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US envoy says Bangladesh needs fair war crimes trial

November 28, 2011

Jamaat-e-Islami leader Delwar Hossain Sayedee (C) emerges from the Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal in Dhaka on August 10, 2011. - AFP Photo

DHAKA: A special US envoy said Monday Bangladesh needs to do more to ensure justice in the country's first war crimes trial of a suspected collaborator in the 1971 war of independence which opened last week.

Delawar Hossain Sayedee, now a senior opposition figure, has been charged with leading a pro-Islamabad militia in the war with Pakistan and committing crimes against humanity such as genocide and rape.

Stephen Rapp, US ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues, regretted the court, which is set to hear the first witness against Sayedee next week, had not incorporated “many” suggestions he made.

“Much can still be accomplished to ensure that justice is done and is seen to be done in these historic proceedings,” Rapp said.

“First, it is important that the judges, at the first opportunity, define what 'crimes against humanity' means. The term 'crimes against humanity' has been defined in the statutes and cases of international courts,” he said.

“It has not been defined in Bangladesh,” he added.

“Second, it is important that the same rights be accorded to these accused as are guaranteed to Bangladeshi citizens who are charged with other violent crimes,” he said and called for a system to protect witnesses.

It was Rapp's third visit to Bangladesh after Dhaka set up its International Crimes Tribunal last year to try people suspected of atrocities during the nine-month war. The court is domestic and is not endorsed by the UN.

Bangladesh's government claims some three million people were killed during the war of independence for the then state of East Pakistan.

Sayedee is being held in detention along with four other suspects from his Jamaat-e-Islami party and two more from the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party.

Both parties have dismissed the tribunal as a “show trial”, while Human Rights Watch has said legal procedures fall short of international standards.

John Cammegh, a British lawyer recruited by Jamaat, wrote in the New York Times this month the court was “a terrible warning of the way in which the ideals of universal justice and accountability can be abused”.

He said suspects were denied access to legal advice, local defence lawyers and witnesses had been harassed, and that prosecutors were already boasting that a guilty verdict was guaranteed by the end of the year.