Bangladesh’s war crimes tribunal under fire from human rights group for “flawed” trials but government hits back

10 November 2015 by David Bergman

The soon-to-be-sealed fate of two men, sentenced to death for the commission of international crimes during Bangladesh’s 1971 war of independence, has reignited criticism of the country’s International Crimes Tribunal (ICT).

Poster calling for the hanging of accused war criminals at 2013 Shabagh protests in Bangladesh (Photo: David Bergman)
Image caption: 
Poster calling for the hanging of accused war criminals at 2013 Shabagh protests in Bangladesh (Photo: David Bergman)

On 17 November, the same Supreme Court judges who just months earlier had upheld death sentences imposed by the trial court against Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury and Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid will consider whether they made ‘”errors apparent on the face” of their judgment.

If the justices decide that no such errors were made – which is likely, since successful review applications are very rare in Bangladesh – the two senior opposition leaders will be executed.

Their hanging would bring to four the total number of those executed following conviction by the ICT, which the current Awami League government established in 2010.

So far, the tribunal has convicted 24 people, most of whom are leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami, an Islamist party which in 1971 supported the military activities of the Pakistan military to stop Bangladesh secession [IJT-169]. Bar a couple, all those convicted have been given the death penalty and most are awaiting an appeal process.

“Flawed” trial and appeals?

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Almost two years after its establishment in March 2009, the Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) is moving forward slowly, accompanied by strong support from victims groups and local human rights activists, but amidst significant concern over the laws which govern the process. Government representatives have repeatedly given commitments that the forthcoming trials will be credible and fair. However, international experts continue to raise concerns that the applicable legal regime falls short of compliance with international standards.

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A spate of rulings against leaders of Bangladesh’s biggest Islamist opposition party for atrocities during the war in 1971 shows the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) forging ahead – despite continuing criticism from outside the country.

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