But the trials have been conducted under a law dating from 1973 which is not compliant with international norms. The US Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes, Stephen Rapp; Human Rights Watch; Amnesty International; the International Center for Transitional Justice; the International Bar Association; the UK Parliamentary Human Rights Group and the UK Bar association have all expressed concern about the provisions of the law and the procedures followed by the “International Crimes Tribunal”.
The latest development has been the resignation of the Tribunal chairman, Md Nizamul Huq, following the publication on YouTube of 17 hours of clandestine Skype conversations between himself and a Bangladeshi expatriate lawyer in Belgium, Dr Ahmed Ziauddin.
When The Economist telephoned Mr Huq on December 5, the judge appeared to say that he hadn’t talked to anybody about the proceedings of the Tribunal, but the YouTube recording proved that he consulted Ziauddin on matters such as the framing of charges, the coaching of witnesses, coordinating with the prosecution, and the selection of judges.
The new chairman of the Tribunal, Fazle Kabir, brought in to replace Huq, will be preparing his judgement without having heard any of the arguments. Is the judgement to be based on Ziauddin’s draft prepared in mid-October, before the defence even began their closing arguments?
Meanwhile, two of the defendants have petitioned for a retrial on the basis of the taped conversations, but the government have obtained a court order banning any reference to them in spite of the fact that they were published in the journal Amar Desh and are now also on the internet.
An application is also being made for the dismissal of a prosecution lawyer, alleged to be involved in a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
The new judge will have to wrestle with these problems while getting up to speed with the masses of evidence, both oral and written.
In all the furore over the judge’s egregious breach of judicial ethics, the media have forgotten another recent scandal: the kidnapping by a special police unit from the entrance to the Tribunal on November 5 and the subsequent disappearance of a key defence witness Ranjan Bali. His wife has no idea where he is being held or even if he is still alive.
There should be an urgent investigation of this matter by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers. The case for a retrial should be considered by the International Bar Association, and the government of Bangladesh should listen to their advice. And the UN Working Group on Disappearances should ask the government of Bangladesh for an invitation to visit the country and make inquiries about the disappearance of Ranjan Bali.
* Eric Lubbock, Lord Avebury, is a working peer, and Vice-Chair, Parliamentary Human Rights Group. He blogs here.