Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal should pursue justice, not vengeance
The death sentence handed down by the International Crimes Tribunal today against Delwar Hossain Sayeedi (photo) violates international standards of due process and fair trial, and, if carried out, would violate his right to life, says the ICJ.
“The ICJ wholly condemns the atrocities committed in Bangladesh’s war of liberation in 1971, notably the widespread and systematic use of rape as a form of torture and the unlawful killings. It is paramount that those responsible should be held accountable,” said Sam Zarifi, ICJ Asia Pacific Regional Director. “But even perpetrators of atrocities have rights. They should be brought to justice, not subjected to vengeance.”
Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, vice-president of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, was indicted on 3 October 2011 on 20 charges including genocide and crimes against humanity. He was arrested and brought before the War Crimes Tribunal for the first time on 2 November 2010. He was accused of working with the Al-Badr group during the independence struggle in the early 1970s.
The International Commission of Jurists opposes the death penalty as a violation of the right to life and a form of cruel and inhuman punishment. The United Nations General Assembly has called on all States to establish a moratorium on the death penalty with a view to universal abolition.
Today, crowds gathered outside the courthouse as the verdict was being read, demanding Delwar Hossain Sayeedi be sentenced to death for his role in the atrocities committed in the 1971 war of liberation. Earlier this month, widespread protests erupted across Bangladesh after the Tribunal imposed a life sentence on Abdul Qadar Mollah instead of the death penalty.
“The enormous demonstrations and the unfortunate violence that have accompanied each decision of the ICT demonstrate the passions still enflamed by the crimes of 1971. But it is in everyone’s interest to ensure that the rule of law and the path to justice are not subject to immediate political pressure,” Zarifi added. “The Government’s obligation to bring those responsible for the atrocities committed in 1971 to justice must not outweigh the presumption of innocence and the duty to ensure the security of all persons.”
The ICJ says that the International Crimes Tribunal does not adhere to international standards of a fair trial and due process.
According to the ICJ, there are serious procedure flaws at all stages: pre-trial release has been routinely and arbitrarily denied; witnesses have been abducted and intimidated; there have been credible allegations of collusion between the Government, prosecutors and judges.
On 14 February 2013, a draft amendment was tabled in Parliament, retroactively changing the International Criminal (Tribunals) Act 1973 to enable prosecutors to appeal a life sentence and seek the death penalty.
This amendment came after protests for a death sentence in the 5 February 2013 verdict against Abul Qadar Mollah.
As a State party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Bangladesh is obligated to guarantee due process and fair trial rights to all suspects, even those accused of war crimes.
Such obligations include the right to an public hearing before a competent, independent and impartial tribunal; the right to be tried in one’s presence; the right to counsel and the right to a full defence; and the right not to be punished again for an offence for which there has already been a final conviction in accordance with the law.
“Failing to abide by minimum standards of due process will cast doubt on the Tribunal’s findings and undermine victims’ hard-fought battle for justice,” Zarifi said. “The Bangladesh Tribunal is one of very few transitional justice mechanisms that have imposed the death penalty.”
This verdict is the third issued by the tribunal. Earlier this month, Abdul Qader Mollah, the assistant secretary-general of the Jamaat-e-Islami was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment for committing crimes against humanity during the 1971 liberation war.
On 21 January, Abul Kalam Azad, a former leading member of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, was tried and convicted in absentia and sentenced to death for crimes committed during Bangladesh’s war of liberation in 1971. He was convicted on six counts of a crime against humanity and one count of genocide.
The government established the Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal in 2010, after amending the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act 1973. The International Crimes Tribunal has jurisdiction to try crimes against humanity, crimes against peace, genocide, violations of the Geneva conventions and any other crimes under international law.
The ICJ supports the right of victims to seek truth and justice for the atrocities committed in the 1971 Liberation War.
However, any such process must adhere to international human rights standards, including full guarantees for a fair trial.
Sam Zarifi, ICJ Asia-Pacific Regional Director, t: +66 26198477; email: sam.zarifi(at)icj.org
Sheila Varadan, ICJ Legal Advisor, South Asia Programme, t: +66 857200723; email: sheila.varadan(at)icj.org