war as well as in the Indian Parliament attack in December 2001. The bomb attacks had, for sure, aimed at causing huge casualties by targeting crowded places like cinema halls, social and cultural gatherings, and political rallies of the progressive political parties like Awami League. They could thus be distinguished from common criminal acts of violence because of the nature of crimes.

As the incumbent ruler and the beneficiaries of the August 15 killing unabashedly tried to save and reward the killers and cushioned them against any legal action for their crimes by introducing the infamous Indemnity Act, so did the BNP-Jamaat allied government after the 2004 August grenade attack. They manipulated the machinery of the government to protect the killers by passing the buck to others and hiding the killers from the eye of law. They arranged a farcical trial by coercing one Joj Mia into giving a false confession under duress.
No criminals go unpunished. The killers and conspirators of Sheikh Mujib had been tried and given capital punishment. Most of them have already been executed and the absconding few are awaiting execution. The criminals against humanity during the Liberation War in 1971 are being tried and punished four and a half decades after the occurrence. The perpetrators of 21 August grenade attack had to stand trial, because the trial for this sort of crime never lapses into inaction. As far as the principles of public international law are concerned, this type of trial belongs to Jus cogens (from Latin: compelling law; English: peremptory norm), which 'refers to certain fundamental, overriding principles of international law, from which no derogation is ever permitted'. Examples of 'jus cogens' include, among others: the law of genocide, the principle of racial non-discrimination; crimes against humanity and the rules prohibiting trade in slaves or human trafficking.
Though delayed, the trial for the August 21 Grenade attack case has not been denied. Though it reached an impasse during the Khaleda-Nizami regime, the impasse was broken after the Grand Alliance Government under Sheikh Hasina's premiership came into power after the election in 2008. The verdict on the case is expected to be returned very soon as the country's law minister assured. We look forward to seeing the perpetrators of the crimes on 21 August convicted and punished before long. The dispensation of justice in the 21 August Grenade Attack case will help combat the future acts of religious militancy in Bangladesh.