BANGLADESH WAR CRIMES TRIBUNAL THREATENS DEFENCE COUNSEL

22 Oct

INTERNATIONAL CRIMES TRIBUNAL THREATENS DEFENCE COUNSEL

On 21 October, 2012, during the proceedings of ICT  BD Case No.3 of 2011 (Chief Prosecutor v Motiur Rahman Nizami) at the International Crimes Tribunal-1 (“the Tribunal-1”), the Prosecution Witness No. 1, Misbahur Rahman Chowdhury (Chairman of Islami Okkyo Jote, a political party which is member of the Ruling Grand Alliance) verbally abused Mr. Tajul Islam.  The witness directly addressed Md. Tajul Islam and made disparaging remarks about him and his parents. While addressing Md. Tajul Islam, the witness used derogatory form of address in the vernacular. The Chairman of the Tribunal-1 did not intervene and on the contrary started to laugh. All the defence counsel protested. The prosecution defended the statements of their witness. As the Tribunal-1 refused to intervene, an altercation broke out between the members of the defence and prosecution teams. All this time the prosecution witness continued his tirade against Mr. Tajul Islam.  At one point in time, one of the members of the Tribunal-1 ordered Mr. Misbahur Rahman Chowdhury to stop and sit down.  Since, these events took place at the end of court hours, the matter was left to be resolved on the next day.

The next day (i.e. 22 October, 2012) Mr. Munshi Ahasan Kabir appeared before the Tribunal-1 and submitted that it was the duty of the Bench to protect the dignity of the lawyers appearing before them and vice versa. He submitted that the statements made by the Prosecution Witness had offended the dignity of the defence counsel. He also submitted that the prosecution witness was required to say “sorry” for his conduct and that it was the duty of the court to ensure that the prosecution witness in fact said “sorry”.

The Chairman remarked that he had forgotten the use of the word “sorry” and ordered Mr. Kabir to sit down. Mr. Kabir sat down. Thereafter, the Chairman ordered that none but the cross examining defence counsel (i.e. Mr. Mizanul Islam) and the witness would be allowed to speak or stand up and address the Tribunal-1. He limited the defence to 30 minutes to conclude the cross-examination of the prosecution witness who had made the offending remarks.

Before proceeding with the cross examination, Mr. Mizanul Islam submitted that  it was the duty of the Tribunal to ensure that the dignity of lawyers were not affected in any manner during the proceedings.   He stated that the Prosecution Witness No.1 had behaved inappropriately with counsel and that if such conduct was not regulated by the Tribunal, other prosecution witnesses would be  encouraged to behave in a similar fashion. Mr. Mizanul Islam also requested the Tribunal-1 to pass an order in relation to the conduct of the prosecution witness. The Chairman warned Mr. Mizanul Islam that he was wasting his time and that he would not be given more than his allocated 30 minutes to complete the cross examination.

At this point Mr. Tajul Islam stood up and informed the Tribunal-1 that since it had failed to protect his dignity, he would not be remaining in the Tribunal-1 for the duration of the cross-examination of the Prosecution Witness No.1. The Chairman directed Mr. Islam to sit down stating that his departure would be a violation of Rule 45B of the International Crimes (Tribunal) Rules of Procedure 2010. The Chairman then proceeded to read out Rule 45B which states as follows:-

“A counsel when accepts vokalatnama on behalf of the accused cannot be allowed to cancel the said vokalatnama without the leave of the Tribunal  and he is duty bound to represent the client for whom he has filed vokalatnama till the cancellation of the vokalatnama is approved by the Tribunal  and in any case in failure of this, the matter will be treated as misconduct on the part of the Counsel and appropriate action can be taken against the counsel for that.”

(A vokalatnama is a special form of power of attorney which authorises lawyers to represent their clients)

Md. Tajul Islam informed the Tribunal, the he was not cancelling the vokalatnama, but that he would not be present in court only while the Prosecution Witness No.1 remained present without apologising. He also informed the Tribunal-1, that he would continue to represent the accused, Mr. Nizami.  Mr. Tajul Islam then left the Tribunal. It may be mentioned that almost 15 other defence lawyers were present in court on behalf of the accused to conduct and assist in the cross examination. The accused was not left unrepresented.

As Mr. Tajul Islam was leaving, the Tribunal-1 commenced  passing an order against him. In its order the Tribunal-1 blamed Mr. Tajul Islam for the entire events of  21 and 22 October, 2012.  The Tribunal even blamed Mr.Tajul Islam for the disparaging remarks made by the prosecution witness against him. The Tribunal alleged that Mr. Tajul Islam had provoked the prosecution witness into making the disparaging remarks.  The Tribunal also stated that in leaving the Tribunal premises Mr. Tajul Islam had committed misconduct under Rule 45B of the International Crimes Tribunal Rules of Procedure, 2010. Mr. Tajul Islam was  directed by the Tribunal to show cause within  15 days as to why legal action should not be taken against him for misconduct.

After passing the order, the Chairman of the Tribunal-1 stated that he would make more additions to the order.  Mr. Mizanul Islam then commented that the order passed by the Tribunal-1 was very unfortunate and then commenced with the cross-examination of the prosecution witness.

It may be mentioned here that in similar circumstances, when a prosecution witness (in Chief Prosecutor V Ali Ahasan Md. Mujahid) made disparaging remarks about a defence lawyer in the Tribunal-2, it directed the prosecution witness to apologise. Upon being so directed, the prosecution witness apologised to the defence lawyer. However, the Tribunal-1 has consistently refused to take any steps to protect the dignity of defence counsel. Defence counsel having sought protection of their dignity from the Tribunal have now in turn been threatened with legal action.

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One Response to “BANGLADESH WAR CRIMES TRIBUNAL THREATENS DEFENCE COUNSEL”

  1. M.A October 23, 2012 at 11:34 am #

    This is not a court of civilized people, but of a nomad culture which is based on deception and mistrust. Its very unlikely that a fair trial would emerge from such a jungle court

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