Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal: unfair trials and death penalty will not bring justice

18 Jul, 2013 | Press Releases

Brussels-Rome, 18 July 2013

On 17 July 2013, the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT), which was set up in 2009 to investigate and prosecute crimes committed in 1971 during the Bangladesh Liberation War, handed down the death penalty to Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujaheed, a key member of the opposition Jamaat-e-Islami party, for charges including abduction and murder. The judgment is the latest in a series this year, ranging from the death penalty to life imprisonment, mainly against leaders of the political party Jamaat-e-Islami. These decisions have sparked serious violence throughout the country, in response to which the government has deployed the army to control the situation.

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 International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) to fulfil its essential promise of justice for the massive atrocities committed during the nine-month conflict in 1971, from which Bangladesh emerged as an independent State and which still haunt the country.

“The ICT could have provided an historic opportunity to address this traumatic chapter and allow the country to move forward free from the heavy burden of a long-standing culture of impunity. However, the ICT has expressly excluded any investigations of Pakistani Army officers, who are widely believed to bear the greatest responsibility for the crimes committed, and has focussed its investigations on the current leadership of opposition political parties for their role during the conflict. More troubling, the ICT has handed down the death penalty against several individuals on trial before it. All of this means that instead of providing justice, the ICT has inevitably reinforced the claims of those who dismiss its proceedings as a clumsy attempt to carry out an unjust and politically motivated judicial exercise of vengeance under the guise of fighting impunity.

“These problems also have to be viewed in light of the continued exclusion of due process rights and guarantees, including protection of defence witnesses, potential witnesses and counsel from harassment and intimidation, as well as full application of the presumption of innocence, despite persistent demands of international legal community to ensure fair trial rights are respected. This brings further discredit to the Tribunal, blatantly demonstrating its inability and unwillingness to conduct fair and transparent proceedings in accordance with the highest international standards.

“It seems now that the worst case scenario, if not already upon us, is knocking persistently at our doors: the ICT is contributing to turning into heroes those it was meant to punish and is demolishing the chance for victims to have proper acknowledgement of their suffering. Prompt action from the international community, including through the UN Human Rights Council and its Special Procedures, is therefore needed to ensure that Bangladesh complies with its international human rights and other treaty obligations, in order to prevent the ICT’s failure to provide for justice and reconciliation in Bangladesh”.

For further information, contact Alison Smith on or +32-2-548 39 12 or Nicola Giovannini on or +32-2-548-3915.