Bangladesh: UN seeks confirmation on conviction of human rights expert
A United Nations expert on the independence of judges and lawyers today voiced concern regarding the trial proceedings of Sigma Huda, a fellow Special Rapporteur who was sentenced to three years in prison by a Bangladeshi court.
Leandro Despouy said that the sentence was handed down by the Special Anti Corruption Court of Bangladesh for aiding and abetting extortion found to have been committed by the husband of Ms. Huda, the UN independent expert on trafficking in persons, especially women and children.
However, Mr. Despouy has “received information indicating that the right to legal representation and the independence of the court were severely affected during her trial.”
He added that Ms. Huda’s attorneys – who had no opportunity to confer with their client in prison – felt pressured, having only met with her at the end of hearings. The lawyers also had difficulties accessing case files and other important information, “thus compromising their ability to ensure an adequate defence,” he said.
“The atmosphere during the trial was reportedly intimidating, with military and police presence both outside and inside the courtroom, and access of the public and the media to the courtroom was considerably restricted.”
Mr. Despouy said that these alleged irregularities violate the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Bangladesh has ratified, and also called on the country’s authorities to respect Ms. Huda’s right to a fair and public trial during any appeals process.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour today said that her Office is seeking clarification about the situation surrounding Ms. Huda’s conviction and possible appeal.
OHCHR is requesting it receive confirmation directly from the South-East Asian nation’s Government, the UN presence in the capital Dhaka and Ms. Huda’s relatives.
The High Commissioner noted that in a statement last month, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, after requesting and receiving information from Bangladesh on the nature of the charges brought against Ms. Huda and their linkages to her functions as Special Rapporteur, concluded that she is not being tried on charges related to her work as a UN independent expert.