Friday, June 25, 2010

Wednesday evening, chaired a very useful discussion with lawyers from the International Bar Association on their report to the Parliamentary Human Rights Group on the war crimes legislation of Bangladesh, and the observations on behalf of the government received from the High Commissioner two days before the seminar. The following day I released a statement:

Statement by the office of Lord Avebury, Vice-Chair, Parliamentary Human Rights Group

June 24, 2010

War Crimes trials should comply with international standards

At the request of the All-Party Parliamentary Human Rights Group (PHRG), the War Crimes Committee of the International Bar Association (IBA) examined the compatibility with international standards of the legislation under which the government of Bangladesh intends to hold trials of persons accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the war of independence in 1971[1]. The purpose was not to challenge the right of Bangladesh to try the perpetrators of these crimes, but to ensure that no objection to the proceedings would be likely to arise on the grounds that the 1973 Act was not in conformity with developments in the legal standards developed over the last 37 years.

At the end of 2009 the War Crimes Committee reported its findings to the PHRG, and after internal consideration, the report was sent to the Bangladesh High Commissioner under cover of a letter from the Chair of the PHRG, Ms Ann Clwyd, requesting that it be transmitted to relevant Ministers in Bangladesh, and asking for their comments.

A seminar was held on June 24 in Committee Room 3 of the House of Lords to discuss the IBA report, and the High Commissioner finally sent his government’s comments on June 21. He was unable to attend the seminar or to send a representative.

The main speakers were:

Stuart Alford, Chair of the War Crimes Committee of the International Bar Association

Khandker Mahbub Hossain, President of Supreme Court Bar Association of Bangladesh

Christopher Keith Hall, Senior Legal Adviser, International Justice Project, Amnesty International

Toby Cadman, International Bar Association

The representatives of the IBA reiterated that they would be ready to give detailed advice to the government of Bangladesh on how the legislation could be amended so as to comply with recent norms of international law, in line with models such as the Rome Statute on the International Criminal Court, the International Criminal Tribunal on the former Yugoslavia, the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda, and national tribunals such as those in East Timor and Sierra Leone. They added that there no doubt were other international legal authorities who would be prepared to offer constructive advice if it were requested.

Lord Avebury undertook to convey this offer of a dialogue to the authorities in Bangladesh

[1] The International War Crimes (Tribunals) Act 1973, as amended by the Act of 2009

Yesterday I wrote to the High Commissioner asking him to convey the IBA's offer to his government. Clearly its in the interest of the government, as well as the victims of the war crimes, that the law under which the trials are held is above criticism.

Yesterday I spoke in a three-hour debate on Latin America in the House, see In these timed debates, members are asked to keep within a certain number of minutes calculated by dividing the time available by the number of speakers, and on this occasion that worked out at 11 minutes. It can be difficult if you have too much or too little material, and on such a huge subject I had to confine my remarks to cuts in our embassies, and the situation in Peru and Colombia.

On the surgery front, I have some tests coming up to see whether my heart and lungs are able to withstand the two operations - a bit awkward if they aren't! - and a meeting with the head of vascular surgery on July 8.

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