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Bangladesh its Constitution & the International Crimes (Tribunals) (Amendment) Act 2009:

Edit Date:10/15/2010 12:00:00 AM

 Bangladesh its Constitution & the International Crimes (Tribunals) (Amendment) Act 2009: By Steven Kay QC

 

Bangladesh its Constitution & the International Crimes (Tribunals) (Amendment) Act 2009:

By: Steven Kay QC, Barrister of 9 Bedford Row, London  and The International Criminal Law Bureau

Your bravery must come when you are required to be counted in the interests of justice.

What did you do to stop it?

The Purpose of State Constitutions

A constitution of a State is the glue that binds its people together. It is a contract between the government and its people that gives rights and obligations by which those people are to be governed. As the Guidance Note of the United Nations Secretary General on UN Assistance to Constitution-making Processes[2] states:

“Constitution-making presents moments of great opportunity to create a common vision of the future of a state, the results of which can have profound and lasting impacts on peace and stability.”

This Guidance from the UN promotes compliance of constitutions with international human rights and other norms and standards. To this end the UN has a convening mechanism known as the Rule of Law Coordination and Resource Group chaired by the Deputy-Secretary General and supported by the Rule of Law Unit. The aim of this body is to ensure compliance and to enable States to fulfil their obligations on such matters as are required under the Charter of the United Nations. The language of international human rights Covenants[3] and Declarations[4] which are promoted within a State’s constitution are basic guarantees for trials to be fair and to ensure equality of treatment.

Bangladesh Constitution 1972

The Bangladesh Constitution as originally enacted states in the Preamble:

Further pledging that it shall be a fundamental aim of the State to realise through the democratic process to socialist society, free from exploitation, a society in which the rule of law, fundamental human rights and freedom, equality and justice, political, economic and social, will be secured for all citizens;

 The supremacy of the Constitution is asserted within article 7. The national commitment to democracy and human rights is affirmed in Article 11:

 Democracy and human rights

The Republic shall be a democracy in which fundamental human rights and freedoms and respect for the dignity and worth of the human person shall be guaranteed, and in which effective participation by the people through their elected representatives in administration at all levels shall be ensured.

The Fundamental Rights within Part III of the Bangladesh Constitution as originally enacted further expresses the equality of people at article 27:

 Equality before law

All citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law.

 Article 26 also provides that Bangladesh laws that are inconsistent with the fundamental rights of the Constitution are void. However, amendments introduced in 1973 as the first amendments to the Bangladesh Constitution changed the aspiration for equality of protection for citizens.

 Bangladesh First Constitutional Amendments 1973

Article 47 (3) was introduced into the Constitution in 1973 and provided that members of armed, defence or auxillary forces or prisoners of war detained or charged under any law or provision with genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes or other crimes of international law which was inconsistent or repugnant to the Constitution, those laws or provisions could not be challenged as being void or unlawful.[5] This amendment had the effect of withdrawing constitutional rights from a particular group of people within Bangladesh society who were not even convicted but at the most were only suspected of such crimes and who could have been detained without the requirement of suspicion.[6] These crimes were international crimes which did not previously exist within the Bangladesh criminal laws and were being imported to deal with events arising from the war of independence as part of the doctrine of universality of such crimes.

 Under newly introduced Constitution Article 47A(1)[7] other guaranteed constitutional rights were also explicitly withdrawn from such people.[8] These were the rights given to every citizen of the protection of the law; the universal right of nullem crimen sine lege (no crime without there being a law in force at the time); and the right to an expeditious trial by an independent and impartial court or tribunal. By new Article 47A(2)[9] these persons detained or suspected or charged were also specifically denied the right to seek remedies available under the Constitution from the Supreme Court of Bangladesh.

 The overall effect of these measures was to put persons questioned, detained, suspected of committing crimes or charged with crimes within the International Crimes (Tribunal) Act 1973 outside the norms of the national legal system. For the first time inequality had been introduced into the Bangladesh justice system by the Constitution that claimed to promote equality.

 Bangladesh – International Treaties

 Bangladesh ratified the Treaty of Rome on 23 March 2010 and thereby became a State party member of the International Criminal Court. The Statute and Rules of Procedure and Evidence for the ICC contain modern and internationally recognized principles that form the norms for the trial of the international crimes. On 6 September 2000 the Government of Bangladesh acceded to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by which it agreed to uphold universal principles for the fairness of criminal trials within its national jurisdiction.

By Article 14 of the ICCPR, Bangladesh affirmed, inter alia, that:

14.1. All persons shall be equal before the courts and tribunals. In the determination of any criminal charge against him, or of his rights and obligations in a suit at law, everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law…

and

14.2. Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall have the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law.

and

14.3(e) To examine, or have examined, the witnesses against him and to obtain the attendance and examination of witnesses on his behalf under the same conditions as witnesses against him;

and

14.3(g) Not to be compelled to testify against himself and confess his guilt;

By Article 15:

15.1 . No one shall be held guilty of any criminal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a criminal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed…

15.2. Nothing in this article shall prejudice the trial and punishment of any person for any act or omission which, at the time when it was committed, was criminal according to the general principles of law recognized by the community of nations.

By Article 26:

All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

 The Universal Declaration of Human Rights also contains Articles directly relevant to these issues. Articles 8[10], 9[11], 10[12] and 11[13] all provide for fairness, freedom from arbitrariness, impartiality, presumption of innocence and certainty for what amounts to criminal conduct. The 1968 United Nations International Conference on Human Rights agreed that the Declaration “constitutes an obligation for the members of the international community” to protect and preserve the rights of its citizens.[14] The Declaration provides a definition of the concepts of “fundamental freedoms” and “human rights”[15] introduced by the UN Charter[16], by which Bangladesh is legally bound.[17]

The amendments made to the Constitution in 1973 which apply to only international crimes not previously within the Bangladesh national jurisdiction are in contradiction to the internationally recognized fair trial principles adopted by the State of Bangladesh and normally found within its constitution. Bangladesh has imported crimes of universality into its jurisdiction but exported the fundamental human rights from its constitution which are also universal.

This must now provide an opportunity for a declaration by the High Court and the Supreme Court as to the unlawfulness of those amendments to the Constitution which undermined fundamental rights upon which the constitution is founded.

 The International Crimes (Tribunals) Amendment Act 2009 & Rules of Procedure 2010[18]

 The International Crimes (Tribunals) Act 1973 was amended to become the International Crimes (Tribunals) (Amendment) Act 2009. It created a Tribunal “for the detention, prosecution and punishment of persons for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and other crimes under international law” and imported internationally recognized crimes into the laws of Bangladesh. It is the reason for the constitutional amendments which removed the principle of equality for all before the law as the legislature was aiming at providing a form of criminal justice which made it easier to convict people than would have been the case under the normal criminal law. In fact the normal rules of evidence for criminal trials were dispensed with under section 23[19] in favour of a system without technical rules of evidence at all in section 19.[20]

(a) Jurisdiction

Section 3 gives the Tribunal jurisdiction over crimes committed before or after the commencement of the Act. The important universal principle found in the ICCPR and UDHR of “nullem crimen sine lege”[21] has thereby been challenged. The constitutional amendments of 1973 have removed the rights granted under Article 35(1) which protected citizens from criminal liability for acts which were not criminal at the time of their commission. The ability to challenge the validity of this law has been also been removed by the amendments to the Constitution under Articles 47(3) and 47A(2).

The crimes within Section 3 have been defined by many international courts since 1993 when the UN Security Council established the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia[22]. This was the first of many international criminal courts and tribunals that have now been established and the definitions of these crimes have been more carefully revised from the model of the Nuremberg Charter from which the ICTAA 2009 is derived.[23]

(b) The right to be tried by a fair and impartial Tribunal[24]

Section 6(8)[25] of the ICTAA 2009 provides that neither the Prosecution nor the Defence may challenge the Judges appointed to try a case. Conflicts of interest or bias or prejudice or bad behavior of any Judge may not be raised by the parties in order to challenge the fairness and impartiality of the trial. Constitution Article 35(3) which was in accordance with ICCPR Article 14.1 and UDHR Article 10 giving the right to be tried by an independent and impartial court or tribunal was withdrawn from these cases.[26] New Articles 47(3) or 47A(2) of the Constitution prevents challenge in the Supreme Court to enforce rights normally within the Constitution. These restrictions are also relevant to ICTAA 2009 sections 6(4), 6(5) and 6(6) which permits proceedings to continue notwithstanding the absence of a Judge as well as the substitution of a Judge in the event of indisposition due to death or illness.[27] It is very clear that such arrangements during an ongoing trial may raise genuine issues of capacity for a Judge to be able to try a case fairly in such circumstances. It would at least be in the interests of justice for the court to provide justification and be held accountable for any decisions it made under these provisions

The lack of right to challenge and inability to request the Tribunal to be accountable for its conduct at the time of the trial can also be seen in ICTAA 2009 section 10(h), which restricts the rights of parties to object or question a witness questioned by a Judge.[28]  A party may have good grounds for objection to the conduct or action of the Tribunal which may be unfair – for instance if a question contrary to rules of evidence, is unfair, wrong in fact, irrelevant to the issues or misleading to the witness or capable of misinterpretation.

(c) Protection from self-incrimination

The International Crimes (Tribunals) (Amendment) Act 2009 is also in conflict with the international principle of protection from self-incrimination which is linked to the presumption of innocence. This important safeguard is to prevent investigators from forcing information from people detained and questioned by them. Although section 8.5[29] restricts the effect of such questioning to the provision of information, as it is now 40 years since the events concerned there can be no justification based upon national emergency to support such a rule. The Code of Criminal Procedure section 161 (2), provides for protection against self-incrimination within the national criminal law of Bangladesh and this is an example of the divergent standards of justice.[30]

Section 11(2) also permits the trial Judges to draw an adverse inference if during trial an accused refuses to answer questions asked of him. [31] This is a further challenge to the rule that protects an accused from being compelled to testify in his trial as found in Article 14.3(g) of the ICCPR. It can also be said to be in conflict with the presumption of innocence in a criminal trial for the failure may give rise to an adverse inference.[32]

(d) Burden of Proof

The International Crimes Tribunal Rules of Procedure 2010, Rule 50 provides for the burden of proof to be on the Prosecution. However, this is not the case in all aspects of the trial. Rule 51(1)[33] requires the Defence to prove alibi, if it is relied upon, and any particular fact or information which is in its possession or knowledge. This is in conflict with the presumption of innocence and the burden of proof being upon the prosecution as set out clearly in ICCPR at Article 14.2 as a universally recognized principle of law.[34] If an Accused raises alibi the burden still remains upon the Prosecution to prove its case and disprove the alibi. This also applies to other facts or information raised by the Defence. If the Prosecution fails adequately to investigate a case and is concerned to prove only what it believes rather than to search for the truth, this Rule would cause the Defence to have the entire burden of proving innocence.

Of particular concern here is the delay in proceedings which will impose restrictions on the ability of the Defence to prove innocence arising from facts which were in existence nearly 40 years ago. The charges will be brought by an accuser and it is that party that has to prove the case beyond reasonable doubt.

(e) Inadequate evidence safeguards

The removal of the Criminal Procedure Code 1898 and the Evidence Act 1872, from the proceedings under the ICTAA 2009 emphasises the capacity for unfairness in these trials. Section 19 creates a non-technical procedure and permits a wide variety of different sources of evidence.[35] Normal rules for judicial notice under section 57 of the Evidence Act[36] have been altered in section 19(3)[37] but significantly under section 19(4):

“A Tribunal shall take judicial notice of official governmental documents and reports of the United Nations and its subsidiary agencies or other international bodies including non-governmental organizations”.

This equates such documents with the facts of common knowledge that give arise for judicial notice. Therefore government documents and reports are given the status of evidence automatically and without capacity for challenge and scrutiny of content. This becomes a powerful tool in the hands of the Government which may well be intentioned to present its picture of events at the expense of the truth.

(f) Further objections to the provisions of the ICTAA 2009

By Presidential Order No.16 of 1993, the liberating forces were given immunity from prosecution under the ICTA 1973. The objects of the prosecutions were thereby defined as being only those from the Pakistan forces. The amendments to the Act in 2009 did not incorporate the Presidential decree so as to show with transparency the full terms of this statute. This is a clear attempt to hoodwink the international community into believing these are impartial laws. In fact, there can be no clearer indication of the intention to apply these legal procedures in a discriminatory way and in defiance of the constitutional duties to equality.[38] The terms of ICCPR   Article 26 are clearly overridden:

All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

 Conclusion

 The amendments to the Constitution that have attempted to prevent challenges to the ICTAA 2009 are not sacrosanct. The Supreme Court of Bangladesh has previously ruled amendments to the Constitution which were fundamentally inconsistent with the totality of its provisions were unlawful.[39]  This ruling affirmed the inherent right of the judiciary to judicially review the legislative acts of Parliament as is found in the Constitution at Article 102. The constitution is also to be reprinted I have read today in the light of the recent Fifth Amendment Decision by the Supreme Court.[40]

The serious crimes committed in the war have no doubt created the pressure to reduce the fundamental rights of those detained or suspected of being responsible. The substantial delay in bringing any prosecutions has undermined any argument of expediency in the national interest. That delay should in fact now cause the enhancement of trial safeguards to ensure that justice is in fact done. However, the cost to society arising from convictions obtained through a lesser standard of justice can only mean the diminution of the historical record as it stands for future generations. The retention of the death penalty under section 20(2) of the ICTAA 2009 should only serve to add for the need for caution in these circumstances. The discriminatory nature in the application of this statute to the forces of the losing side and the blatant withdrawal of guaranteed constitutional rights for fairness and equality reveal this exercise in international criminal justice to be nothing more than a self-serving charade that will leave a stain in the history books. The question will be asked of politicians, lawyers and judges who were there – what did you do to stop it? Your bravery must come when you are required to be counted in the interests of justice.

 Steven Kay QC

9 Bedford Row, London

13 October 2010

[1] Barrister of 9 Bedford Row, London www.9bedfordrow.co.uk and The International Criminal Law Bureau www.iclb.eu

[2] April 2009

[3] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

[4] Universal Declaration of Human Rights

[5] Article 47.(3) Notwithstanding anything contained in this Constitution, no law nor any provision

thereof providing for detention, prosecution or punishment of any person, who is a member

of any armed or defence or auxiliary forces or who is a prisoner of war, for genocide, crimes

against humanity or war crimes and other crimes under international law shall be deemed

void or unlawful, or ever to have become void or unlawful, on the ground that such law or

provision of any such law is inconsistent with, or repugnant to any of the provisions of this

Constitution.

[6] ICTAA 2009 Section 8.(3), (4), (5)

8.(3) Any Investigation Officer making an investigation under this Act may, by order in writing, require the attendance before himself of any person who appears to be acquainted with the circumstances of  the case; and such person shall attend as so required.

8.(4) Any Investigation Officer making an investigation under this Act may examine orally any person who appears to be acquainted with the facts and circumstances of the case.

8.(5) Such person shall be bound to answer all questions put to him by an Investigation Officer and shall not be excused from answering any question on the ground that the answer to such question will criminate, or may tend directly or indirectly to criminate, such person: Provided that no such answer, which a person shall be compelled to give, shall subject him to any arrest or prosecution, or be proved

against him in any criminal proceeding.

[7]47(A)(1) The rights guaranteed under article 31. clauses (1) and (3) of article 35 and article 44

shall not apply to any person to whom a law specified in clause (3) of article 47 applies.

[8] Article 31. Right to protection of law.

To enjoy the protection of the law, and to be treated in accordance with law, and only in

accordance with law, is the inalienable right of every citizen, wherever he may be, and of

every other person for the time being within Bangladesh, and in particular no action detrimental

to the life, liberty, body, reputation or property of any person shall be taken except in

accordance with law.

Article 35. Protection in respect of trial and punishment.

(1) No person shall be convicted to any offence except for violation of a law in force at the

time of the commission of the act charged as an offence, nor be subjected to a penalty

greater than, or different from that which might have been inflicted under the law in force at

the time of the commission of the offence.

(3) Every person accused of a criminal offence shall have the right to a speedy and public

trial by an independent and impartial court or tribunal established by law.

Article 44. Enforcement of fundamental rights.

(1) The right to move the High Court Division in accordance with clause (I) of article 102

for the enforcement of the rights conferred by this Part of guaranteed.

(2) Without prejudice to the powers of the High Court Division under article 102, Parliament

may be law empower any other court, within the local limits of its jurisdiction, to exercise

all or any of those powers.

[9] 47(A)(2) Notwithstanding anything contained in this Constitution, no person to whom a law specified

in clause (3) of article 47 applies shall have the right to move the Supreme Court for

any of the remedies under this Constitution.

[10] Article 8: Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.

[11] Article 9: No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

[12] Article 10: Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.

[13] Article 11:

1. Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty     according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.

2.  No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed

[14] http://www.unac.org/rights/question.html

[15] The Declaration provides a cross-reference to the UN Charter in paragraphs 5 and 6 of the preamble

[16] These concepts are introduced in Chapter 1, Article 1 of the UN Charter, http://www.un.org/en/documents/charter/chapter1.shtml

[17] Bangladesh declared acceptance of the obligations contained in the UN Charter on 17 September 1974.

[18] Section 22 of the ICTA 1973 gave the power to court to regulate its own procedure

[19] 23. The provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1898 (V of 1898), and the Evidence Act, 1872 (I of 1872), shall not apply in any proceedings under this Act.

[20] 19. (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 tape-recordings

and other materials as may be tendered before it, which it deems to have probative value.

[21] ICCPR Article 15; UDHR Article 11.2

[22] UN SC/Res 827 of 1993

[23] For Example: ICC Statute Article 7 – Crimes against humanity require the context of being “with the knowledge of a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population”

[24] See ICCPR Article 14.1 and UDHR Article 10

[25] (8) Neither the constitution of a Tribunal nor the appointment of its Chairman or members shall be challenged by the prosecution or by the accused persons or their counsel.

[26] Article 47A(1) 1973 amendment to the Constitution. See also ICCPR Article 14.1 and UDHR Article 10

[27] 6(4) If any member of a Tribunal dies or is, due to illness or any other reason, unable to continue to perform his functions, the Government may, by notification in the official Gazette, declare the

office of such member to be vacant and appoint thereto another person qualified to hold the office.

6(5) If, in the course of a trial, any one of the members of a Tribunal is, for any reason, unable to attend any sitting thereof, the trial may continue before the other members.

6(6) A Tribunal shall not, merely by reason of any change in its membership or the absence of any member thereof from any sitting, be bound to recall and re-hear any witness who has already given any evidence and may act on the evidence already given or produced before it.

[28] 10(h) the Tribunal may, in order to discover or obtain proof of relevant facts, ask any witness any question it pleases, in any form and at any time about any fact; and may order production of any document or thing or summon any witness, and neither the prosecution nor the defence shall be entitled either to make any objection to any such question or order or, without the leave of the Tribunal, to cross-examine any witness upon any answer given in reply to any such question.

[29] 8(5) Such person shall be bound to answer all questions put to him by an Investigation Officer and shall not be excused from answering any question on the ground that the answer to such question will criminate, or may tend directly or indirectly to criminate, such person. Provided that no such answer, which a person shall be compelled to give, shall subject him to any arrest or prosecution, or be proved against him in any criminal proceeding.

[30] 161.(1) Any police-officer making an investigation…, by general or special order, … may examine orally any person supposed to be acquainted with the facts and circumstances of the case.

(2) Such person shall be bound to answer all questions relating to such case put to him by such officer, other than questions the answers to which would have a tendency to expose him to a criminal charge or to a penalty or forfeiture…

[31] 11(2): For the purpose of enabling any accused person to explain any circumstances appearing in the evidence against him, a Tribunal may, at any stage of the trial without previously warning the accused person, put such questions to him as the Tribunal considers necessary. Provided that the accused person shall not render himself liable to punishment by refusing to answer such questions or by giving false answers to them; but the Tribunal may draw such inference from such refusal or answers as it thinks just.

[32] ICCPR Article 14.2

[33] 51. (1) The onus of proof as to the plea of ‘alibi’ or to any particular fact or information which is in the possession or knowledge of the defence shall be upon the defence.

[34] 14.2. Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall have the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law.

[35]19. (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 tape-recordings

and other materials as may be tendered before it, which it deems to have probative value.

[36] i. The laws of Bangladesh; ii. Articles of War for the Armed Forces; iii. Course of proceedings of Parliament; iv. The seals of the Courts; v. The accession to officce, names, titles, functions, and signatures persons in public office, if such appointment is notified in the official gazette. vi. Existence, title and national flag of every sovereign vii. division of time, geographical divisions and public festivals

viii. The territories of Bangladesh ix. Commencement, continuance and termination of hostilities between Bangladesh and another State. x. Names of officers of the Courts xi. Rules of the road, land or sea

[37] 19.3 A Tribunal shall not require proof of facts of common knowledge but shall take judicial notice thereof.

[38] Article 27

[39] Anwar Hussein Choudhury v Bangladesh 1989 – The 8th Amendment case.

[40] Daily Star 13 October 2010 “Constitution to be reprinted soon”

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