US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice Stephen J Rapp yesterday opposed the trial of any political party or organisation for crimes against humanity, and called for focusing on individuals who committed those crimes.
The focus on individuals instead of political party or organisation will help ensure reconciliation and peace in the society, he added.
Stephen Rapp, now in Dhaka on his 5th visit since 2011, also said the defence counsels' proposal for holding of these trials in a third country under UN supervision would not be realistic.
The US envoy came here in January, May and November 2011 and in May 2013 and discussed about International Crimes (Tribunals) Act 1973 and the ongoing trial of war criminals.
“You can convict individuals…it allows reconciliation and allows other people to rejoin the societies. Focusing on individuals helps rebuild society,” he said while addressing a press conference at the American Centre yesterday.
Rapp said he does not think criminal process should be used for the purpose of convicting political parties. “It's not appropriate to convict political parties. I don't think it's a positive thing.”
But he avoided a direct reply when asked whether he thinks the Jamaat-e-Islami, which collaborated with the Pakistan occupation forces during the Liberation War 1971, should not be held responsible for crimes against humanity.
He just said he does not want to talk about a specific party or group.
These comments come at a time when the government is looking into changing the law for trying organisations for war crimes. A draft amendment has already been prepared.
Rapp said “the defence did raise” the proposal for the trial in a third country under UN supervision.
“I don't think it's realistic at this stage,” he said, adding that his position might disappoint the defence. “My own attitude is that the process has started at the national level.”
The defence counsels, during a meeting with Rapp on Monday, said he should place to Dhaka the recommendations of a US congress sub-committee regarding Bangladesh's war crimes trials, Tajul Islam, a participant of the meeting, told The Daily Star yesterday.
In a report prepared for the US fiscal year ending on September 30, 2015, the Sub-committee of the Congress Foreign Operations requested that “The Secretary of State strongly encourage the government of Bangladesh to amend the ICT statute to affirmatively acknowledge its obligation to conduct these trials in accordance with international fair trial and due process standards; to accept UN participation in the proceedings; and, if necessary, to consider moving the ICT to a third country.”
It also said, “The Bangladesh ICT is a national court based on a Bangladeshi statute, and the committee is concerned by recent assertions by the government of Bangladesh that ICT defendants are not afforded certain rights otherwise guaranteed under international law.”
The report, however, is not final yet. It has to go through several steps before getting the approval of the US Congress, sources said.
Asked about his latest position over the entire trial process, Rapp said there are lots of rooms for development and the trial must be free and fair with the highest international standards.
On the US position regarding death penalty, he had indicated that it would be wisest not to have death penalties.
“Death penalties can only to be used in most exceptional circumstances with solid evidence,” he, however, said.
MEETING WITH FOREIGN MINISTER
Stephen Rapp during his meeting with Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali said he had come to Bangladesh not to criticise the ICT. Rather, he wanted to see the tribunal as a role model in the international arena.
About his visiting the Liberation War Museum, he said the Museum is playing a role to uphold the history of the Liberation War of Bangladesh.
Mahmood Ali said the mass people have tremendous support for the trial of war criminals and thanked the US government for supporting the trial of war criminals.
He also urged Washington to keep supporting the trial.
Turning to Gaza issue, the envoy expressed concern over attacks on a UN school. He said all should strictly follow the International Humanitarian Laws and the US supports and expects fair investigation into Gaza incidents.
The foreign minister too criticised the mass killings of innocent children and civilians in Gaza.
On Monday, the visiting US ambassador-at-large also sat with judges of the International Crimes Tribunal, investigators and the prosecution team. He lauded the judges and investigators for their activities.
Law Minister Anisul Huq, after a separate meeting with the US envoy, said it seemed from the discussions that Stephen Rapp is satisfied at the overall standard of the trial proceedings.
He said Rapp has raised a question about the death penalty provision for the war crimes convicts and his attitude over this issue has changed a lot than before.
"I told him [Rapp] that no punishment other than death penalty is enough for the grievous offence committed during the country's Liberation War in 1971.”
Replying to a question, the law minister said the government has prepared a draft on the amendment of a law for trying and punishing organisations for committing crimes against humanity in 1971.
“It will be placed before the cabinet for approval," Anisul added. He, however, refused to say when the draft would be tabled.
The minister rejected defence lawyers' suggestion for trial in another country, terming it "unrealistic" and "unreasonable".
The lawyers for Jamaat leaders facing war crimes charges made the suggestion during their meeting with the visiting US official.
Emerging from the meeting, Rapp told reporters that he had a good discussion over the trial of crimes against humanity committed in 1971.