(New York) – The Bangladesh Supreme Court’s rejection on April 6, 2015, of the death penalty review petition for Muhammed Kamaruzzaman permits his imminent execution despite a seriously flawed trial, Human Rights Watch said today. Kamaruzzaman, a leader of the Jamaat-e-Islaami party, was convicted of war crimes committed during Bangladesh’s 1971 war of independence. The authorities should immediately stay Kamaruzzaman’s death sentence pending an independent review of his case.
Kamaruzzaman’s death sentence was upheld on appeal in November 2014. Following the publication of the full text of the judgment against him, he filed for an independent review of his sentence to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court on March 5, 2015. Without hearing the application on its merits, the country’s highest court summarily rejected his petition and upheld the death sentence.
“The death penalty is an irreversible and cruel punishment that is made even worse when the judiciary fails to fully review such sentences,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Bangladesh’s war crimes trials have been plagued by persistent and credible allegations of fair trial violations that require impartial judicial review.”
Kamaruzzaman was arrested in July 2010 on the orders of the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT), which was set up to address the atrocities committed during the 1971 war which led to independence for Bangladesh from Pakistan. He was given no reason for his arrest, leading the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to classify his arrest as arbitrary and a violation of international law.
At his trial, the court arbitrarily limited the ability of the defense to submit evidence, including witnesses and documents. The court denied the defense the opportunity to challenge the credibility of prosecution witnesses by rejecting witnesses’ earlier statements that were inconsistent with their trial testimony. The court denied a defense application to recuse two judges for prior bias.
“Human Rights Watch has long supported justice and accountability for the horrific crimes that occurred in 1971, but these trials need to meet international fair trial standards to properly deliver on those promises for the victims,” Adams said. “Delivering justice requires adhering to the highest standards, particularly when a life is at stake. The conduct of Kamaruzzaman’s trial cannot be said to have met those standards.”
Human Rights Watch reiterated its longstanding call for Bangladesh to impose an immediate moratorium on the death penalty. The death penalty is inconsistent with international human rights law, according to statements of UN human rights experts and various UN bodies.
The UN Human Rights Committee, which interprets the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Bangladesh is a state party, has said that “in cases of trials leading to the imposition of the death penalty, scrupulous respect of the guarantees of fair trial is particularly important” and that any death penalty imposed after an unfair trial would be a violation of the right to a fair trial.
Bangladesh should join with the many countries already committed to the UN General Assembly’s December 18, 2007 resolution calling for a moratorium on executions and a move by UN member countries toward abolition of the death penalty. Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as an inherently cruel punishment.
“The Bangladesh government should impose a moratorium on the death penalty and quickly join the growing number of countries that have abolished this barbaric practice,” Adams said. “The severity of the offense in question provides no justification for its continued use.”