A trial in Bangladesh, which brought death sentences for 152 border guards accused of murder and arson in a mutiny in 2009, failed to meet international law standards, United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay said on Wednesday.
Citing allegations that many of the defendants in the mass trial, which ended on Tuesday, had been abused and tortured while in jail, she also called for a full independent investigation into how the accused were treated.
“The crimes committed during the mutiny were utterly reprehensible and heinous,” the former South African high court and International Criminal Court judge said in a statement.
But she added: “Justice will not be achieved by conducting mass trials of hundreds of individuals, torturing suspects in custody and sentencing them to death after trials that failed to meet the most fundamental standards of due process.”
A total of 171 of the mutineers, whose main complaint was that their regular army commanders were better paid and housed, were acquitted, while the remainder of the some 4,000 defendants were given jail terms of up to 10 years and fines.
At the same time, she voiced concern about the conduct of the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) set up by the Bangladesh government in 2010 to try people accused of atrocities during the 1971 war of independence from Pakistan.
The ICT, she said, should be an important means to tackle impunity for those atrocities and provide redress to the victims, but its proceedings had to meet the highest standards if they were to enforce the rule of law.
The Tribunal has sentenced 7 people to death, but Pillay called on the Bangladesh government not to carry out the sentences due to concerns about the fairness of the trials.