Thursday, July 28, 2011

Rights group urges Bangladesh to ensure fair trial for mutineers

Photo: Rebel commands mutineers
SALEEM SAMAD

A WESTERN rights group has urged Bangladesh to stop mass trials for the hundreds of paramilitary border guards accused in the February 2009 mutiny that left 74 dead, mostly army officers.

New York-based Human Rights Watch on Tuesday said that those responsible for the deadly

mutiny should be held accountable, but in military and civilian courts that meet international fair trial standards.
The international rights watchdog expressed concern regarding the mass trial completed on June 27, in which 666 members of the 24th Border Guards Battalion were tried before a military court. All but nine were found guilty and sentenced to terms ranging from four months to seven years in prison.

In February 2009, soldiers of the Bangladesh Rifles staged a mutiny against their commanding officers, took over the main barracks in the capital city of Dhaka, looted weapons and killed dozens of people, including senior army officers. The mutineers defended their revolt over long-standing pay and work condition demands.


On Wednesday, a court in Dhaka indicted 310 guards on charges such as arson and murder. More than 800 are accused and the court is set to resume next month to indict the remaining guards.

More than 2,000 border guards are accused of crimes associated with the mutiny, including murder, looting and arson.
"It is impossible to try hundreds of people at the same time and expect anything resembling a fair trial," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "The massacre shocked Bangladesh, but each of the accused should only be found guilty if the government provides specific evidence against them."

The accused have been held and prosecuted in violation of Bangladesh's obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, HRW charged in a statement. Many were detained without charge for several months. The government has not produced individualized evidence against each detainee.


Human Rights Watch said the detainees' lack of access to legal counsel remains a serious concern. The rights group says many guards were detained without charge for several months.
Rights groups documented the deaths of some of the accused in custody, including as a result of torture, in the first few months after the mutiny.
"The border guard’s mutiny was brutal, but the current approach appears to be a witch hunt against a group rather than an attempt to identify the individuals responsible for specific crimes," Adams said.

HRW's concern was heightened because of the possibility that some of those convicted could face the death penalty. The rights watchdog opposes the death penalty in all cases as a fundamentally cruel and irreversible punishment.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com