HRW urges fairness in Bangladesh mutiny trial

AP News
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Posted: Jul 27, 2011 10:12 AM
HRW urges fairness in Bangladesh mutiny trial

A human rights group expressed concerned about group indictments and trials of hundreds of border guards accused in a bloody 2009 mutiny and urged Bangladesh to ensure international standards for fair trials were followed.

On Wednesday, a civilian court indicted 310 guards on serious charges such as murder and arson, after indicting 430 people last week. More than 800 total are accused, and the court set the indictment of the rest for Aug. 10.

The country instead should attempt to identify the individuals responsible for specific crimes, New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement Tuesday.

"The mutiny was ugly and brutal, but the current approach appears to be a witch hunt against a group, rather than an attempt to identify the individuals responsible for specific crimes," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

"The government should rethink its approach to make sure the masterminds and perpetrators of serious offenses are brought to fair trial, but end the prosecutions of the rank-and-file who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time," he said.

He said it is impossible to try hundreds of people at the same time and expect anything resembling a fair trial.

"The massacre shocked Bangladesh, but each of the accused should only be found guilty if the government provides specific evidence against them," he said.

The guards revolted in 2009 over pay disputes and other grievances and most of the 74 people who were killed were commanding officers. The two-day violence started at the forces' headquarters in the capital, Dhaka, and spread across the country. The killings occurred only at the headquarters, and the chief of the force and his wife were among the dead.

Special courts of the Bangladesh Rifles, renamed recently as Border Guards Bangladesh, are handling charges of mutiny against the accused. Hundreds of guards have been convicted and sentenced up to seven years in jail for that crime.

Charges other than mutiny will be tried under the national criminal code, which includes the death penalty as possible punishment.

Human Rights Watch said the detainees' lack of access to counsel remains a serious concern.

It alleged that many of the accused in the mutiny cases were not allowed to consult with their lawyers, and that many of them have been allowed only a 20-minute consultation at the beginning and end of each court day and a 30-minute consultation in between.