by Toby Cadman
Ms. Afroz claims, somewhat disingenuously, “it is clear that political orientation or association of the accused criminals have no bearing upon the ongoing trials at the Bangladesh tribunals…” This is quite false. If one thing is clear, it is precisely that the accused (all of whom are members of opposition political parties bar for one token trial where a former member of the Awami League was prosecuted to allow the government to suggest that politics were not a factor in the trials) are victims of a political vendetta. The government’s promise of their ‘convictions’ incidentally, was the driving platform of the Awami League’s election manifesto in 2009 when they came to power and again at the beginning of this year when they sought re-election. Moreover, the subsequent changes in law to deny those accused of their fundamental rights under the Bangladesh Constitution proved to be just the starting point. The legal framework has been repeatedly amended in order to ensure convictions and executions follow.
Ms. Afroz claims that the accused have had their legal rights respected during the trials. This, again, is false. A cursory review of any of the judgments handed down to date will clearly illustrate that the trials have failed to meet even a token semblance of fairness in respect of due process and internationally recognised fair trial rights. Similarly, the conclusions drawn by the judges often rest upon inaccurate or, as has often been the case, wholly incorrect interpretations of fact and subsequent application of international law. It may well be worth reminding Ms. Afroz (and for that matter the Prime Minister) that Bangladesh in bound by the International Convention of Civil and Political Rights which obliges states to respect minimum standards of fairness for criminal trials. To say that Bangladesh have fallen short of meeting their international obligations in this regard is akin to suggesting that the Bay of Bengal is little more than a large puddle.
Commenting on the standards of the trials in Bangladesh is often perceived as being an attack on Bangladesh’s sovereignty. Critics are often labelled as being anti-liberation and part of an international conspiracy. This is of course a ludicrous suggestion. Considering the extent of suffering the 1971 conflict caused this is perhaps understandable. However, one must distinguish between unjustified attacks on state institutions and legitimate concerns raised as to a fundamentally flawed process. To criticise the standards of trials is not to criticise the notion of ending impunity far less to challenge the nation’s liberation. In fact, one could reasonably argue that raising legitimate criticisms as to the process is perfectly consistent with the notion of ending impunity and ensuring accountability.