Salauddin Quader Chowdhury, a leader of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, faces the imminent threat of execution next week despite being convicted and sentenced through a deeply flawed process. Our partners at Akin Gump are working with Chowdhury’s family to call attention to his case, in the hopes that increased international scrutiny might lead to a different outcome.
Chowdhury was tried and convicted by the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) of Bangladesh, a body established by the ruling Awami League to prosecute those accused of committing international crimes during Bangladesh’s war of independence from Pakistan in 1971. A variety of international human rights organizations and experts have roundly criticized the ICT, which began operating in 2010, for failing to uphold basic fair trial and due process standards.
For example, Human Rights Watch has characterized the trials as “deeply problematic, riddled with questions about the independence and impartiality of the judges and fairness of the process.” The International Commission of Jurists has identified “serious procedure flaws at all stages: pre-trial release has been routinely and arbitrarily denied; witnesses have been abducted and intimidated; there have been credible allegations of collusion between the Government, prosecutors and judges.” In an exhaustive study commissioned by the International Forum for Democracy and Human Rights, Geoffrey Robinson also documented a range of procedural concerns related to treatment of alibi evidence, burden of proof, use of judicial notice, time and facilities to prepare the defense, hearsay evidence, and capacity of the judges. And the United Nations Special Rapporteurs on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions and on the independence of judges and lawyers have spoken out against multiple irregularities, including complaints from defense witness and lawyers about “an atmosphere of hostility, intimidation and harassment.”
Chowdhury’s case brings these general concerns into stark focus, as his trial suffered from numerous flaws that violated fundamental due process standards. For example, the tribunal denied Chowdhury’s defense team the opportunity to submit exonerating evidence to show that he was not present in Bangladesh at the time of his alleged crimes. The ICT did not allow multiple defense eyewitnesses to testify and failed to consider affidavits from other key witnesses, including a former U.S. Ambassador and a former Pakistani Prime Minister. The Bangladesh Supreme Court recently rendered a decision refusing to admit this substantial evidence; Chowdhury’s final review hearing is scheduled for November 17th.
Both Amnesty International and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights have rightly warned that, “given serious concerns about the fairness of trials conducted before the Tribunal, the Government of Bangladesh should not implement death penalty sentences.” Perpetrators of international crimes should be held accountable for their heinous acts. But prosecutions—like Chowdhury’s—that fail to meet international fair trial standards cannot deliver the justice that survivors and victims deserve, and only serve to undermine the rule of law.
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