International Criminal Court and Bangladesh

International Criminal Court and Bangladesh

In the past, there was a joke in the UN corridor: if a person who deliberately kills another gets either life imprisonment or death sentence; if a person who kills twenty is sent to mental hospital but if a person who kills tens of thousands persons goes to Geneva for peace talks.

The international community looked the other way round, or tried to appease the perpetrators of international crimes with promises of immunity. However ugly occurrences did not end. During the 20th century 160 million human lives were lost by war, genocide and torture, according to a statistics by eminent British lawyer Geoffrey Robertson.

The international community was pricked by conscience for not being able to do anything against the commission of crimes against humanity. One of the remedies is the establishment of a permanent International Criminal Court (ICC).

Bangladesh’s initiative in 1974:

The establishment of an ICC has been in the drawing board since 1970s and in 1974, an international conference on the subject was held in Dhaka. Jurists from various countries participated in the conference and recommended the need for a permanent ICC. In that sense, Bangladesh has been one of the pioneering States in the creation of ICC and can take due credit for it.

The recommendation was made in the background of heinous international crimes committed in Bangladesh during the Liberation War of 1971, as reflected in Kolkata Barrister Subrata Roy Chowdhury’s book “ The Genesis of Bangladesh: A Study in International Legal Norms and Permissive Conscience”. (1972).

The 1998 Rome Statute:

In 1998 more than 100 States including Bangladesh adopted overwhelmingly the Rome Statute, creating the ICC.

With the establishment of International Criminal Court (ICC) in July 2002, the scenario of fate of perpetrators of crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes has dramatically changed. In 2003, 18 judges were appointed at the Court by state-parties and the ICC has been functioning from The Hague (Netherlands).

The drafters of the Statute took into account, among others, the Khemer Rouge “killing fields” (1975-79), Rwandan genocide (1994) and Srebrenica killings of Muslims Bosnians (1995).

The instances below demonstrate that no one, even a head of state, is immune from criminal trial against crimes against humanity, genocide, and war crimes.

For example, on a request from Spain, Chilean late President Augusto Pinochet was arrested in London in 1998 for crimes against humanity and only on medical grounds, he was released. Yugoslavia’s late dictator Slobodan Milosevic was surrendered by the Serbian government and was put on trial at the Ad-hoc International Criminal Court in 2002 on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Bosnian conflict until he died in custody.

In 2005, Britain and France spearheaded the Security Council decision to refer Darfur ‘s case to the ICC. And a warrant has been issued in March to arrest the sitting President of Sudan Omar al-Bashir for commission of crimes against humanity. As of today ICC has issued 13 arrest warrants and one summons.

The creation of ICC is felt beyond the courtroom. Armies around the world, even of non signatory-states, are adjusting their standards and rules of engagement to the Rome Statute. The Statute has made the difference between a soldier, or a policeman or a criminal or a terrorist.

Central African Republic and Ivory Coast asked for ICC’s intervention. A month ago, the Arab League has sent its first ever fact-finding report on crimes committed by Israelis on the Gaza. Congo executed arrest warrant against three militia leaders for enlisting child soldiers.

Crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide are the gravest crimes in international law and are condemned by all UN members. The effective punishment is an important element in the prevention and recurrence of such odious crimes and for protection of the inherent dignity of human person.

More than 28 years after the killing stopped, Khemer Rouge leaders are being tried before the UN-backed tribunal in Cambodia.

On 3rd December,1973, a Resolution of the General Assembly (Resolution number 3074) was adopted underscoring the obligations of member-States of the UN in the detention, arrest, extradition and punishment of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

War Crimes Trial in Bangladesh & ICC:

On 29th January 2009, Bangladesh Parliament adopted a resolution to try war criminals. On 25th March, the government decided to try war criminals under the 1973 International Crimes (Tribunals) Act and the process has already began in the Law Ministry..

Ratifications to the Rome Statute are growing. The Palestinian Authority accepted the jurisdiction of the ICC. Chile became in June of this year the 109th state party.

To demonstrate the commitment to trial of war crimes, it is appropriate Bangladesh may now ratify the Statute of International Criminal Court of 1998 and the ratification will show to the international community Bangladesh’s firm resolve that war crimes must not and cannot escape punishment through a due process of a trial.

By Barrister Harun ur Rashid
Former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.

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