Human Rights Watch has described as ‘shocking’ the Bangladesh government’s decision earlier this month to deny a British barrister entry into the country.
By David Bergman in Dhaka
Toby Cadman, is representing five Jamaat-e-Islami leaders accused of committing international crimes during the 1971 War of Independence, but was refused entry to Bangladesh on 5 August. He had not experienced problems on the four previous visits.
The entry denial by the Bangladesh government cut across a recommendation made earlier in the year by US War Crimes Ambassador at Large, Stephen Rapp, who strongly advised Bangladeshi ministers in March to grant visas to foreign counsel.
Speaking publicly for the first time since he was sent home, Cadman told Radio Netherlands Worldwide: ‘Although I did not receive anything officially, it appeared that an order had been given to refuse me a visa on arrival due to my involvement with those accused by the International Crimes Tribunal.’
Human Rights Watch “Shocked”
Brad Adams, the Asia Director of Human Rights Watch told Radio Netherlands Worldwide he found it shocking “that Toby Cadman, who has been hired by some of the accused to provide legal advice was denied entry to Bangladesh. We hope the government will reverse this decision and ensure that this will not happen again’.
Toby Cadman is one of three British lawyers belonging to the barristers chambers “9 Bedford Row” in London which have been instructed by the Bangladesh Islamic political party Jamaat-e-Islami. The lawyers are representing party leaders being detained by the International Crimes Tribunal which was set up by the government in March 2010.
Helping to crush independence
In 1971 Jamaat-e-Islami supported Pakistan’s attempt to prevent the secession of East Pakistan. The party’s leaders are accused of involvement in atrocities including crimes against humanity and genocide. They deny these allegations.
Four of the leaders – Motiur Rahman Nizami, Ali Ahsan Mujahid, Abdul Quader Mollah and Mohammad Kamaruzzaman - were first detained by the tribunal in July 2010, and have remained in detention without charge for over one year.
On 1 August the ICT tribunal rejected the men’s application for bail, without providing clear reasons for doing so. At the same hearing, the tribunal instructed the prosecutor to charge the four men within the next three months.
Prosecutors have already filed charges against a fifth Jamaat leader, Delwar Hossain Sayedee. He is accused of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide.
Following an adjournment last week, the tribunal is today due to consider whether it will formally indict Sayedee.
The ICT’s rules of procedure allow ‘the appearance of any foreign counsel for either party provided that the Bangladesh Bar Council permits such counsel to appear.’
In July, the chair of the council, Mahbubey Alam, who is also the country’s attorney general, said that the council refused to allow international counsel to work at the tribunal. He claimed the council’s own regulations do not allow it to give a ‘certificate’ to a foreign lawyer.
In his March letter to the Bangladeshi justice and foreign ministers, the US ambassador of war crimes at large Stephen Rapp, encouraged the government to allow the involvement of foreign lawyers at the tribunal.
‘The field of international crimes is highly specialised and the participation of foreign counsel, particularly those who have litigated cases in the international and hybrid courts and tribunals, is very important to ensure that uniform or generally agreed standards are observed in practice,’ his letter stated.
Bearing the standards test?
Whilst subject to minimal criticism within Bangladesh itself, the legal regime governing the operation of the tribunal has been criticised by a number of international human rights organisations.
In June, in response to these criticisms, the tribunal amended its rules of procedure which the ICT’s registrar stated would now mean the trials would take place under ‘universally recognised standards.’
However Human Rights Watch released a statement arguing that the ICT continues to fail to bring ‘some areas of the law and rules into compliance with international standards’.
This included a concerns about the definition of offences and that inadequate preparation time is given to defence lawyers, which could be as little as three weeks.