Bangladesh: withdraw contempt of court notice against Human Rights Watch, the ICJ says

The ICJ today called on the Bangladesh authorities to immediately withdraw the contempt of court notice issued against the international human rights organization Human Rights Watch.

The charges are in response to well documented concerns by Human Rights Watch that the trial of Ghulam Azam (photo), former head of the Islamist group Jamaat-e-Islami Azam’s trial was “deeply flawed” and failed to meet international fair trial standards.

“Silencing voices that highlight the shortcomings of the International Crimes Tribunal impede rather than advance the enormously important task of ensuring that those responsible for committing atrocities during Bangladesh’s war of liberation are brought to justice in a process that complies with international law and standards”, said Alex Conte, Director of the ICJ’s International Law and Protection Programmes.

On 2 September 2013, the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) in Bangladesh issued a show cause notice asking Human Rights Watch to explain why contempt of court proceedings should not be initiated against it for its allegedly ‘biased’, ‘scandalous’ and ‘inaccurate’ statements about the ICT. Human Rights Watch has to respond within three weeks, or possibly face trial and conviction in absentia.

“Assessing the conduct of administration of justice in judicial proceedings, including where it entails criticism of judicial performance is an important means of ensuring accountability,” said Conte. “Judges and prosecutors should defend the right to freedom of expression, not use their discretionary powers to muzzle criticism”.


Alex Conte, Director, International Law & Protection Programmes, t: +41 79 957 2733; email: alex.conte(a)

Additional information:

The Bangalore Principles on Judicial Conduct clarify that “since judicial independence does not render a judge free from public accountability, and legitimate public criticism of judicial performance is a means of ensuring accountability subject to law, a judge should generally avoid the use of the criminal law and contempt proceedings to restrict such criticism of the courts”.

The Commonwealth (Latimer House) Principles on the Accountability of and the Relationship Between the Three Branches of Government also stress that “criminal law and contempt proceedings should not be used to restrict legitimate criticism of the performance of judicial functions”.

The UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders underscores that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”.

The Declaration also highlights that human rights defenders have the right to “freely to publish, impart or disseminate to others views, information and knowledge on all human rights and fundamental freedoms” and to hold opinions and draw public attention to the observance of human rights.

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