In a press statement published by the House of Lords yesterday, Lord Carlile of Berriew requested
“that the Government of Bangladesh issue a formal invitation to a delegation of lawyers from the House of Lords to the International Crimes Tribunal, Dhaka, following their oral assurance to do so.
Proceedings before the International Crimes Tribunal in Dhaka, Bangladesh, have preoccupied me for some time. As a result of my interest, on 10 September 2012, I was invited to meet Shafique Ahmed, Minister of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs. During the meeting, I asked him whether I could take a group of senior lawyers of all parties from the House of Lords to visit the Tribunal and to have open access to everyone concerned, including the defendants in their place of incarceration. The Minister agreed to this in principle and was very clear about his agreement, albeit orally.
On 9 October 2012, members of the House of Lords voiced my concerns in relation to the proceedings at the Tribunal as part of a larger debate on the human rights situation in Bangladesh. Lord Avebury, Baroness Uddin and Baroness Brinton all expressed their support for urgent assessment of the standards of the Tribunal, highlighting in turn the following:
- The early 2010 conclusion by the International Bar Association (IBA) that the legislative framework of the Tribunal fell short of recognised international standards and required reform;
- That the IBA, the US Ambassador for Global Justice, Stephen Rapp and others have criticised the Tribunal’s procedures and the evident bias of the Chairman of the Tribunal;
- The request by the Parliamentary Human Rights Group for the IBA to conduct a fresh assessment of the Tribunal, its procedures and practices, seeking the advice from Ambassador Rapp, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and its special procedures mechanisms;
- The looming threat of the death penalty on conviction of the defendants;
- The arrest of Mir Quasem Ali, a leading member of the Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami and the owner and director of newspaper and media group Diganta Media, whose only crime appeared to have been the apparent criticism of the Tribunal set up by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina;
- Rather than a retributive approach, the Tribunal should follow the justice and reconciliation examples set in South Africa and Northern Ireland, amongst others.
In turn, I addressed the House of Lords on the proceedings at the Tribunal, informing them of my meeting with the Minister and expressing disappointment and concern at the fact that I had been waiting for the Minister’s written confirmation for a considerable time. I called the Baroness Warsi, in her response to the debate, to confirm that it was the Government’s view that such a visit would be: (i) timely; (ii) provide the potential to properly assess and evaluate proceedings before the Tribunal; and (iii) that the Bangladesh Government should be encouraged to comply with the oral assurance that they have already given.
In her response, Baroness Warsi stated that although the British Government supports the principle of bringing an end to immunity for crimes committed during the war, it is essential that: any trial meets appropriate human rights standards, the defendants be given a fair trial (including the right to conduct a proper defence) and trials should be open and transparent. She confirmed that the Her Majesty’s Government had called on the Government of Bangladesh, publicly and privately, to ensure that trials meet appropriate international standards, and that it would continue to do so. As regards my specific proposal to send a group of senior lawyers of all parties from the House of Lords to the Tribunal, she assured me that she would consider them and respond in writing. She has given encouragement to my proposal.
I am disappointed to report that despite repeated calls to the Government of Bangladesh, no formal written invitation has been issued welcoming a group of senior lawyers to visit the Tribunal in order to meet everyone concerned in the proceedings and discuss the concerns raised by the international community.”