Ambassador-at-Large Stephen J. Rapp for War Crimes Issues today visited Bangladesh to offer ideas to ensure that the trials which the International Crimes Tribunal hold will be fair and open.
“I know of the horrible crimes committed in the country in 1971- of the hundreds of thousands of victims who were murdered and raped, of the pain inflicted and the property destroyed. The victims of these crimes deserve justice, and those accused of these acts deserve trials where they can test the evidence and present witnesses on their own behalf.” -Mr. Rapp
He said those who are innocent should be found not guilty and be freed. He highlighted that the given the historic importance of these trials to Bangladesh, the region, and the world, the proceedings should be conducted in a manner that is open and accessible to all.
“In March, I made a number of suggestions on how the rules for these trials could be amended to ensure fair and transparent proceedings. Some of these suggestions were incorporated in amendments adopted in June. I regret to say that many were not.” -Mr. Rapp
He cited that the first trial has begun with the opening statements of the prosecution last week, and with witnesses due to begin testifying on December 7.
He noted that the focus of his present visit is on how the International Crimes Tribunal will conduct these trials.
“The statute and the rules are in place; the question now is how they will be interpreted in actual practice. Much can still be accomplished to ensure that justice is done and is seen to be done in these historic proceedings.” -Mr. Rapp
He noted that it is important that the judges, at the first opportunity, define what “crimes against humanity” means. The term “crimes against humanity” has been defined in the statutes and cases of international courts. He said it has not been defined in Bangladesh.
“It is important that the same rights be accorded to these accused as are guaranteed to Bangladeshi citizens who are charged with other violent crimes. The Bangladesh constitution and laws provided that this was to be a special court responsible for its own rules and procedures.” -Mr. Rapp
He noted that as the judges have amended the rules to incorporate concepts like the presumption of innocence and proof beyond a reasonable doubt, it is also important that they conduct the trials to ensure that the accused have the same right to consult with their counsel
“While the rules amendments provided for the protection of witnesses, it is important that a system of protection of witnesses be developed in practice and available to both sides. In the first trial, witnesses for the prosecution have already been listed. The defense must file a list of witnesses by December 7.” -Mr. Rapp
He stressed that witness protection measures must be in effect to ensure that those willing to come forth and tell the truth will not be subject to threats and intimidation.
He also emohasized that the process must be accessible to all. He said the trial sessions should be broadcast on television or radio, or weekly reports be aired that would show key testimony, arguments, and rulings.
“I am here because the people of the United States wish to help ensure that this is a process that is fair and transparent. We will continue to work with all those involved in this process to achieve justice in these historic trials.” -Mr. Rapp