The International Crimes Tribunal in Bangladesh recently sentenced Abdul Kalam
Azad to death, following a trial conducted in absentia that did not provide for
all the guarantees of a fair trial and due process, stated a news
release issued by the UN human rights
“Given the historic importance of these trials and the possible application of
the death penalty, it is vitally important that all defendants before the
Tribunal receive a fair trial,” said the UN
Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof
Heyns, and the Special Rapporteur on
the independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul.
The Bangladesh International Crimes
Tribunal was established by the Government in March 2010 to try and
punish any person accused of committing atrocities, including genocide,
war crimes and crimes against humanity, in the South Asian nation,
including during the country’s 1971 independence war.
“The Tribunal is an important platform to
address serious crimes from the past, which makes it all the more
important that it respects the basic elements of fair trial and due
process,” the experts stated.
Mr. Heyns voiced alarm at the fair trial
and due process concerns raised during proceedings that led to the
imposition of the death penalty against Mr. Azad, including that the
trial was conducted in absentia.“International law requires compliance
with the most stringent fair trial and due process guarantees in cases
where death sentences are imposed,” he stressed adding further that
“Capital punishment may be imposed only following proceedings that give
all possible safeguards to ensure a fair trial and due process, at least
equal to those stipulated in the International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights, to which Bangladesh is a State party.”
Ms. Knaul said she is concerned by
questions that have been raised about the impartiality of judges and
prosecution services of the Tribunal, as well as their independence from
the executive. “Witnesses and lawyers for the defence have also
complained about an atmosphere of hostility, intimidation and
harassment,” she added.
“Due process requires a minimum that
defendants are able to speak freely with their counsel, have adequate
time to conduct their defence, and the ability to call witnesses to
speak on their behalf,” Ms. Knaul said while placing her view
emphatically that “The principle of equality of arms should be respected
at all stages of the proceedings.”
The experts also stressed that any
shortcomings in the trial proceedings should be carefully examined
during any appeal. “A credible appeal process also constitutes an
imperative component of fair trial guarantees, particularly in instances
where the death penalty has been imposed,” they noted.
The experts were appointed by the UN Human
Rights Council as honorary experts to examine and report back on the
country’s situation on a specific human rights theme.