Rights body seeks justice in Bangladesh mass trials

New York, Oct 29 (IANS) The Bangladesh government should order a re-trial of 847 military personnel accused of murder, sexual assault and other atrocities during the 2009 Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) mutiny due to serious violations of fair trial standards, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday.

Bangladeshi authorities should commission a thorough, independent review of both the BDR trials and verdicts, including the impending Wednesday verdict which may see the death penalty imposed, and then initiate a more credible inquiry and prosecution process.

"Trying hundreds of people en masse in one giant courtroom, where the accused have little or no access to lawyers, is an affront to international legal standards," said Human Rights Watch.

"The authorities should instead immediately initiate a credible and fair trial to get justice for the mutiny victims and their families."

The violations of fair trials standards include torture and other abuse while in custody in order to extract confessions and statements.

At least 47 suspects have died in custody. In addition, BDR suspects have had limited access to lawyers, and to knowledge of the charges and evidence against them.

Human Rights Watch has documented these abuses in both a 57-page report in July 2012 as well as in numerous press releases.

On Feb 25-26, 2009, members of the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), since renamed the Bangladesh Border Guards, mutinied against their commanding officers at the central Dhaka headquarters in Pilkhana Barracks.

The mutiny, believed to be triggered by long-standing grievances among the BDR's lower ranks, led to the killing of 74 people including 57 army officers.

A number of women relatives of the officers suffered sexual assault.

While it is crucial that those responsible for the horrifying violence were brought to justice, Human Rights Watch found that the trials in military and civilian courts did not meet international fair trial standards.

The government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina negotiated a settlement to end the mutiny. But after the mutineers surrendered, the authorities responded with mass arrests of more than 6,000 BDR personnel.

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