UN experts urge retrial of opposition leader facing death penalty in Bangladesh

Thursday 25 August 2016

A group of United Nations human rights experts this week urged the Government of Bangladesh to annul the death sentence against a senior opposition member of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, Mir Quasem Ali, and to re-try him in compliance with international standards. Eeva Heikkilä of Garden Court Chambers represents Mir Quasem Ali and his son Mir Ahmed Bin Quasem, together with lawyers based in London and Bangladesh.

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Mr. Ali was sentenced to death in 2014 by the Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) for crimes against humanity committed during the 1971 Bangladesh Independence War. The decision was confirmed by the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court on 8 March 2016.

The ICT is a special domestic court with the jurisdiction to try and punish any person accused of committing atrocities, including genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, in Bangladesh. It has sentenced 17 individuals to death for crimes committed during the Independence War. In the past three years, five of those convicted by the ICT have been executed.

“Mr. Ali’s trial and appeal processes were reportedly marred with irregularities and failed to meet international standards on fair trial and due process for the imposition of the death penalty,” noted the UN experts on extrajudicial executions, independence of the judiciary, torture, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances.

“International law, accepted as binding by Bangladesh, provides that capital punishment may only be imposed following trials that comply with the most stringent requirements of fair trial and due process, or could otherwise be considered an arbitrary execution,” they cautioned.

The experts’ request comes as the Supreme Court prepares to review the case on Wednesday 24 August.

The UN human rights experts have on several occasions expressed alarm regarding serious violations of fair trial and due process guarantees in the judicial proceedings before the ICT that were reported to them.

“The death penalty is the most severe form of punishment,” they stressed. “In light of its irreversibility, every measure must be taken to ensure that all the defendants before the International Crimes Tribunal, including the Appellate Division, have received a fair trial.”

Moreover, the experts recalled that the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found in 2012 that Mr. Ali’s deprivation of liberty was arbitrary and in breach of articles 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. “We regret the Government’s non-compliance with the expert group’s recommendations to remedy the situation of Mr. Ali, and call upon the Bangladeshi authorities to respect their international obligations.”

The UN human rights experts also expressed alarm at reports that Mr. Ali’s son and part of his legal defence team, Mir Ahmed Bin Quasem, was abducted from his home on 9 August 2016 by Bangladeshi security forces, two weeks before his father’s review hearing.

“We understand that no information has been given on where he is being held, by whom or under what suspicion or charge. We urge the authorities to immediately disclose the whereabouts of Mr. Quasem,” they said.

Eeva Heikkilä, part of Mr. Ali and Mr. Quasem’s legal team, is a member of the Garden Court Chambers International Team. She is a specialist in international human rights law and is an expert in challenging the issuance of faux international arrest warrants, abuses of process, the use of torture and thefts of property for international clients. Eeva is currently Chair of the Executive Committee of the Human Rights Lawyers Association.

(*) The experts: Ms. Agnes Callamard, new UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Ms. Mónica Pinto, UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers; Mr. Juan E. Méndez, UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Mr. Sètondji Roland Adjovi, current chairperson of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; and the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.

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