The ICJ condemns Bangladesh’s imposition of the death penalty in contravention of the global trend towards abolition of capital punishment.
It signifies a weakening of the rule of law and respect for human rights standards in the country.
On 5 November 2013, a special court sentenced 152 persons to death, most of them former officers of the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), for participating in the 2009 mutiny in which 74 people were killed.
Two days earlier, the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) had convicted Chowdhury Mueen Uddin and Ashrafuzzaman Khan in absentia for abduction and murder during Bangladesh’s liberation war in 1971 and sentenced them to death.
The ICT, set up by the Government of Bangladesh in 2010 to prosecute persons accused of committing genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and other serious crimes during the 1971 war, has so far convicted nine accused. Seven have been given death sentences.
“The numbers of death sentences issued by special courts in Bangladesh is alarming,” said Ben Schonveld, ICJ’s South Asia Director. “There seems little interest in seeking justice; this looks more like revenge.”
“Those responsible for committing atrocities during the Bangladeshi war of liberation and the 2009 mutiny must be prosecuted and brought to justice,” he added. “But the death penalty is a perversion of justice, even more so when imposed after trials that violate due process.”
The ICJ considers the death penalty to constitute a violation of the right to life and the right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment. The United Nations General Assembly has repeatedly called on all States to establish a moratorium on the death penalty with a view to abolition.
Under international law and standards, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Bangladesh is required to scrupulously and strictly to observe all relevant fair trial guarantees.
This includes the right to effective legal assistance at all stages of the proceedings including the appeal.
The International Crimes Tribunal as well the Special Court set up by Bangladesh to try those accused of committing atrocities in the 2009 mutiny do not meet international standards and Bangladesh’s legal obligations concerning the right to a fair trial.
The 846 suspects tried by the special court in Dhaka for the 2009 mutiny had limited access to lawyers; did not have sufficient knowledge of the charges and evidence against them; and at least 47 suspects died while in custody, allegedly after being subjected to torture.
There are also serious procedural flaws at all stages in the ICT.
Pre-trial release has been routinely and arbitrarily denied; witnesses have been abducted and intimidated; and there have been credible allegations of collusion between the Government, prosecutors and judges.
The ICJ calls on Bangladesh to join the great majority of States around the world in rejecting the death penalty.
To that end, Bangladesh should impose a moratorium on the practice and take steps towards its abolition, as prescribed by repeated United Nations General Assembly Resolutions.
In addition, Bangladeshi authorities must order a retrial of all persons accused of participating in the 2009 mutiny and ensure that their fresh trials meet international law standards on fair trial.
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