Monday, December 3, 2012

Tribunal restricts observers, notetakers

Bangladeshis beware.

If you wish to take detailed notes of the proceedings at the international crimes tribunal and you are working with a non-Bangladeshi, you are now viewed as a potential security risk and you are not welcome at the tribunal.

The tribunal has in fact never really been a forum open to the public.

Prosecutors, defense lawyers, investigators, witness, journalists and well known members of the country's elite could certainly access the tribunal.

But ordinary people were mostly turned away at the gate.

I have been following proceedings at the international crimes tribunal ever since it was established. And being a journalist I have never faced any trouble.

At first the hearings were weeks, sometimes months apart, and I was able to attend them myself .

When the ongoing trial of Delwar Hossain Sayedee began in December 2011 and proceedings started to take place on a daily basis, some young Dhaka university law graduates helped by taking notes for me. And when the second tribunal was established two further graduates got involved. 

Their responsibility was to provide accurate notes of the proceedings which could be put up on this website.

As a result, for those interested in knowing the details of what was happening day by day at the International Crimes tribunal, this blog has been an important source of information.

For all its limitations (and yes tribunal-2's notes are months behind!) this website provides the most detailed coverage of what is happening at the tribunal.

This website should of course not have been in such a position. The tribunal should have established a website which contained transcripts of the days events along with its Orders, but for whatever reason (and who knows what that reason may be!) it has failed to do so. It does not even have a website.

But as a result, for English speakers anyway, there is only this blog. 

Throughout this period of time, apart from minor hiccups, the notetakers who worked with me have had no problem in gaining entry to the tribunal and taking notes. Their work was no secret. Journalists, prosecutors, judges and registrars were fully aware.

And there was never any talk about security risks. The registrars were perfectly helpful - and on a number of occasions facilitated their entry when over zealous security guards were causing a problem,

However, today, out of the blue, the registrar has decided that the two Dhaka university law students, who were due to replace a couple of the existing notetakers, had to go through security clearances. I was told that until they got these clearances, they would not be able to attend the tribunal. (For those not-acquainted with Bangladesh, Dhaka University law school is probably the premier law school in the country.)

Why I asked did they suddenly need security clearances? They could be terrorists, I was told. If that was so, I said, why are you not doing security checks on any of the journalists who are attending? Why do they not have security clearances? They have been security cleared or at least their clearances were in process, was the reply

This claim is highly unlikely to be true - and even if they were being security cleared, they are certainly not being prevented from attending the tribunal whilst the check is taking place.

Why have you never done this earlier, I asked. The fact that we have not done it before does not mean we cannot do it now, the deputy registrar replied. What about the metal detector and the security as you enter the court buildings, I asked. If anyone has anything dangerous on them, you will find it? 'Did anyone realise that planes could destroy the twin towers in the US in the way they did', was the response. 

I said, look, I have had four notetakers in these courts for one year, you have never suspected them in the past. I said that their edited notes have been published on this blog, and no-one has ever complained about their content. I said if this is supposed to be a public trial, then you cannot stop people coming in and taking notes.

I was told the register has the power to regulate the entry of people to the tribunal. And that was that.

How long will the security clearance take, I asked. The registrar said that it would take a maximum of one week before he received the report. He did not say how long it would take for him to make a decision on the report. Knowing Bangladesh, I think we can be certain that it will take much longer than a week.

Whatever I said, it was, of course futile. The registrar was determined not to allow these two notetakers in the court (though it must be said I myself was not prevented from going into the tribunal had I had wanted to.)

This restriction though is not just affecting me.

The prestigious University of California War Crimes Studies Center has been in Dhaka to establish a project that will observe the tribunal proceedings. The Center has great experience in trial observation and research on war crimes issues generally and its intention, as I understand it, is to provide day to day factual and neutral summaries of the proceedings which would allow people to easily follow what is going on in each of the trials. It would be a more professional and systematic version of the notes taken for this blog.

Members of the government and representatives of the tribunal have many times stated that they were keen for international observers and monitors to come and watch proceedings.

Well if so, you certainly would not believe it.

Having hired two Bangladeshi lawyers - whom I understand to be from well regarded colleges - the US lawyer who is working for the Center here in Dhaka was told last week (and does this sound familiar?) that the two could not attend proceedings until they have received security clearance. This was particularly suprising as the two researchers had been allowed to attend the proceedings without problem earlier that week.

Of course, all this has absolutely nothing really to do with security. 

It is all simply an excuse to stop, or at least hinder, the legitimate presence in what is supposed to be a public court of those who for some reason the registrar (or perhaps the tribunal more widely) do not wish to be there.

I think we can fairly assume that the register will not let the observers in until after Sayedee's verdict - though I hope I am wrong.

Lets hope - for the sake of the tribunal - the registrar realizes that the tribunal has far more to lose by continuing to hamper legitimate access to the court, than anything it thinks it is gaining.


  1. Mr Devid Bergman was asked by the Registrar to supply CVs of his two newly appointed juniors due to security check and remain discipline/order of the tribunal. Rule 62 of the Rules of Procedure has empowered the Registrar to control the entry of people including the counsels in the court room of the Tribunal mto maintain discipline /order. But he did not supply any Cv/ Details of his newly appointed juniors. Without supplying cvs/ details , he has made this report/ comment. Is he or his junior privileged person not being checked. we should think about his intention and his activities.

    Mesbah Uddin Ahmed
    Deputy Registrar

  2. In response to the deputy registers comment: After the registrar told me yesterday about the need for security checks, I left his office at about 11.30 am. I them spoke to one of the note-takers, who had been with me in the registrar's room, and we decided that it would be useful if when we submitted their CVs with a testimonial letter from the chair of the law department at Dhaka University. He said that he would go directly to the university and ask for one. I spoke to the other notetaker and asked her also to get a letter. I understand they both put in applications to obtain the testimonial. The chair of the law department was not in fact in her office that afternoon. This morning, they both went to her office and obtained the letter. At about 11 am I heard that they had got the letter. Since I was busy n my office at that time, I agreed to meet them at 4pm at the tribunal. In fact because of traffic I was unable to get there until nearly 5pm. All three of us then went to the registrar's office and submitted the application.

    So I submitted the CVs, with university testimonials, as soon as practically possible.

    I wrote the post because I do not think there is a legitimate reason to suddenly impose security checks on note-takers, when everyone else who has gone to the tribunal has not had them.