Amendment of International Crimes Tribunal Act of 1973

This is a Special Issue post addressing the 2013 Amendment of the ICT Act

On 17 February 2013, the Bangladeshi Parliament passed a bill amending the International Crimes (Tribunal) Act of 1973. The amendments present three significant changes :

  1. Trial of Organizations: The amendment enables the ICT to charge and place on trial organizations for their role during the 1971 War of Liberation;
  2. Prosecution Right to Appeal Sentencing: the amendment allows the government, complainant, or informant to  appeal an order of acquittal or order of sentencing;
  3. Disposal of Appeal within 60 days: the amendment imposes a statutory obligation on the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court to dispose of any appeal filed before it within 60 days.

The 2013 amendments have been given retrospective effect from 14th July, 2009, bringing the judgment and sentence in the Qader Molla case within the purview of the amended provisions.

Under the amended law the Jamaat-e-Islami party, which is listed as a political organization in the roll of the Election Commission, could now be tried for its alleged role in the crimes of the Liberation War. Questions remain as to whether the present Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islam and Bangladesh Islami Chatra Shibir  would be considered a continuation of the then existing Jamaat-e-Islami and Islami Chatra Shangho. Additionally a time limit has been set by the parliament obliging the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court to dispose of appeals preferred before it within a total of 60 (sixty) days from its filing.

Section 3: Insertion of the word “organisation” As amended:

3. (1) A Tribunal shall have the power to try and punish any individual or group of individuals, [ or organisation,] or any member of any armed, defence or auxiliary forces, irrespective of his nationality, who commits or has committed, in the territory of Bangladesh, whether before or after the commencement of this Act, any of the crimes mentioned in sub-section (2).]

The words “or organisation,” have been inserted after “group of individuals,” by the International Crimes (Tribunals) (Amendment) Act, 2013 (Act No. III of 2013) (with effect from 14th July, 2009). The Act was similarly amended in 2009 to insert the terms “individual or group of individuals,” expanding the Tribunal’s jurisdiction beyond members of “armed, defense or auxiliary forces.” The Defense has argued that this retrospective amendment is illegal and that the Act was meant only for the prosecution of members of the Pakistani Army.

Section 21: Insertion of the provision of appeal against “order of sentence” As Amended:

21. (2) The Government or the complainant or the informant, as the case may be, may appeal, as of right, to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh against an order of acquittal or an order of sentence.

(3) An appeal under sub-section (1) or (2) shall be preferred within 30 (thirty) days from the date of conviction and sentence, or acquittal or any sentence, and no appeal shall lie after the expiry of the aforesaid period. (4) The appeal shall be disposed of within 60 (sixty) days from the date of its filing. (5) At the time of filing the appeal, the appellant shall submit all documents as may be relied upon by him.]

Section 21 was amended by the International Crimes (Tribunals) (Amendment) Act, 2013 (Act No. III of 2013) (with effect from 14th July, 2009) adding the possibility of appeal of a “order of sentence.” The Amendment allows such an appeal to be filed by “the complainant or the informant,” whereas previously only the Government was given that right. Additionally, where under the original Act a period of 60 days was allowed for the filing of a case, the Amendment limits that period to 30 days after the date of conviction, sentence or acquittal.  The Amendment also imposes an entirely new duty on the Appellate Division, requiring them to dispose of any appeal within a maximum of 60 (sixty) days from the date of its filing.

The Act is however silent as to whether an appeal to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court both by the prosecutor and the convicted defendant of the same case is to be treated together as a single appeal or whether the same shall be considered as two independent appeals by two different appellants.