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The President’s Limit to pardon a Convict under Article 49 of the Constitution of Bangladesh

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Article 49 of the Constitution of Bangladesh gives the President the right to pardon. Although 15 amendments have been made to the constitution since its enactment, it has never been amended, although the serial number of the Article was first changed to 58 by the Fourth Amendment and then restored to 49 by the Twelfth Amendment. Although post-independence Bangladesh has been governed by both a parliamentary and a presidential system, and the powers of the President and the Prime Minister have changed during both systems, the rights conferred on the President in this Article remain unchanged.

While the country had a presidential system of government, its executive power was vested in the President, although in the present parliamentary system of government it is vested in the Prime Minister. Article 49 gives the President the power to pardon, stating that the President shall have the power to grant pardon, delay and pardon of any sentence imposed by any court, tribunal or any other authority and to suspend or reduce any sentence. In the system of government governed by the President, the President could exercise this power alone, but in the system of government of the parliamentary system, this power vested in the President is subject to the conditions mentioned in clause (3) of Article 48. Clause (3) of Article 48 states that the President shall act in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister in discharging all his other duties except in the case of appointment of the Prime Minister in accordance with Article 56 (3) of the Constitution and the Chief Justice in accordance with Article 95 (1). Pursuant to clause (3) of Article 56, even if the President is empowered to appoint the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice by his sole decision, he cannot perform all his other duties without the advice of the Prime Minister. It should be noted that the powers vested in the President in appointing the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice are not arbitrary. This is because there is no opportunity for the President to appoint anyone other than the confidant of the majority of the Members of Parliament as the Prime Minister after or at any other time after the National Parliamentary election. In the case of the appointment of a Chief Justice, if the President, by exercising his discretionary power, overrides the most senior judge in the Appellate Division, the neutrality of the President, who is regarded as the guardian of the country, will be violated.

The powers conferred on the President by Article 49 are exercised by the President in two ways. One is the apology by the convict and the other is the apology by the President to the convict on the recommendation of the government on a special day of the country. In both cases, the President cannot exercise his power without the recommendation of the Prime Minister. According to our Penal Code, an offender can be given five types of punishment by a court or tribunal at the end of the trial on the basis of proof of guilt, namely, death penalty, life imprisonment, rigorous or non-rigorous imprisonment of any term, penalty for confiscation of property and fine. The power conferred on the President by the Constitution under Article 49 may be exercised by the President on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, who may, by exercising that power, pardon, delay, pause, pause, suspend or reduce any penalty. If an apology is made to the President for any of the above punishments, he may grant any remedy referred to in Article 49 through pardon.

The opinion of a former law minister with the title of Barrister on whether the President can exercise this power under the International Crimes Tribunal is not in accordance with the provisions of the Vienna Convention. In this regard, it appears in our Constitution that the President is empowered to pardon, delay, pause, pardon, suspend or reduce any other form of punishment, including the death penalty. The Article clearly states that the President has the power to impose such powers on any court, tribunal or any other authority. The right of the convict under the International Crimes Tribunal Act to seek pardon from the Supreme Court through a writ petition for violation of fundamental rights under the Constitution does not in any way diminish the power of the President conferred by Article 49. Therefore, the opinion expressed by the former law minister in this regard is not considered justified in the light of the spirit of Article 49 of the Constitution. It is to be noted that the First Amendment of the Constitution includes the insertion of clauses (3) to Article 47 and Article 47A  to preclude those against whom genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes are applicable from remedies and rights guaranteed under Article 31, Clauses (1) and (3) of Article 35, and 44 of the Constitution.

The right to pardon given to the President in Article 49 of the Constitution is basically an opportunity for the ruling entity to exercise the power through the President. The President cannot, without the recommendation of the Prime Minister or the Government, grant any remedy to a convicted apology seeker by exercising his discretionary power. In our parliamentary system of government, all the executive powers of the government are vested in the Prime Minister, so the aspirations of the Prime Minister are the aspirations of the government. Therefore, the recommendation made to the President in response to the wishes of the Prime Minister is the recommendation of the ruling entity.

The power given to the President to grant pardon in the case of certain punishments under Article 49 of the Constitution, the Criminal Procedure Code also gives the similar power to the government in the case of certain punishments.  Sections 401, 402 and 402A of the Criminal Procedure Code are relevant in this regard. Sub-sections (1), (2) and (5) of section 401 are particularly relevant in the synthesis of the Constitutional Article in question. Sub-section (1) of section 401 states that when a person is convicted of an offense, the Government may at any time, unconditionally or subject to the conditions accepted by the convicted person, suspend the effect of his sentence or commute the imposed sentence in whole or in part. Sub-section (2) of that section states that when an application for suspension or remission of sentence is made to the Government, the Government may, if necessary, ask the judge of the court to give his opinion with reason on whether the application has been granted or rejected and a statement of that opinion, and also may ask for a copy of the judicial document of the convict or to forward the status of his proceedings.

Sub-section (5) of the same section states that nothing contained in this section shall be deemed to be an interference with the President’s right to pardon, delay or suspend a sentence.

Section 402 of the Criminal Procedure Code states that the Government may, without infringing upon sections 54 and 55 of the Penal Code, reduce any of the following sentences without the consent of the convicted person to the following sentence, such as life imprisonment in place of death, imprisonment for any term Penalty.

Section 402A of the Criminal Procedure Code states that the power conferred on the government by section 401 402 may be exercised by the President in the case of death penalty.

Section 54 of the Penal Code states that in each case where the death penalty can be imposed, the government may reduce any other sentence imposed under the rule without the consent of the offender. Observing Section 55 of the same rule, it appears that in every case where life imprisonment may be imposed, the government may reduce the sentence to any term of less than 20 years without the consent of the offender.

The idea derived from sections 401 and 402 of the Criminal Procedure Code and sections 54 and 55 of the Penal Code is that the government, in accordance with the provisions of these two laws, may waive or reduce any sentence in full or in part or may suspend effectiveness of the sentence.

The death penalty is the highest of the five penalties mentioned in our existing Penal Code. Although there is provision for remission, reduction or suspension of the death penalty by the government, it is not an impediment for the President to enforce it under the Criminal Procedure. Apart from that, the power given to the government in the Criminal Procedure Code to waive, reduce or suspend various punishments is in no way considered as any interference in the President’s right to pardon, delay, and waive various types of sentences. The recommendation of the Prime Minister is essential for the President to exercise the power conferred on the President by the Constitution in granting pardon to any punishment and the right conferred on the President in the Criminal Procedure Code to reduce or suspend the death penalty. Therefore, if the President wants to provide any remedy in case of death penalty under the Criminal Procedure Code as per the Constitution, it is not possible to do so by exercising his discretionary power without the recommendation of the Prime Minister or the Government. Although the President is elected with the support of a majority of the ruling party’s MPs, he is the guardian of the country’s constitution and all citizens. Apart from that, he is a symbol of national unity, solidarity and sovereignty. Everyone, especially the ruling party, should strive to maintain the confidence and trust of all the citizens of the country in the President. In a parliamentary system of government, since the recommendation of the Prime Minister or the government is essential for the President to exercise the power to pardon any punishment. There will be no respite from the loss of confidence and trust of the people in the class.

In the past, presidential and parliamentary systems of government have used the office of the President to unexpectedly pardon heinous offenders for political reasons. And so it is considered justifiable for the government to apply any kind of pardon and reduction or suspension of any kind of punishment because the government has the same power as the President.

In case of pardon of an offender under the Criminal Procedure Code by the President or the Government, it may be granted unconditionally or subject to the conditions accepted by the convicted person and in certain cases subject to the opinion of the court which has awarded the sentence. But when an offender is pardoned by the President under Article 49 of the Constitution, there is no need for any condition or opinion of the court.

There is a difference of opinion among jurists, law teachers, law students and researchers as to whether it is essential for a convicted criminal to plead guilty before seeking pardon to the President under the Constitution or any other form of pardon or remission. One view is that if a convicted criminal of death penalty seeks any pardon to the President, he must plead guilty. The other view is that an apology must be sought while seeking pardon and a confession is not necessary. Those who hold the second opinion point out that there is a precedent of pardon for the offender by the President while his appeal was still pending in the High Court Division. In their opinion, if such an offender pleads guilty during an apology, he has no chance of being appointed to an important position in the state or any position in the government. Since such appointments have not been questioned to date, the second opinion seems justified. Apart from that, Article 49 of the Constitution does not provide anything to give the impression that it is essential to plead guilty in the case of seeking forgiveness or pardon of any punishment.

Mahmudul Hasan is a recent LL.M. graduate of energy and environmental law and Thomas Buergenthal Fellow at The George Washington University Law School, Washington, D.C.

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South Asia

India’s Unclear Neighbourhood Policy: How to Overcome ?

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India has witnessed multiple trends with regards to its relations with its neighbours at a time vaccine diplomacy is gaining prominence and Beijing increasing the pace towards becoming an Asian superpower, whereby making these reasons valid for New Delhi to have a clear foreign policy with respect to its neighbourhood.

Introduction

The Covid Pandemic has led to increased uncertainty in the global order where it comes to power dynamics, role of international organisations. New Delhi has tried to leave no stone unturned when it comes to dealing with its immediate neighbours.  It has distributed medical aid and vaccines to smaller countries to enhance its image abroad at a time it has witnessed conflicts with China and a change in government in Myanmar. These developments make it imperative for New Delhi to increase its focus on regionalism and further international engagement where this opportunity could be used tactically amidst a pandemic by using economic and healthcare aid.

According to Dr. Arvind Gupta, New Delhi has to deal with threats coming from multiple fronts and different tactics where it is essential for New Delhi to save energy using soft means rather than coercive measures.. India under Vaccine Maitri has supplied many of COVAXIN doses to Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka where many have appreciated this move. The urgency of ensuring humanitarian aid during these periods of unprecedented uncertainty are essential in PM Modi’s Security and Growth For All ( SAGAR) initiative, which focusses on initiating inclusive growth as well as cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region.

This pandemic witnessed various threats coming in India’s neighbourhood through multiple dimensions which include maritime, land, cyber as well as air threats where adversaries are using these to put pressure on New Delhi to settle land as well as marine disputes as per their terms.  These encirclement strategies have made it necessary for India to open up various options such as holding maritime joint exercises with like-minded countries, developing partnerships, providing economic as well as healthcare support to weaker countries plus having a clear insight about changing global dynamics and acting as per them.

This piece will discuss about various changing tactics, pros and cons which India has with respect to developing its national security vis-à-vis its neighbourhood, why should it prioritise its neighbourhood at the first place?

Background

India’s Neighbourhood is filled with many complexities and a lot of suspicion amongst countries, some viewing India because of its size and geography plus economic clout as a bully where it is wanting to dominate in the region putting others aside. This led to New Delhi play an increased role in nudging ties first with its neighbours with whom it had multiple conflicts as well as misunderstandings leading to the latter viewing Beijing as a good alternative in order to keep India under check.

Ever since PM Modi has taken charge at 7 RCR, India’s Neighbourhood First Policy has been followed increasingly to develop relations, to enhance understandings and ensure mutual cooperation as well as benefit with its neighbours. The relations with Islamabad have not seen so much improvement as compared to other leaders in the past. Even though former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was invited for PM Modi’s 1st Swearing In ceremony in 2014, terrorist activities have never stopped which could be seen through Pathankot, Uri and Pulwama terror attacks which killed many of the Indian soldiers. Even though surgical strikes were conducted on terror camps in retaliation to these bombardments, Islamabad has not changed its heart at all about its security or regional demands. New strategies and friendships are being developed where Beijing has played a major role in controlling power dynamics.

The Belt and Road initiative, first time mentioned during President Xi’s 2013 speech in Kazakhstan, then officially in 2015,  lays emphasis of achieving a Chinese Dream of bringing countries under one umbrella, ensuring their security, providing them with infrastructure projects such as ports, railways, pipelines, highways etc. The main bottleneck is the China Pakistan Economic Corridor when it comes to India’s security threats, passing through disputed boundaries of Gilgit and Baltistan in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir till Gwadar. Other projects have been initiated in Chittagong, Hambantota, Gwadar , Kyapkyou. These projects form a String Of Pearls in the Indo Pacific where New Delhi is being balanced against through economic plus development incentives being given to the member countries under the project. That’s why in the recent past, New Delhi is asserting its influence in the region, looking at new dimensional threats where Beijing’s threats in the maritime domain in the islands in East as well as South China seas are not being seen favourably in many countries such as ASEAN, US, Australia and Japan which is giving India an opportunity to look towards countries with a common threat. Amidst this great power struggle between Washington and Beijing, New Delhi is stuck between a rock and hard place i.e., having a clear and strong foreign policy with its neighbours.

In this region, India has a sole threat which is mainly Beijing where the latter has achieved prowess technologically and militarily where New Delhi lags behind the latter twenty fold. So, there is a need for improvising military technology, increase economic activities with countries, reduce dependence on foreign aid, ensure self-reliance.

Situation

South Asia is backward when it comes to economic development, human development and is a home to majority of the world’s population which lives below poverty line. The colonial rule has left a never-ending impact on divisions based on communal, linguistic and ethnic grounds. Even, in terms of infrastructure and connectivity, New Delhi lags behind Beijing significantly in the neighbourhood because the latter is at an edge when it comes to bringing countries under the same umbrella. Due to these, many initiatives have been taken up by New Delhi on developing infrastructure, providing humanitarian aid to needy countries.

There have been numerous efforts made by India with respect to reaching out to the Neighbours in 2020 through setting up of the SAARC Covid Fund where many Neighbourhood countries such as Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka gave contributions to ensure cooperation, joint scientific research, sharing information, healthcare kits where the countries contributed USD $ 18 million jointly towards this fund where New Delhi made an initial offer of USD $ 10 million.

New Delhi has even mustered ties with the Association of Southeast Asian countries during the pandemic under its Act East Policy where proper connectivity through the Northeast could be useful in easing movement of goods but currently, the infrastructure in Northeast needs more improvement where issues such as unemployment, poor connectivity are prevalent whereby disconnecting it from rest of the other states. This region could play an important role in linking Bangladesh, Myanmar to New Delhi along with the proposed India-Thailand –Myanmar Trilateral Corridor. Focus has also been laid to develop inland waterways, rail links and pipelines to ease connections between countries, making trade free and more efficient.

India is focussing on developing the Sittwe and Paletwa ports in Myanmar under the Kaladan Development Corridor, at the cost of INR 517.9 Crore in order to provide an alternative e route beneficial for the Northeast for getting shipping access

Summing Up

 These above developments and power display by a strong adversary, give good reasons for New Delhi to adopt collective security mechanisms through QUAD, SIMBEX and JIMEX with a common perception of having safe and open waters through abiding to the UNCLOS which China isn’t showing too much interest in, seen through surveillance units, artificial islands being set up on disputed territories which countries likewise India are facing in context to territorial sovereignty and integrity. These developments make it important for India to look at strategic threats by coming together with countries based on similar interest’s vis-à-vis Chinese threat.

There is a need for India to develop and harness its strength through connectivity and its self reliance initiative ( Aatmanirbharta ) so that there is no dependence on any foreign power at times of need . Proper coordination between policy makers and government officials could make decision making even easier, which is not there completely because of ideological differences, different ideas which makes it important for the political leadership to coordinate with the military jointly during times of threats on borders. Self-reliance could only come through preparedness and strategy.

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South Asia

India is in big trouble as UK stands for Kashmiris

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 A London-based law firm has filed an application with British police seeking the arrest of India’s army chief and a senior Indian government official over their alleged roles in war crimes in Indian-administered Kashmir.

Law firm Stoke White said it submitted extensive evidence to the Metropolitan Police’s War Crimes Unit on Tuesday, documenting how Indian forces headed by General Manoj Mukund Naravane and Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah were responsible for the torture, kidnapping and killing of activists, journalists and civilians – particularly Muslim – in the region.

“There is strong reason to believe that Indian authorities are conducting war crimes and other violence against civilians in Jammu and Kashmir,” the report states, referring to the territory in the Himalayan region.

Based on more than 2,000 testimonies taken between 2020 and 2021, the report also accused eight unnamed senior Indian military officials of direct involvement in war crimes and torture in Kashmir.

The law firm’s investigation suggested that the abuse has worsened during the coronavirus pandemic. It also included details about the arrest of Khurram Parvez, the region’s most prominent rights activist, by India’s counterterrorism authorities last year.

“This report is dedicated to the families who have lost loved ones without a trace, and who experience daily threats when trying to attain justice,” Khalil Dewan, author of the report and head of the SWI unit, said in a statement.

“The time has now come for victims to seek justice through other avenues, via a firmer application of international law.”

The request to London police was made under the principle of “universal jurisdiction”, which gives countries the authority to prosecute individuals accused of crimes against humanity committed anywhere in the world.

The international law firm in London said it believes its application is the first time that legal action has been initiated abroad against Indian authorities over alleged war crimes in Kashmir.

Hakan Camuz, director of international law at Stoke White, said he hoped the report would convince British police to open an investigation and ultimately arrest the officials when they set foot in the UK.

Some of the Indian officials have financial assets and other links to Britain.

“We are asking the UK government to do their duty and investigate and arrest them for what they did based on the evidence we supplied to them. We want them to be held accountable,” Camuz said.

The police application was made on behalf of the family of Pakistani prisoner Zia Mustafa, who, Camuz said, was the victim of extrajudicial killing by Indian authorities in 2021, and on behalf of human rights campaigner Muhammad Ahsan Untoo, who was allegedly tortured before his arrest last week.

Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the past two decades in Kashmir, which is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both in its entirety.

Muslim Kashmiris mostly support rebels who want to unite the region, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.

Kashmiris and international rights groups have long accused Indian troops of carrying out systematic abuse and arrests of those who oppose rule from New Delhi.

Rights groups have also criticized the conduct of armed groups, accusing them of carrying out human rights violations against civilians.

In 2018, the United Nations human rights chief called for an independent international investigation into reports of rights violations in Kashmir, alleging “chronic impunity for violations committed by security forces”.

India’s government has denied the alleged rights violations and maintains such claims are separatist propaganda meant to demonize Indian troops in the region. It seems, India is in big trouble and may not be able to escape this time. A tough time for Modi-led extremist government and his discriminatory policies. The world opinion about India has been changed completely, and it has been realized that there is no longer a democratic and secular India. India has been hijacked by extremist political parties and heading toward further bias policies. Minorities may suffer further, unless the world exert pressure to rectify the deteriorating human rights records in India.

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S. Jaishankar’s ‘The India Way’, Is it a new vision of foreign policy?

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S. Jaishankar has had an illustrious Foreign Service career holding some of the highest and most prestigious positions such as ambassador to China and the US and as foreign secretary of India. Since 2019 he has served as India’s foreign minister. S. Jaishankar also has a Ph.D. in international relations from JNU and his academic background is reflected in this book.

His main argument is simplistic, yet the issues involved are complex. Jaishankar argues that the world is changing fundamentally, and the international environment is experiencing major shifts in power as well as processes. China is rising and western hegemony is declining. We are moving away from a unipolar system dominated by the US to a multipolar system. Globalization is waning and nationalism and polarization is on the rise (p. 29). The old order is going away but we cannot yet glimpse what the future will look like. This is the uncertain world that Dr. Jaishankar sees.

Dr. Jaishankar also argues that India too has changed, it is more capable and more assertive. The liberalization program that began in 1991 has made the Indian economy vibrant and globally competitive and it is well on track to becoming the third biggest economy in the world, after China and the US.  The war of 1971 that liberated Bangladesh, the liberalization of the economy after 1991, the nuclear tests in 1998 and the nuclear understanding with the US in 2005, Jaishankar argues are landmarks in India’s strategic evolution (p. 4). So given that both India and the system have changed, Jaishankar concludes, so should India’s foreign policy.

But his prescription for India’s foreign policy, in the grand scheme of things, is the same as before – India should remain nonaligned and not join the US in its efforts to contain China. India will try to play with both sides it seems in order to exploit the superpowers and maximize its own interests (p. 9). But he fails to highlight how India can find common ground with China other than to say the two nations must resolve things diplomatically. He also seems to think that the US has infinite tolerance for India’s coyness. In his imagination the US will keep making concessions and India will keep playing hard to get.

Jaishankar has a profound contradiction in his thinking. He argues that the future will be determined by what happens between the US and China. In a way he is postulating a bipolar future to global politics. But he then claims that the world is becoming multipolar and this he claims will increase the contests for regional hegemony. The world cannot be both bipolar and multipolar at the same time.

There is also a blind spot in Jaishankar’s book.  He is apparently unaware of the rise of Hindu nationalism and the demand for a Hindu state that is agitating and polarizing India’s domestic politics. The systematic marginalization and oppression of Muslim minorities at home and the growing awareness overseas of the dangers of Hindutva extremism do not exist in the world that he lives in. He misses all this even as he goes on to invoke the Mahabharata and argue how Krishna’s wisdom and the not so ethical choices during the war between Pandavas and Kauravas should be a guide for how India deals with this uncertain world – by balancing ethics with realism (p. 63). Methinks his little digression in discussing the ancient Hindu epic is more to signal his ideological predilections than to add any insights to understanding the world or India’s place in it.  

One aspect of his work that I found interesting is his awareness of the importance of democracy and pluralism. He states that India’s democracy garners respect and gives India a greater opportunity to be liked and admired by other nations in the world (p. 8). Yet recently when he was asked about the decline of India’s democratic credentials, his response was very defensive, and he showed visible signs of irritation. It is possible that he realizes India is losing ground internationally but is unwilling to acknowledge that his political party is responsible for the deterioration of India’s democracy.

This is also apparent when he talks about the importance of India improving its relations with its immediate neighbors. He calls the strategy as neighborhood first approach (pp. 9-10). What he does not explain is how an Islamophobic India will maintain good relations with Muslim majority neighbors like Bangladesh, Maldives, and Pakistan.

The book is interesting, it has its limitations and both, what is addressed and what is left out, are clearly political choices and provide insights into how New Delhi thinks about foreign policy. So, coming to the question with which we started, does India have a new foreign policy vision? The answer is no. Dr. Jaishankar is right, there is indeed an India way, but it is the same old way, and it entails remaining nonaligned with some minor attitudinal adjustments.  

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