Guernica 37
Guernica 37

Entrenching Ridicule and Countering Criticism

Life is often said to ‘imitate art’, and there are countless examples of where this is shown to be true. The recent Judicial Delegation from Bangladesh to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, is a shining example, although in this case, it is an example of something more disconcerting and sinister than simple imitation.

The current situation in the People’s Republic of Bangladesh is one of significant concern, and as much as there appears to be almost universal acknowledgement that there has been a complete breakdown in the Rule of Law and respect for fundamental rights and freedoms, a six-member delegation from the Bangladesh Government and Judiciary met with representatives from the International Criminal Court in an attempt to legitimise a fundamentally flawed judicial process.

The Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) has been criticised since its inception; not because of its intention, as it is self-evident that the pursuit of truth, justice, accountability and the end of impunity is not merely welcomed, it is essential, if historical crimes are to ever be addressed and thus allow a State, or a people to truly move on and reconcile. The ICT has been referred to as the ‘anatomy of injustice’ and therefore the visit to an institution that embodies truth, justice and above independence before politics with the sole aim that some of that integrity might rub off on the ICT is preposterous.

The current Government claims to uphold the highest principles set out in the Rome Statute and a number of other international treaties. In reality, it has increasingly moved towards an autocratic state that seeks to silence any political opponents by means of arbitrarily arresting civilians, using brutal methods of torture in police custody, holding individuals incommunicado in undisclosed locations and executing extra-judicially political opponents.

The ICT has been widely condemned by almost every international human rights groups and recognized international jurists.

Last week, a six-member judicial-governmental delegation from Bangladesh met with the ICC President and Deputy Prosecutor and proclaimed, falsely, that they were full of praise for the ICT and “…praised Bangladesh for her commitment to the Rome Statute…”. This is simply untrue. The statements represent at the very least a misrepresentation of what was discussed with the ICC President and Deputy Prosecutor, and at worst, a wilful attempt to gather support for a process that constitutes a flagrant denial of justice and represents a stain on the international criminal justice community.

Statements that appeared in various Bangladesh news outlets immediately following the meetings, would appear to emanate from members of the delegation.

It is quite clear that at no time did the President of the ICC, the Deputy Prosecutor nor any other senior member of staff praise the Bangladesh ICT, nor did anyone suggest that Bangladesh was committed to the principles of the Rome Statute in its own domestic trial process.

This is not the first time that the Bangladesh media, and members of the Government of Bangladesh has shown itself to be willing to deliberately misrepresent the position about its engagement with jurists and members of the international legal community.

Stephen J. Rapp, in his previous position as the US Ambassador for Global Criminal Justice, was twice reported as taking a favourable position towards the ICT and the procedures that it had adopted. On both occasions the reporting was false; the second occasion causing Ambassador Rapp to issue a statement in rebuttal to correct the position.

This is also not the first time that representatives from the Government of Bangladesh have sought to inappropriately gain recognition for the ICT from representatives of the ICC. In fact, it is the third such occasion.

Following a request for clarification both the ICC Office of the President and Office of the Prosecutor confirmed that the comments did not represent what was conveyed during the meetings. The Office of the President made clear that “[The President] did not comment in any way during the meeting on national proceedings conducted for crimes under international law before the courts of Bangladesh…” and the Office of the Prosecutor stated that it had “…in no way entertained or opined on ongoing proceedings at the national or international level involving Bangladesh.”

It is therefore quite clear that the statements attributed to senior officials at the ICC are palpably false.

It is notable, that the desperation for legitimacy and credibility is so great that the Judiciary, the Government and subservient media in Bangladesh are prepared to manipulate, mischaracterise, and misrepresent, in a desperate attempt to achieve their objective.

The truth of the matter is that the pursuit of justice is commendable, impunity should never be allowed to remain. However, in seeking accountability, a fair model must be adopted, and one that respects the Rule of Law, and the fundamental fair trial guarantees that one would expect.

The international community have at no time condemned the pursuit of justice; they have however, condemned at every turn, the model and mechanisms currently adopted in Bangladesh.

Much has been written on the concerns, the problems, and the downright unlawful procedures evident in cases before the ICT, and it is not the purpose of this article to rehearse these further.

We must however keep these past writings and statements in mind, when we consider the delegation referred to above.

The truth, is that the ICT is lamentable; it has been roundly condemned and criticised outside of Bangladesh, not for its premise, but for the procedures adopted.

Contrary to the comments of the Government, the Judiciary, and the media, there is no judicial independence amongst those that preside over ICT trials, nor has there been adherence to any notion of international fair trial standards.

This final point is an interesting one, as previously, those in support of the ICT and its working have sought to suggest that there is no such thing as ‘International Standards’ when it comes to such trials. It is of note therefore that the ‘tack’ has changed. Evidently unable to convince the international community of one position, they have adopted another – wilful ignorance.

The position now being adopted is one of desperation. The Government of Bangladesh and its supporters are so desperate for the ICT to be deemed legitimate, that they are prepared to manipulate and lie to create a false impression.

It should be noted that the mention of the Government is deliberate. I accept that there are those who will point out that the comments made are not from the Government, they are reported by the media; this is indeed correct, but, the media weren’t present during the meetings taken by the delegation and therefore the information must have originated from alternative sources, i.e. members of the delegation, or members of the Government itself. Further, the ICC itself has rejected those statements attributed to its senior officials and thus the obvious conclusion is drawn regarding the origins of the information.

This evidenced desperation is an imitation of many colourful characters from stage and screen, but perhaps in these circumstances the most appropriate comparison would be with General Sir Anthony Cecil Hogmanay Melchett, VC KCB, a fictional character from the English ‘Blackadder’ comedy series, and in particular his words “If nothing else works, a total pig-headed unwillingness to look facts in the face will see us through”.

The facts are plain for all to see, and no amount of delegations, meetings, or statements will change the fact that as an instrument of justice, it is an aberration.

The only position to take therefore is a complete and abject unwillingness to acknowledge it.


This article was originally published at The Huffington Post on 26th June 2017.

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