London barrister appeals to UN to intervene, saying that clients sentenced to death did not receive fair trial
British lawyers representing defendants sentenced to death byBangladesh’s international crimes tribunal have appealed to the United Nations to intervene, saying their clients did not receive fair trials.
The domestic court, established in 2010 to try those accused of committing atrocities during the country’s 1971 war of liberation against Pakistan, is facing growing criticism from human rights groups and lawyers abroad.
Toby Cadman, a London barrister who says he has been prevented from entering Bangladesh to see his clients, has written to the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions over the trials of Delwar Sayedee, a former vice-president of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, and others.
He said witnesses had been abducted, defence lawyers assaulted and judges changed. “From the start [Bangladesh] has woefully failed to meet fundamental fair trial rights and due process standards,” he wrote in one submission to the UN. “It is essential for the international community, and in particular the UN human rights council, to make the issue of full compliance a priority.”
Another London barrister, Schona Jolly, an executive member of the bar’s human rights committee, has called for the tribunal’s hearings to be suspended pending an urgent independent investigation.
One of the most bizarre incidents highlighted by critics is the alleged abduction of Shukhoronjon Bali, a defence witness, as he was entering the tribunal in Dhaka in November. Bali had been due to testify on behalf of Sayedee.
Months later he surfaced in Kolkata’s Dum Dum jail across the border in India. “Bali claims he was abducted by the Bangladeshi police from the entrance to the ICT courthouse, detained in Bangladesh, then forced by Bangladeshi security forces across the border into India, where he claims he was detained and tortured by the notorious border security force before being held in [prison],” Human Rights Watch said.
“Those involved in his abduction may have assumed Bali would be killed by the Indian border security force when he was pushed into India, or that he would permanently disappear,” said Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director. “There is a real risk to Bali if he is returned to Bangladesh, as he could expose those involved in his abduction.”
The Bangladeshi government is resisting foreign calls for legal reform. Gowher Rizvi, chief representative of the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, who leads the ruling Awami League party, said the tribunal had been instituted to “lay to rest a ghost which continues to haunt us”.
Hasina is the daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, Bangladesh’s most famous independence leader, who was assassinated in 1975, four years after the country split from Pakistan. Bangladesh says more than three million people died in the conflict and hundreds of thousands of women were raped.
“The reason we need to lay this ghost to rest is that we never punished the guilty and there was not a family that was not affected [by the crimes committed during the conflict] … But unfortunately the overwhelming desire for justice has never been satisfied,” Rizvi said.
“This is a national tribunal. It follows judicial due process and is open. All the accused have access to independent counsel and the freedom to call witnesses. It may not be the gold standard of The Hague but it is no worse than the way our high court and supreme court work. It is not a trial that has been fixed and not a kangaroo court.”