Truth Commission

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Truth Commission formally defined as Truth and Accountability Commission and popularly known as Truth Commission. The worldwide precedence in this regard refers to a legally accepted commission which provides immunity from prosecution. Such immunity is granted to a person who voluntarily discloses his/her involvement in crimes for which he/she is liable to face trial under normal laws. While there are more than a dozen of examples of such commission in different countries more famous is that of South Africa. But the case of Bangladesh is somewhat different. The Non-party Caretaker Government (NCG) assumed office following large scale political violence in January 2007 under a state of emergency backed by the army. It placed anti-corruption measures as an important agenda. In particular, it led to the arrests or detention of a good number of political persons including two former Prime Ministers. The procedure and the manner of trial followed therein soon became controversial, and invited criticism especially from the aggrieved political parties, business leaders and the media. The ordinance for setting up the Commission was published in the official gazette on 8 June 2008. Under this law, the Commission was defined as Truth and Accountability Commission. The Commission consisted of a retired judge of the Supreme Court, one retired Major General and a retired Comptroller and Auditor General. It was given the authority to grant immunity from prosecution to any person who voluntarily seeks such immunity on condition of commensurate forfeiture to the state of assets acquired beyond his/her known sources of income. Under the law, the Commission was a self-liquidating body on the expiry of five months from the date of its constitution. However, in the event of pending cases, the Commission was allowed to continue its functions. It functioned till 31 December 2008.

On 1 April 2009, in response to a question raised by a member of the Jatiya Sangsad, a list of 448 persons were placed before the Sangsad after the newly elected government assumed office in January of the same year. According to media reports (Daily Samakal, 2 April 2009), the list included 300 functionaries of the government and parastatals including 71 women. Altogether, they deposited taka 340 million to the government exchequer.

Soon after its constitution, the legality of the Commission was challenged in the High Court Division which declared it to be void and without lawful effect on 13 November 2008. The NCG succeeded in obtaining a stay order from the appellate division. Since the Jatiya Sangsad, after January 2009, did not accord the ordinance the status of a law, further controversies arose as to the fate of the persons who got immunity. [AMM Shawkat Ali]