Bangladesh: LRWC challenges legitimacy of conviction and sentencing of Sigma Huda, UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons and calls for her release.
September 24, 2007: Immediate Release
Lawyers Rights Watch Canada (LRWC) is concerned that the trial, conviction and sentencing of Sigma Huda, UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in People, to three years imprisonment by the Special Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) of Bangladesh, was conducted in violation of international fair trial standards and may have been the result of a malicious prosecution in reprisal for Ms Huda’s human rights advocacy. Ms Huda is a lawyer, the founder and President of the Bangladesh Women Lawyers Association and founder and Secretary of the Institute for Law and Development. Leandro Despouy, UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Lawyers and Judges has expressed concern that Ms Huda’s right to legal representation, opportunity to present a defence and the independence of the court had been “severely affected” during the trial.[i] The arrest and prosecution of Ms Huda occurred in a period of legal chaos in Bangladesh: during a declared state of emergency, under State of Emergency Rules 2007, which displaced key domestic human rights law and amidst widespread human rights violations by the military controlled government. The timing of Ms Huda’s arrest and conviction lends credence to reports that there has been a grave miscarriage of justice and heightens LRWC’s concerns that the charges may have been politically motivated and the proceedings an abuse of process. LRWC joins Mr. Despouy in calling on Bangladesh authorities to ensure the right of Sigma Huda to a fair and public appeal of her conviction and sentencing. LRWC also calls on Bangladesh authorities to:
1. release Ms Huda, immediately pending the proper determination of charges against her by an independent tribunal, in accordance with principles of fundamental justice; and,
2. provide Ms Huda and her lawyers with full access to all information relevant to her defense and appeal from conviction; and,
3. ensure public access to court proceedings and to transcripts of the trial; and,
4. guarantee Sigma Huda’s rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners[ii] and other instruments binding on Bangladesh.
On 11 January 2007 the President of the military controlled government that took over from the Caretaker government installed in Bangladesh in October 2006, proclaimed a state of emergency. On January 27, 2007, the President proclaimed in force the Emergency Powers Rules 2007, suspending rights including freedom of expression, assembly and movement. Since then the Bangladesh government has been accused of responsibility for widespread human rights abuses under the Emergency Power Rules,[iii] including attacks on, and arrests of, tens of thousands of human rights advocates. The Law Ministry was reported to call on Bangladesh lawyers not to represent those who have been arrested. The ACC, before which Ms Huda was tried, was established under the Emergency Powers Rules. Ms Huda’s husband, the former Communications Minister in the Bangladesh government, was arrested without warrant on February 5, 2007. On July 27, 2007, the Deputy Director of the ACC pressed charges alleging, among other charges, that Mr. Huda allocated a piece of railway land illegally to the Bangladesh Society for the Enforcement of Human Rights (BSEHR) of which Sigma Huda is the Secretary General.[iv] When Ms. Huda learned, on March 7, 2007, that she was on the government’s wanted list, she obtained an order, on March 8, 2007 from the Bangladesh Supreme Court barring authorities from arresting her without affording her due process. On March 8, 2007 the government established a Task Force with powers to arrest people without and seize property without court order.[v] In April, 2007, the Supreme Court of Bangladesh granted Ms. Huda 6 months bail. In May, 2007 Bangladesh authorities prevented Ms Huda from going to Geneva to deliver a report on human trafficking to the UN Human Rights Council on the grounds that because she might “give statements detrimental to the government,”[vi] she was a “security risk”. Sigma Huda was then arrested July 5, 2007, in apparent violation of the March 8, 2007 and the April 2007 orders of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh and has been in custody since. Between arrest and trial, available reports indicate that Ms Huda was denied medical treatment for her heart and diabetes conditions, was denied proper access to lawyers and visitors and that her legal counsel were prevented from obtaining the information necessary to prepare a full defence. Court proceedings were then further compromised by a heavy police and military presence coupled with denial of full access by the public and the media. On August 27, 2007, the ACC convicted Ms Huda of being her husband’s accomplice in an alleged extortion of a director of a construction company. It is not clear whether these charges were among those initially laid against the Mr. Huda. The ACC refused to read out the whole 180 page judgment in court.[vii] LRWC cannot accept the legitimacy of the ACC’s conviction and sentencing of UN Special Rapporteur Sigma Huda, given all the aforementioned factors. LRWC is concerned that Ms Huda’s arrest, conviction and sentencing is a continuation of efforts to prevent her from reporting on human rights abuses that may be “detrimental to the [Bangladesh] government.” Justice requires that Sigma Huda be immediately released pending the proper determination of the legitimacy of the conviction.
Lawyers Rights Watch Canada is a committee of Canadian lawyers who promote human rights and the rule of law internationally by providing support to lawyers and other human rights defenders in danger because of their advocacy.
LRWC is an NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.
Gail Davidson at firstname.lastname@example.org; tel: +1 604 738 0338; fax: +1 604 736 1175
www.lrwc.org[i] Public Statement, 31 August 2007 http://wwww.humanrights-geneva.info/article.php3?id_article=2142
[ii] Approved by the Economic and Social Council in 1957 and 1977, entitles prisoners to effective medical attention and treatment.
[iii] BANGLADESH: Bangladesh’s State of Emergency is unjustifiable and ensuring abuses of human rights, Asian Legal Resource Centre, 6 September 2007 http://www.alrc.net/doc/mainfile.php/alrc_statements/441
[iv] Railway land for Sigma’s HR body
Charges pressed against Huda, July, 25, 2007, http://www.thedailystar.net/law/2007/07/04/week.htm
[v] Military-Backed Government Of Bangladesh Restrains Un Special Rapporteur, Sigma Huda, From Leaving The Country, Arrests Her Husband, Tortures Her Brother-In-Law And Harrasses Her Daughter, Press Release Timeline.3 doc, http://action.web.ca/home/catw/readingroom.shtml?x=108264 , Coalition Against Trafficking in Women International (CATW)
[vi] Bangladesh Must Release UN Expert or Face Suspension From Human Rights Council, UN Watch Statement 6 June 2007.
[vii] Huda gets 7 years, Sigma 3 years for graft, News from Bangladesh, August 28, 2007; http://www.bangladesh-web.com/