War crimes in Bangladesh: unfair trials and death penalty will not bring justice

ali ahsan mujahid

Yesterday, the Bangladesh’s Appellate Division of the Supreme Court upheld the verdict in the case of Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid, thereby confirming the death sentence imposed by the lower court. Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid is the Secretary General of Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, the largest Islamic political party in Bangladesh, and was Minister for Social Welfare from 2001-2006. He was convicted in 2013 on charges of genocide, killing intellectuals, torture and abduction during the 1971 war to break away from Pakistan. This controversial judgment is the latest in a series of decisions that have caused widespread protests and raised serious concerns about violation of fair trial rights in the proceedings conducted by the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT). These concerns include the failure of the ICT judges to apply the proper legal principles, the fact that the ICT judges arbitrarily restricted the number of defence witnesses and the appearance of bias on the part the ICT against defendants. To date, the ICT has handed down 17 verdicts, of which 13 are death sentences. Of those tried and sentenced, 10 are key leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami. Of these, two leaders have already been executed, Abdul Quader Mollah on 12 December 2013, and Muhammad Kamaruzzaman on 11 April 2015.

Statement by Alison Smith, Legal Counsel of No Peace Without Justice:

“No Peace Without Justice (NPWJ) and the Nonviolent Radical Party, Transnational and Transparty (NRPTT) continue to be deeply concerned by the ongoing failure of the Bangladesh judicial authorities to uphold due process rights and guarantee fair trials in the enforcement of crimes under international law.

“This latest judgment and the major flaws in the proceedings that led to it further tarnishes the credibility of the accountability efforts carried out by the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) to address the massive atrocities committed during the nine-month conflict in 1971, from which Bangladesh traumatically emerged as an independent State and which haunt the country to this day.

“By targeting through its investigations the current leadership of opposition political parties for their role during the conflict and by handing down the death penalty against several individuals on trial before it, the ICT has inevitably reinforced the perception that its proceedings are a weapon of politically influenced revenge rather than a genuine attempt to deliver justice for victims and address the crimes of the past. Bangladesh’s consistent ignoring of the legitimate concerns and persistent demands for reform by the international community, including official rulings by United Nations bodies, only adds fuel to these claims.

“Bangladesh must do better. We call on the Bangladeshi Government to institute an immediate moratorium on the death penalty handed down against Mr Mujahid and others convicted by the ICT and to give effect to the promise of real justice for victims that it made when ratifying the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court some five years ago. We look to the international community to take concrete steps to ensure that Bangladesh complies with its international human rights and other treaty obligations. This includes the immediate and categorical exclusion of the death penalty for individuals accused by ICT and the application in full of all due process guarantees, to the highest international standards. If the ICT continues to be used to pursue narrow partisan aims, it will only have the effect of creating further violence and hamper the chances for meaningful reconciliation that the people of Bangladesh deserve.”

Source: NPWJ