Today, 3 September 2016, in proceeding to execute Mir Quasem Ali, the Bangladesh Government has again shown itself as being prepared to ignore its obligations under the various international treaties to which it is a State Party, prepared to ignore the repeated concerns of the international community, and prepared to ignore the most fundamental and basic rights of its citizens. In so doing it has lost the right to remain a member of those very international institutions that are mandated to uphold the highest standards of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Mir Quasem Ali was convicted and sentenced before the internationally condemned Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal (ICT), having been charged with offences arising out of the 1971 War of Independence.
Such was the flagrant disregard for basic fair trial rights during that trial, that a group of UN Special Rapporteurs and Working Group Experts, on 24 August 2016 called for the death sentence to be annulled, and arrangements made for him to be re-tried “…in compliance with international standards.” This was ignored.
Echoing the concerns of the UN, 50 members of the European Parliament signed a letter “…to express our concern of the unlawfulness of the legal procedures at the Bangladeshi International Crimes Tribunal (ICT)…”, noting “…his trial failed all international standards of fairness and openness…” and made demands that “…the Bangladeshi authorities to halt proceedings and refrain from any execution of sentence until the fairness of the procedures against Mr Ali have been fully and independently investigated”. This was also ignored.
The Bangladesh Government has long criticised individuals and groups who have raised legitimate concerns over the trial procedures of the ICT, and labelled them as being in some way biased. Those groups and individuals include international jurists, parliamentarians, members of the US Congress and Senate, diplomats, human rights NGOs and national and international bar associations.
The reality is that such are the concerns, and such is the level of fair trial standards being impinged upon, now the UN and a significant number of MEPs have felt themselves morally obliged to make raise serious concerns in an effort to address the issue.
Any allegations of bias or inaccuracy levelled at these institutions are nothing other than fatuous.
The reality of the matter is that Mir Quasem Ali, like those before him who have been convicted, sentenced, and executed, has been used as a political pawn in a desperate power game being played by the ruling Awami League Government.
At no stage has, or would, anyone suggest that principle of establishing a judicial mechanism aimed at accountability for past crimes is inappropriate; it is clearly necessary that a transitional justice process be developed after one of the worst conflicts in modern history in which it is clear that international crimes were committed by all sides of the conflict.
However, the ICT has not been, nor will it ever be, a genuine transitional justice mechanism; it is a means by which the political opposition can be eliminated in the most cynical fashion.
The fact that all those who appear before the ICT have their basic fundamental protections under the constitution explicitly removed demonstrates the manner in which it was intended that these trials be heard.
The fact that the ICT prevented witnesses from being called, prevented the cross-examination of Prosecution witnesses, and overtly assisted the Prosecution in the presentation of the case evidences the position being adopted internationally that no defendant has or could have received a fair trial before it.
The widespread nature of prosecutorial and judicial misconduct, political interference and manipulation of the process demonstrates the corrupt nature of the trials that only be characterised as a flagrant denial of justice. The allegations that remain un-investigated by the national authorities clearly constitute a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. These matters must now be properly investigated by an independent panel of international experts in order to determine what steps the international community should take to prevent any further arbitrary executions from taking place.
Such were the irregularities in the case of Mir Quasem Ali, that the Chief Justice, during the appellate hearings, commented that the trials “…are being used for political interests” that the prosecution manipulates the “sentiments” in the media, and that no action had been taken against corrupt prosecutors.
These comments were met with condemnation by the members of the ruling party, including comments from two ministers calling for the Appeal to be reheard and for the Chief Justice to be dismissed.
In the face of such political influence, it is of no surprise that the Appeal was subsequently dismissed.
In executing Mir Quasem Ali, the Bangladesh Government have further espoused a very particular kind of ‘victor’s justice’, and highlighted to the international community how a flawed transitional justice model is especially dangerous.
The international community must now consider its position and its relationships with Bangladesh. It is meaningless for a State to be condemned in statements if such condemnation is not to be followed by action.
There is an urgent need for action, so as to ensure that the impunity with which the Bangladesh Government operates at present is no longer approved of by the inaction and omission of its partner states.
Those who demand the rule of law of others, must make those demands of Bangladesh, else the execution of Mir Quasem Ali will not be the last.
– ENDS –
International Legal Counsel to Mir Quasem Ali
9 Bedford Row
London, WC1R 4AZ
DX: LDE 453