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Bangladesh urged to improve war crimes laws

[JURIST] Bangladesh should improve their war crimes laws [letter text] to bring justice to victims of the 1971 War of Independence [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] from Pakistan, Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] urged Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina [BBC profile] Wednesday. The rights group sent a letter to Hasina applauding the government's commitment in setting up tribunals to prosecute war criminals and asked for improvements to be made to the International Crimes Act of 1973 [text, PDF]. HRW requested that the trials be conducted by civilian judges, that the rights of the accused are respected, that there is proper protection for witnesses and victims who testify, that the law is consistent with international standards, and that the death penalty be excluded. Law Minister Shafique Ahmed has already presented changes [AFP report] to the law to make it "fair and neutral," including provisions to allow convicted offenders to appeal. HRW Asia director Brad Adams said that the law needs to be comprehensive enough to prevent the accused from challenging the entire process. The letter addressed the changes in international human rights since the 1973 passage of the Bangladesh law:

While the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act may have been largely based on international standards at the time of its drafting, international criminal law has evolved significantly since, including with the adoption of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 1998 and its coming into force after ratification by 60 states in 2002. The Rome statute and the ICC's corresponding jurisprudence reflect international norms, which Bangladesh, as a signatory to the Rome statute, should follow.

HRW maintained that justice for the atrocities committed during the 1971 war is long overdue and that a lack of credibility for the Bangladesh tribunals would only benefit the accused war criminals.

In May, HRW called for the Bangladesh government to investigate torture [JURIST report], illegal detentions, and extrajudicial killings allegedly conducted by the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence and the Rapid Action Battalion [official websites]. In April, the Bangladesh government announced [JURIST report] that it was working with the UN to organize war crimes prosecutions for alleged violations during the 1971 war and that they were considering conducting trials in the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website].

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