Ensure witness protection and security Dialogue on ICT-BD
Md. Golam Sarwar
While the ongoing trail of war crimes is on course to ensure justice for the victims i.e. the entire nation, there are continuous appalling attempts from the alleged perpetrators of heinous crimes through raising various questions about the legitimacy of the trail and due process of law. In considering this, National Human Rights commission of Bangladesh organised a dialogue on “Trail of Crimes against Humanity: Ensuring Transparency Accountability and Due process”.
NHRC believes that Crimes if committed must be punished, but it must be within the due process of law and for that, this dialogue was organised to facilitate interaction among the stakeholders of the tribunal including Legal experts, members from prosecution and investigation team and also defence counsels, but unfortunately and regrettably defence counsels did not turn up, Dr. Mizanur Rahman, Chairman NHRC was saying while addressing the gathering.
In addition, NHRC published a fact sheets on trial which will help the readers to understand the issue and confusions relating war crimes and the tribunal. It also provides the reader a clear understanding of the laws, procedures and the jurisprudence governing the International Crimes Tribunal and the ongoing trial of crimes against humanity, Dr. Rahman added.
International crimes tribunal is a public trial which is amenable to provide all availability for defence. Rules have been amended for the protection of witnesses In terms of International standard, where there is no concrete definition of International Standard, so general understanding is to be construed, said Dr. Shah Alam, Chairman Law Commission, Bangladesh.
Barbaric acts committed in 1971 undoubtedly fulfill all the elements of crimes against humanity. It is a matter of shocking to raise questions about the credibility of the incidents committed in 1971, said Dr. MA Hasan, Chairman War Crimes Fact Finding Committee.
The tribunal is very much urban-centric. Rural people are not clear about the trail, who have little access to information. NHRC can take initiative to make people know about the trail process, Information Commissioner Prof Sadeka Halim suggested.
As it is a domestic tribunal and it has own procedure, there is no requirement of maintaining International standard. In terms producing witness the prosecution is not well prepared. The people engaged with prosecution should be prepared along with adequate resources, said Dr. Rahmat Ullah, Associate Professor of Law, Dhaka University.
In response, prosecutor Saiful Islam said that the witnesses and their family members are under threat and they are not mentally fit to give deposition. Counseling should be needed to upgrade their mental status. Minister Barrister Shafique Ahmed said that the lawyers are given ample opportunity to cross examine and present their defence witness also. So let there be no doubt about the international standard. Witnesses in the ongoing trial are being threatened can not be overlooked. The Government is trying to give protection in spite of limited resources but the culture of impunity should not be continued.
On the question of international standards in the trial being maintained, the speakers said there was no universal standard that needed to be maintained. There is no such thing as an international golden standard. What our law reflects is the best practice what have evolved in international arena over the years, pointed by Gowhar Rizvi, the international affairs adviser to the prime minister.
The ICT Act was based on the principles enunciated in the Nuremburg Tribunal. Latest development of Yugoslavia and Rwanda would also be applicable in our court as our country belongs to common law jurisdiction. Now it is being propagated that unless we engage foreign participants particularly from western countries, it would not be of international standard, said Barrister Amirul Islam, the well-known constitutional expert of Bangladesh.
While concluding the dialogue, Chairman, NHRC stressed to consider two issues, firstly, allocation of necessary resources in terms of protection and security of witness and secondly, increasing the number of tribunals to split the process of International Crimes tribunal.
The writer is working with Law Desk, The Daily Star.