(New York) – The trial of Ghulam Azam, the former chief of Bangladesh’s Jamaat-e-Islaami (Jamaat) party, at Bangladesh’s International Crimes Tribunal was deeply flawed and did not meet international fair trial standards, Human Rights Watch said today.
In March 2010 Azam was charged with six counts of conspiracy, planning, incitement, complicity, murder, and torture as crimes against humanity at the International Crimes Tribunal, known as the ICT, a specially constituted tribunal set up to try those responsible for war crimes during Bangladesh’s 1971 independence war. The judgment, handed down on July 15, 2013, found Azam guilty on all counts and sentenced him to life in prison for 90 years. He was spared the death penalty due to old age. On August 12, the prosecution appealed the sentence, arguing that Azam deserved the death penalty.
“Human Rights Watch has long supported the efforts to deliver accountability for the atrocities committed during the 1971 war, and to ensuring meaningful justice to victims and survivors, through fair trials which meet international standards,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “We sounded the alarm that the law and trial process were deficient, but the government ignored the warnings. The government has got the conviction it wanted, but it has failed to ensure a fair trial that settles once and for all whether Ghulam Azam was guilty.”
Human Rights Watch’s concerns about the Azam trial include:
· Judges improperly conducted an investigation on behalf of the prosecution
· Collusion and bias among prosecutors and judges
· Failure to take steps to protect defense witnesses
· Changes in the trial court panel; and
· Lack of evidence to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt
Among the most serious problems is the fact that the judges stated that they conducted an investigation to make up for deficiencies in the case presented by the prosecution. Judges in Bangladesh are only empowered to examine the evidence placed in front of them by the parties to the case. The defense counsel was not aware of this investigation and was thus unable to comment on or challenge the evidence obtained by the judges, which constitutes a serious violation of article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Bangladesh is a party. The investigation calls into serious question the impartiality of the court.
The ICT had not answered allegations of judicial bias raised by intercepted Skype and other communications in which The Economist revealed prohibited collusion between the judiciary, the prosecution, and the executive branch via an external consultant. Many conversations concerned the Azam trial, including ones which show that the judges laid out a blueprint to be used by the prosecution as to how to conduct the trial, which witnesses to call, and how to question them. The conversations make it clear that the judges were closely advising and directing the prosecution on presenting their case against Azam.
In addition, there have been ongoing problems with intimidation of defense witnesses and raids on defense chambers, including in the Azam case. The trial chambers have not ordered any investigation or offered any practical solution to overcoming the security concerns expressed by defense witnesses.
“The problems with the Azam trial are manifold, and lead to the inescapable conclusion that there has been strong judicial bias towards the prosecution and grave violations of due process rights,” Adams said. “The victims of these crimes and their families deserve real answers, which can only be found through fair and transparent proceedings.”