HRDB NewsletterTWO Bangladesh opposition leaders have been executed for "war crimes" committed during the 1971 independence struggle against Pakistan.
Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid and Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury, were hanged in Dhaka's central jail on Nov 21, 2015, Saturday night.
Bangladesh's Supreme Court on Wednesday dismissed their final legal appeals, upholding the leaders' death sentences originally handed down by a controversial war crimes tribunal in 2013.
Chowdhury has been an influential politician. He was elected MP six times. Mujahid was a top leader of Bangladesh's largest Islamist party.Mujahid, 67, is the second most senior member of Bangladesh's largest Islamist party, Jamaat e Islami, while Chowdhury, 66, is an ex legislator and a top aide to Khaleda Zia, leader of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party.
The pair are among more than a dozen leaders of the opposition alliance convicted by a tribunal set up by the Bangladesh government in 2010.
The cases of Mujahid and Chowdhury have been mired in controversy.
Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid s appeal to the Supreme Court failed to dismiss the prosecution’ s claim that he had instigated his subordinates to commit human rights abuses, when no subordinates had either been identified or testified on record. Chowdhury has maintained that he was away in Karachi in April 1971when the offenses he was charged with are said to have occurred.
Chowdhurys relatives, supporters and others have sworn in affidavits they were with him in what was then known as West Pakistan in April 1971, but the tribunal ruled the affidavits inadmissible.
Everyone is pushing for the execution of these people. When you talk to them and ask 'do you know what the nature of these trials has been?' they say, 'it doesn't matter, they have to be executed.' That is really very, very strange, said Abbas Faiz, the senior south Asia researcher of Amnesty International.
Tribunal is "flawed" and a means of political retribution
Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina says the trials would bring closure to the families of the victims.
But do these trials serve that purpose? Or, are they as some critics allege used to settle scores with the PMs political rivals?
The ICT has a history of following some extraordinarily improper procedure and there were clear examples of its judgments having been written by people who had no connection with the tribunal, Carlile said.
There have been examples of lawyers being put under intolerable pressure. Make no mistake, to the jurists around the world, and I speak as one of them, the way which the ICT trials have been conducted is offensive and it puts Bangladesh in a very poor light, said Alex Carlile, a senior British lawyer and a member of House of Lords. Like previous controversial judgments delivered by the ICT, Mr Mujahid and Mr Chowdhury
’s trial and appeal proceedings were marked by serious flaws in blatant violation of fair trial rights. These include the failure of the ICT judges to apply the proper legal principles, the arbitrary restriction by the ICT judges of the number of defence witnesses and the appearance of bias on the part the ICT against defendants. Almost all of the ICT’s verdicts have been handed down against members of opposition parties, mainly key leaders of the Jamaat e Islami party, since its establishment in 2009.
International rights groups and legal experts have also criticised the trial, saying it fell short of international standards.
The United States sharpened its criticism of Bangladesh's tribunal on war crimes after the death sentences were upheld by the Supreme Court.
Stephen Rapp, who until August served as President Barack Obama's ambassador for war crimes, said it was "disturbing" that Chowdhury was denied the right to call alibi witnesses, including a former U.S. ambassador, to provide testimony that he was not present in Bangladesh at the time the alleged crimes were committed.
On Friday New York based Human Rights Watch asked Bangladesh to halt the "imminent executions" of Mujahid and Chowdhury, citing "serious fair trial concerns surrounding their convictions.
Human Rights Watch said the tribunal allowed the prosecution to call 41 witnesses, while Chowdhury's defense was limited to four witnesses. The New York based group said Mujahid was sentenced to death for instigating his subordinates to commit abuses, although no subordinates testified or were identified.
U.S. lawmakers overseeing foreign policy described the tribunal as "very flawed" and a means of political retribution. The State Department was less pointed, saying Friday that executions should not take place until it's clear the trial process meets international standards.
Leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in a letter sent Tuesday to the top U.S. diplomat for South Asia, voiced concern that "democratic space is shrinking" in Bangladesh amid "a growing climate of violence, fear and self censorship."
Jamaat called a nationwide strike on Thursday, declaring Mujahid's original trial "farcical" and "aimed at eliminating "the party's leadership.
Jamaat e Islami and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party say the trials ordered by the government are politically motivated. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, leader of the Awami League party, denies the allegations outright, saying justice for victim’s families is long overdue.
Suggesting Bangladesh Grahame Lucas, Grahame Lucas, Head of the South East Asia Department/Asia Magazines, Deutsche Welle, writes:
“Bangladesh's democracy would have fared better had it opted to go down the path of reconciliation like the one chosen by South Africa in the post Apartheid era under Nelson Mandela. A Truth Commission if handled properly could have done much to heal the deep wounds still festering in Bangladesh to the benefit of civil society.
”It is deeply regrettable that Bangladesh government didn’t pay heed to numerous concerns and warnings by international community in order to make the process of trial under “ International War Crimes Tribunal (ICT)”fair.
Instead Government has rushed to judgment and planning to execute one by one opposition leaders breaching all international norms. This execution, in all likelihood, will derail the democratic process in Bangladesh.
International community has to take responsibility for what happening in Bangladesh. International community should halt the consequences of what this event will bring. Bangladesh government should understand that that their response to this is under the watchful eye of international community particularly International Criminal court as Bangladesh is a state party to the Rome Stature.
The ruling government has tarnished the image of the nation before the world communities. They denied the call and opinion of United Nations, United States, United Kingdom, Turkey, Australia, and Malaysia and different other forums and thus they are mulling to disconnect the country from rest parts of the world.
All the Bangladeshis and the international community should be vocal against this heinous conspiracy of judicial murder of this government
Source: Human Rights and Development for Bangladesh (HRDB) News letter / email: firstname.lastname@example.org