TLHRC Co-Chairs Urge Fair Trials in Bangladesh Death Penalty Cases
As Co-Chairs of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, we express our serious concern over death penalty convictions handed down by the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) of Bangladesh to Salauddin Quader Chowdury and Ali Ahsan Mohammed Mujahid despite potential irregularities in their trials. Barring successful appeals before the Supreme Court of Bangladesh on November 17, their executions may be imminent.
The ICT was established by the incumbent government to try and hold perpetrators accountable for grave human rights violations committed during Bangladesh’s war of independence in 1971. Yet the ICT has been criticized by respected international observers—including the United Nations, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International—for failing to meet international human rights law standards for trials.
We fully recognize that victims of the war suffered grave injustices and inhumane acts. We commend the government’s initiative to provide redress and deliver justice for these longstanding grievances. But to this end, the credibility and the legitimacy of the ICT as a mechanism of transitional justice depend on ensuring the highest standards of due process.
Where the death penalty is sought, States must exercise the greatest rigor in respect for fair trial guarantees. But recent reports that defense counsel for Mujahid were intimidated and arrested, and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s call “to take steps to try the (suspected) war criminals quickly,” are among the factors that raise concerns that death sentences may have been handed out without ensuring the rigorous application of due process standards.
We call upon the government of Bangladesh to ensure both the ICT and Supreme Court of Bangladesh proceed in accordance with international law and standards of due process and fair trials, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Bangladesh is a State Party, and halt any executions that fail these standards. Guaranteeing these safeguards is particularly critical in death penalty cases, where the sentence is irreversible.