Professor Ghulam Azam

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Sample letter to MPs

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Please see the following for a sample letter to send to your MP or representative. A copy can be downloaded here: Letter_to_MPs_on_ICT 02-13



The International Crimes Tribunal, Bangladesh


Bangladesh is currently trying alleged war criminals for crimes committed during the independence war of 1971, under the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act 1973 as amended in 2009. This Act established the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT). The original intention of the Act was to try the Pakistani military and auxiliary forces, which were considered responsible for war crimes committed during Bangladesh’s war of independence in 1971.


However, instead of trying these Pakistani forces in the aftermath of the war, the Act is being used today in a manner that targets members of the political opposition, alleging that they engaged in war crimes and crimes against humanity as members of the Bengali auxiliary forces of the Pakistani Army. Further, the Act does not encompass alleged war crimes committed against non-Bengalis (predominantly Biharis) by pro-liberation freedom fighters. Therefore, there is widespread concern that the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act is being used as a political tool to weaken the opposition, rather than the tool for justice that it should be. This is against a background of brutal suppression by the governing Awami League party of freedom of speech and political expression, including the carrying out of extra-judicial killings, torture and detention without trial, as reported by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.


The International Crimes Tribunal has been the subject of concern to many leading international bodies and organisations, including the United Nations Human Rights Committee, the International Bar Association, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as US Ambassador for War Crimes Stephen Rapp. Key concerns include:


  • the accused are afforded neither internationally accepted defendants’ rights nor fundamental national constitutional rights;
  • lack of definitions for key crimes, including ‘crimes against humanity’;
  • interrogation of defendants in the absence of counsel and without knowledge of the charges against them;
  • extraordinary sources accepted as evidence, including general media reports and hearsay[1]; and
  • apparent bias on the part of the Tribunal members based on participation at mock “peoples’ courts”, which prejudged the cases of key defendants, with mock convictions and the burning of effigies to symbolise their execution;
  • collusion between judges, the prosecution, the government and international lawyers with respect to court proceedings and  the drafting of final judgments (see further below).


Professor Ghulam Azam, aged 90, was arrested on 11 January 2012 on 62 charges including the absurd charge of responsibility “for all atrocities committed across the country between March 25, 1971, and December 16, 1971”. Azam politically supported the unity of West and East Pakistan at the time of the war of independence, but he was opposed to a military solution to political problems and spoke out repeatedly against the crimes perpetrated by the military and paramilitary. Ghulam Azam’s family, many of whom are British citizens, are deeply concerned at the allegations being made against him and fear that he may eventually be convicted by virtue of media reports and hearsay evidence alone. The punishment for any such conviction will almost certainly be execution,[2] probably by hanging.


Azam is currently detained under very difficult conditions; aggravated by the fact that he has a number of age-related ailments. Despite not yet being indicted on any charges, he is being held virtually in solitary isolation and permitted merely a half-hour visit from his family a week, which is occasionally denied.


In November 2012, Human Rights Watch has, expressed concern regarding an alleged defence witness in one of the cases who was allegedly abducted by plain clothes police outside the tribunal gates.[3]  Defence lawyers have been intimidated and harassed by Bangladeshi police and intelligence services.[4] In December 2012, the Economist magazine published an analysis of the contents of leaked email and Skype communications between the chairman of the ICT and a Brussels-based lawyer of Bangladeshi origin.[5] According to the Economist, the communications indicated collusion between the judge, the prosecution and Bangladeshi government. The leaks resulted in the chairman resigning from the tribunal; however the tribunal has continued to proceed with the relevant cases, despite newly appointed judges not having been present for the entire trial.[6]


United Nations human rights experts have expressed concerns regarding the impartiality of judges and the prosecution, and their independence from the executive. They have also stressed that compliance with international standards of fair trial and due process should be at their most stringent when the death penalty is being imposed.[7]


Most recently, the Bangladeshi government amended the ICT legal framework in order to enable the prosecution to overturn a sentence imposed on one of the defendants, a step which Human Rights Watch considers “make a mockery of the trial process”. Human Rights Watch also reported that defence witnesses are deciding not to appear in court out of fear for their safety. It also expressed concern that the judges will be forced to give death sentence in all other cases – including Azam’s.[8]


I respectfully request that you table a Parliamentary Question on this matter and do all that is in your power to stop this injustice continuing. I also request that the British government send a message of concern to the Government of Bangladesh regarding the human rights situation generally and specifically the on-going war crimes trials.


Yours sincerely,

[1]     “A Tribunal shall not be bound by technical rules of evidence; and it shall adopt and apply to the greatest possible extent expeditious and non-technical procedure, and may admit any evidence, including reports and photographs published in newspapers, periodicals and magazines, films and taperecordings and other materials as may be tendered before it, which it deems to have probative value.” Article 19 (1), THE INTERNATIONAL CRIMES (TRIBUNALS) ACT, 1973.

[2]     “Upon conviction of an accused person, the Tribunal shall award sentence of death or such other punishment proportionate to the gravity of the crime as appears to the Tribunal to be just and proper.” Article 20 (2), THE INTERNATIONAL CRIMES (TRIBUNALS) ACT, 1973.

[3]     Bangladesh: Investigate Alleged Abduction of War Crimes Witness, Human Rights Watch,, 13/11/2012 (accessed 20/02/2013).

[4]     Bangladesh: End Harassment of War Crimes Defense Counsel, Human Rights Watch,, 17/10/2012 (accessed 20/02/2013).

[5]     The Trial of the Birth of a Nation, The Economist,, 15/12/2012 (accessed 20/02/2013).

[6]     Bangladesh: Retrial Needed in Sayedee Case, Human Rights Watch,, 13/12/2012 (accessed 20/02/2013).

[7]    Bangladesh: United Nations Experts Warn that Justice for the Past Requires Fair Trials, United Nations,, 07/02/2013 (accessed 21/02/2013).

[8]     Bangladesh: Post-Trial Amendments Taint War Crimes Process, Human Rights Watch,, 14/02/2013 (accessed 21/02/2013).

1 Comment

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