The Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales, which has commendably - along with Human Right Watch - taken a keen interest in the trials taking place at the International Crimes Tribunal in Bangladesh, has issued a statement 'expressing concern' at the contempt charges brought by the prosecutor against Human Rights Watch.
BHRC's statement - which was in fact published before the tribunal passed its order - states that, 'the current charges against HRW amount to a chilling attempt to silence criticism of the ICT.'
The statement particularly notes that 'The Commonwealth (Latimer House) Principles on the Accountability of and the Relationship Between the Three Branches of Government' which state:
“criminal law and contempt proceedings should not be used to restrict legitimate criticism of the performance of judicial functions.”The statement is available on the BHRC website here, and is also reproduced below. Previous statements made by the BHRC on the Bangladesh ICT are available here
BHRC expresses concern at the contempt charges brought against Human Rights Watch by the Chief Prosecutor of the International Crimes Tribunal ("ICT") in Bangladesh.
The Bar Human Rights Committee (“BHRC”) expresses its concern at the contempt charges that have been brought against Human Rights Watch (HRW) by the Chief Prosecutor to the Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal ("ICT").
The charges relate to a report by Human Rights Watch on 16th August 2013 criticising the trial and subsequent conviction of Professor Ghulam Azam as falling far below international fair trial standards. Criticism of the ICT proceedings has been widely voiced internationally. The US Ambassador at Large on War Crimes Issues, Stephen J. Rapp, has publicly stated, in respect of earlier verdicts given by the ICT that "these convictions are not yet final. [These] issues are being raised in the submissions of the defendants in the appeals pending. It is not too late to get these things right in the Supreme Court or to adopt the [se] principles (of fair trials in accordance with international standards)."
Judges and the judicial process are open to criticism under the Bangalore Principles. The Commonwealth (Latimer House) Principles on the Accountability of and the Relationship Between the Three Branches of Government state: “criminal law and contempt proceedings should not be used to restrict legitimate criticism of the performance of judicial functions.”
The UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders states that human rights defenders have the right “freely to publish, impart or disseminate to others views, information and knowledge on all human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
BHRC is concerned that the current charges against HRW amount to a chilling attempt to silence criticism of the ICT.
BHRC urges concentration upon examining those aspects of the trials and convictions that are criticized with a view to ensuring due process compliance rather than pursuing detractors. We support Stephen J. Rapp’s invitation that it is not too late for flaws in the trials to be accepted and remedied.