EU diplomats in Dhaka divided over war crimes trial: Report

EU diplomats in Dhaka are apparently divided on their common position over trial of the people accused of war crimes during the 1971 independence war of Bangladesh, a media report said.

Last Updated: Jan 08, 2011, 16:27 PM IST

Dhaka: EU diplomats in Dhaka are
apparently divided on their common position over trial of the
people accused of war crimes during the 1971 independence war
of Bangladesh, a media report said on Saturday.

The difference of opinion surfaced among the diplomats
about what public position the European Union should take on
the adequacy of the International Crimes (Tribunal) Act 1973,
under which major Bengali-speaking suspects of the war crimes
were being exposed to justice, The New Age newspaper said.

Quoting a British High Commission official, the report
said the UK government acknowledged the criticisms of the 1973
act made by international lawyers.

"We concur with the opinion of the International Bar
Association War Crimes Committee, ie, that whilst the 1973 act
is broadly compliant with international standards, we would
want to see the adoption of its 17 recommendations," the High
Commission`s political and global issues secretary Jon Ryan
told the Age.

But the chair of the EU`s Human Rights Task Force
which comprises EU diplomats based in Dhaka Andrew Barnard
told the newspaper earlier that "although there may be some
`technical` shortcomings in the legislation, they will not
necessarily lead to a miscarriage of justice".

According to the report Barnard`s comments sparked a
controversy among EU diplomats that prompted him to issue a
subsequent statement saying, "it is for Bangladesh to decide
whether to bring perpetrators of crimes during the war of
independence to trial".

"The EU would however urge Bangladesh to ensure that
trials meet international standards for fair judicial
processes," the statement said.

British High Commissioner in Dhaka Stephen Evans last
week told PTI that his country appreciated the initiatives for
exposure of the perpetrators of the 1971 crimes but it
expected the process to comply with the international
standards and ensure the suspects rights of defence.

Bangladesh in March last year had constituted a
high-powered special tribunal headed by a High Court judge to
try the Bengali speaking perpetrators of "crimes against
humanity" during the Liberation War under the International
Crimes (Tribunal) Act 1973. Under the same law the government simultaneously
formed a special investigation agency comprising in service
and former bureaucrats and police and military officials and a
12-member panel of prosecution team with senior Supreme Court

The law suggests highest death penalty and the lowest
10 years of imprisonment for crimes like massacre, murders,
arsons and rapes while it allows convicts to file appeals only
before the apex Appellate Division of the Supreme Court.

But the International Bar Association (IBA) earlier
said there were "significant omissions" regarding protection
of rights of the people on trial and "out of date" definitions
of war crimes in the 1973 act.

The Government has rejected the criticisms and pointed
to the fact that the IBA`s advice also states that the
legislation "provides a system that is broadly compatible with
current international standards".

"Whilst we attach significant weight to the (IBA`s)
opinion, we are not saying that trials cannot be held to
international standards without the wholesale adoption of all
recommendations. Much will depend on how the trials are
conducted once they begin," Bernard told the New Age.

Senior counsel for the accused Abdur Razzaq told New
Age that he was not impressed by the level of expertise
consulted by the European Union. "The European Union is
expected to have better standards," he said.

Five stalwarts of fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami (JI),
which was a crucial partner of ex-prime minister Khaleda Zia`s
Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), and an influential BNP
lawmaker were now in jail to face the trial on war crime

They were JI chief Matiur Rahman Nizami and secretary
general Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed and BNP leader Salahuddin
Qader Chowdhury.

JI was opposed to Bangladesh independence while Nizami
and Mojajeed allegedly led the infamous elite al-Badr
auxiliary militia force, which is particularly castigated for
their alleged role in killing a number of leading
intelligentsia during the war.