New York, NY, September 19, 2013 – The International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) has expressed concern over the Bangladesh Supreme Court’s sentencing to death of Abdul Quader Mollah, a senior leader in Bangladesh’s largest Islamic party, for crimes against humanity committed during the country’s 1971 war of independence with Pakistan. The decision retroactively increased Mollah’s original penalty from life imprisonment to capital punishment, in breach of international legal conventions.
In February, the International Crimes Tribunal in Bangladesh had convicted Mollah on five counts of crimes against humanity and sentenced him to life in prison. However, the government subsequently changed the law, allowing for appeals against lenient sentences and retroactive application of the death penalty.
“The convictions and sentencing in the Bangladesh genocide trials are a cause of deep and immediate concern,” said David Tolbert, president of ICTJ. “The atrocities that took place in Bangladesh in 1971 require investigations and for justice to be done. But they must be done in a fair and transparent way.”
The decision has been denounced by human rights groups and Mollah’s defense team as a breach of fair trial standards and international conventions, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Bangladesh signed in 2000.
Further, there are a number of indications that the trials, and in particular the decision to impose the death penalty in Mollah’s case, resulted at least in part from political pressure and interventions.
“ICTJ stands in the forefront of the call for accountability for serious human rights violations and in particular in seeing effective national prosecutions takes place. That effectiveness is undermined where there appears to be a political agenda or political interference with the judicial process,” added Tolbert.
The International Crimes Tribunal in Bangladesh was set up in 2009 to investigate and prosecute suspects for the genocide committed in the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. A vast number of people were killed during the fighting, and many more were victims of displacement, enforced disappearance, sexual violence, and other human rights violations.
Mass protests have been held against the tribunal’s original sentences, calling for stiffer penalties for those convicted of war crimes. Counter protests and a general strike were launched by Mollah’s Jamaat-e-Islami party, charging that trials have been politically motivated, as many accused are Jamaat leaders.
“The victims and the society as a whole have a right to justice,” said Tolbert. “The cause of justice must provide not only vindication of the victims, but a renewed trust in the justice system as a whole for all citizens.”
Refik Hodzic, ICTJ Director of Communications
Phone: +1 917 975 2286
Photo: A man shouts slogans as government activists and other Bangladeshi people gather for a protest demanding death penalty for Jamaat-e-Islami leader Abdul Quader Mollah in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013. (AP Photo/A.M. Ahad)