By David Bergman
US ambassador at large for war crimes Stephen Rapp said on Wednesday that he was ‘not yet satisfied’ with fairness issues at the International Crimes Tribunal but that ‘progress’ had been made.
‘Fundamentally, I think progress has been achieved and I am very gratified that some of the recommendations that I have made [earlier] have been incorporated,’ he said. ‘But I also see things that concern me… I am not yet satisfied, I do have concerns,’ Rapp told a news conference just before he drove to the airport at the end of his three-day visit to Dhaka.
Four men – three of them leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami – have so far been convicted by the International Crimes Tribunal since it was established in 2010 to prosecute those alleged to have committed international offences during the 1971 independence war.
Abul Kalam Azad, who was tried in absentia, as well as Delwar Hossain Sayedee and Mohammed Kamaruzzaman have all been sentenced to death whilst Abdul Quader Mollah received a life imprisonment. The cases of Abdul Quader and Delwar Hossain are now before the Appellate Division under appeal.
At the news conference, Rapp, who had visited Bangladesh on three previous occasions, emphasised the importance of fairness, equality and rigour in the trial process.
‘It is important that these cases be done fairly,’ he said. ‘I know as I have met so many victims of these crimes that people want them done quickly, they don’t want them to drag on.’ Rapp said, ‘But people can be falsely accused, there has to be presumption of innocence, the evidence has to be beyond reasonable doubt. Anything less ill serves the victims. There can’t be short cuts.’
He went on to criticise the possibility of external events impacting upon the court process.
‘This can’t be a process that depends on politics. Guilt or innocence can’t be determined by polls, by demonstrations in the streets, and certainly never by threat of violence, but by facts proven according to law in court,’ he mentioned.
The US envoy pointed out that under the Bangladesh constitution, the normal rights afforded to the accused for ordinary crimes do not exist for those accused under the International Crimes (Tribunal) Act 1973.
Rapp said, ‘This court has to establish its own rules, but this court is also subject as all proceedings in this country and my country to the basic protections which are in an International Convention on Civil and Political Rights ratified by this country more than 15 years ago. And these rights do provide certain protections for accused persons.’
He also emphasised equality of treatment between the defence and the prosecution, pointing out that under current practice the tribunals were not issuing summons to defence witnesses whilst doing so for prosecution witnesses.
He also criticised the rule on alibi used by the tribunal. ‘Right now it is the burden on the defence to show that they weren’t there. You never put the burden on the defence. It is the burden on the prosecution to prove that he was there where he committed the crime. That is a change that could be made.’
In regards to sentencing, Rapp argued that whilst people might ‘reflexively’ want to see the death penalty because of the severity of ‘the overall crime’, these cases were about individuals. ‘What was the proof for the particular person? What was the role of that individual? How cruel? And what they did? And whether that justifies the death sentence? And then, an appropriate sentence is established,’ he said.
Read the full transcript of Ambassador Rapp’s press statement here.
News Source: New Age
Image Source: Wiki Media