UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official website; JURIST news archive], urged [press release] the Bangladesh government on Wednesday not to carry out the death sentences of 152 paramilitary soldiers [JURIST report] under reports of due process violations leading up to the trial. Pillay claims the soldiers, members of the Border Guard Bangladesh [official website] on trial for their involvement in a 2009 mutiny [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive], have been tortured while detained and have not had sufficient access to their defense counsel in the mass trials involving 847 suspects. While Pillay acknowledged that the crimes committed during the mutiny, which included murder, arson and sexual assault, were "utterly reprehensible and heinous," she insisted that "justice will not be achieved by conducting mass trials of hundreds of individuals, torturing suspects in custody and sentencing them to death after trials that failed to meet the most fundamental standards of due process." Instead, Pillay urged Bangladesh to meet fair trial standards pursuant to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [text], which the country ratified in 2000.
The mass trial, which initially brought charges against 850 people, has created controversy. Criticism has come particularly from Human Rights Watch (HRW) [official website], which urged Bangladeshi authorities to order a retrial [JURIST report] last Tuesday. HRW also criticized Bangladesh's conviction of other suspects in the BDR mutiny in mass trials in June 2012. In July 2011 HRW urged the Bangladesh government to ensure the BDR suspects were given fair trials following the June sentencing [JURIST reports] of more than 650 soldiers. Only nine of the individuals accused were acquitted. The mutiny occurred in February 2009 with the first arrests of military personnel [JURIST report] taking place the following March. More than 1,000 were arrested for the mutiny which was motivated by payroll disputes, living conditions, and the promotion of officers from the regular Bangladesh army instead of internally within the BDR.