Statement from Toby Cadman, International Defence Counsel on International War Crimes Tribunal, Bangladesh
Friday, July 19, 2013
- Defence team has seen new evidence of high-level government interference in the International Crimes Tribunal, Bangladesh
- Material compromises both past and current trials
- New evidence will be released to the public within the coming days
- Azam trial saw no evidence that establish charges
- Defence reiterate their claims of witness interference, prosecution witness perjury and executive interference
- 'These recent verdicts follow a trial process reminiscent of the darkest days of the Soviet Union's show trials and unbefitting of a democratic nation.'
- Risk of continuing instability within Bangladesh if tribunal is permitted to continue to operate in its current form
This week has been a landmark moment for the International Crimes Tribunal, Bangladesh. It has seen two important verdicts. The first on Monday of Professor Ghulam Azam, found guilty of all 61 counts with which he was charged and sentenced to 90 years, commuted from the death penalty. The second was a guilty verdict for Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid. He has been sentenced to death.
This week the defence has outlined in detail what it sees as the profound unfairness of these trials as well as the misconduct and illegality that lies at the heart of this tribunal.* These recent verdicts follow a trial process reminiscent of the darkest days of the Soviet Union's show trials and unbefitting of a modern democracy. Despite widespread international condemnation over the grave deficiencies at the tribunal, the Bangladesh government's unwillingness to investigate any of the reported malpractice raised by the defence or international human rights organisations is both highly suspicious and even an admission of guilt.
The defence has now seen further evidence that strongly links the highest levels of the Bangladeshi executive with witness intimidation and tampering. We hope to make this evidence public in the coming days, as soon as it has been properly verified. Our initial analysis is that this material indicates a judicial process completely undermined by high-level political interference. It reaffirms our suspicions at the commencement of the tribunal – that these trials have no basis in justice. Rather, the tribunal has become a ruthless political tool for the current government. It is an affront to justice, and an insult to the victims the tribunal was supposedly created to honour. We are confident that this new evidence will engage stakeholders in Bangladesh and internationally to dismantle this tribunal and work towards a fairer, internationally sanctioned, solution.
To restate categorically: these trials have brazenly ignored the most basic of legal norms. In the Azam trial, no evidence was presented during the trial that confirmed a single death. No evidence was heard to establish genocide or crimes against humanity. No evidence was presented that connected Professor Gulam Azam to any crimes. It is clear that the Judges themselves conducted their own investigations. Prosecution witnesses perjured themselves, while the Defence was prevented from producing witnesses. Furthermore, as was reported by Human Rights Watch amongst others, there has been witness disappearances as well as witness interference. Finally, the level of prosecutorial and judicial misconduct is unprecedented for a court of this type.
The defence has always maintained that the victims of the grave crimes perpetrated in the 1971 independence war deserve justice. This tribunal could have helped lay the ghosts of the past to rest by conducting an open and transparent restorative process. However, Bangladesh risks being plunged back into those dark years once more if the government continues this political witch hunt. The defence has always called for non-violent protest by those Bangladeshi's who rightly feel aggrieved by this process. Yet we are extremely concerned for the stability of the whole country as important elections approach. We feel the irresponsible and openly divisive manner in which these trials are conducted may create an irreparable and dangerous political divide within the country. The Bangladeshi government and its international partners now have a duty to stop this tribunal creating a toxic political atmosphere that could plunge the country into a sustained period of civil or political unrest.
Yesterday, the Tribunal, in delivering Mujahid judgment, issued a warning that anyone who criticises the Tribunal or rejects its verdict may be charged. This attempt to muzzle criticism and silence opposition is a concerning development as elections approach. Despite the grave charges facing the defendents, they deserve a fair trial. More importantly, for the victims and their families, this tribunal is not fit for purpose. For the political benefit of a few, it risks turning back the clock in Bangladesh at this important juncture in its history.
9 Bedford Row