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BANGLADESH: State urged to make torture a punishable crime in compliance with the UN Convention against Torture

June 25, 2007
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Bangladesh has been a sitting member of the UN Human Rights Council since 9 May 2006, and has passed more than a year in the world’s top human rights forum. Before being elected to the Council Bangladesh placed its candidature among an overcrowded list of voluntary pledges. The country affirmed its “deep commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights of all of its citizens.”

The UN Convention against Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (CAT) was ratified by the Bangladesh government in October 1998 reserving the article 14 paragraph 1 of it, which states that “Each State Party shall ensure in its legal system that the victim of an act of torture obtains redress and has an enforceable right to fair and adequate compensation, including the means for as full rehabilitation as possible. In the event of the death of the victim as a result of an act of torture, his dependants shall be entitled to compensation.” While ratifying the CAT Bangladesh declared that it “will apply article 14 para 1 in consonance with the existing laws and legislation in the country.”

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) recalls these events again on the occasion of the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of torture. On one hand the Bangladesh government promises to implement the international instruments in the domestic arena. Unfortunately, on the other, in reality, violations of human rights, particularly, torture remains rampant in the country.

Torture is an integral part of the policing and the law-enforcement system, in all parts of the law-enforcing agencies and the military, paramilitary and security forces for persons both in custody and otherwise. Death due to torture at the hands of the law-enforcers is a regular phenomenon in the country. Torture is used as a method of extracting money and confessions from the detainees. The term, ‘interrogation’ in police remand, the Joint Interrogation Cell and “Task Force of Interrogation” as part of criminal investigation is synonymous with torture. Passing an hour in the custody of these forces without experiencing torture, in various forms, is considered as next to a miracle. Now, in the ongoing state of emergency, according to local human rights groups, around 200,0000 people have been arrested and detained within a period of only six months; and of course, there are allegations of torture in almost all cases as well as reports of around one hundred custodial deaths.

The consequences of torture which are visible all around indicate the very harsh methods being used. Persons who are once arrested by the police or any other forces, are ill treated throughout the duration of their arrest in almost all cases. It is common that in custody that people are tortured if they fail to pay bribes to escape the brutality. Payment of inadequate bribes is reasons in itself for torture which often results in serious physical injuries. Often, failure to pay the demanded amount of money to the police will also add one or a number of fabricated charges against the person for which he or she and the family will be required to appear before the courts for years; the investigations will also be done by the same police officer or a colleague with a view to ruin the victims.

Victims of torture have no place to go. The police stations of the country do not register the complaints of torture at the hands of other law-enforcers which their offices are responsible and legally obliged to record. As a last option the people go to the Magistrate’s Courts and explore the dark avenues of the judiciary, which is under the complete control of the government. The system is the same. A police officer from among the perpetrators will be assigned for the investigation of the case in order to ensure the complaint appears as a “false allegation” against “reputed officers of the government”. In the event that any court is kind enough to order a judicial probe it will result in nothing but a farcical report-with the ultimate intention of saving the perpetrator, as the magistrates and the police are colleagues to each other. In this manner the doors to seek justice are closed for the victims of torture. This series of bitter experiences, on one hand brings about destruction of faith in the justice system and, on the other the victims and their family become financially exhausted by the burden of unprepared expenditure. They are socially stigmatised for the brutal humiliation at the hands of the law-enforcers and for the unavailability of justice. The victims of torture become physically and psychologically handicapped in most cases, and their families as well as themselves become isolated from society as the people are reluctant to mix with them fearing further suffering in their respective lives.

The whole nation suffers from the grave consequences of torture; it looses creativity, spontaneousness, frankness and openness. Nobody sees the law-enforcers as an assisting force to uphold the law but rather as perpetrators of gross human rights abuses. The people’s faith in the judicial system has disappeared. As a result, people avoid the police and the courts in order to avoid further harassment by the “licensed terrorists” of the country as the police are known. 

The AHRC has learned of these matters through a large number of cases documented by the human rights groups in Bangladesh. Sadly, despite the diabolical situation the authorities of Bangladesh do not care about the problems. They only promise and pledge rather than taking any effecting measures to address the human rights abuse issues; particularly, to support the victims of torture and inhuman treatment.

Nine years are passing now since Bangladesh ratified the CAT, but still reservation is imposed on the article 14 para 1 of the Convention; meaning that the government does not want to ensure the right to compensation and adequate medical treatment for the victims of torture. The authorities never want to punish the perpetrators of torture; they have not yet made any legislation criminalizing torture in compliance with the CAT although the government promised to do so a long time back. Instead, the culture of impunity to the perpetrators has been well established by a number of laws and the practice as well; the Indemnity Act-2003, which was made to ensure impunity to the armed forces and the police for killing, torture, arbitrary arrests and detention during the Operation Clean Heart in the late 2002 and early 2003, is still in effect despite the existing barriers of section 197 and 132 of the Code of Criminal Procedure for trying the perpetrators.

The culture of ruining the victims and rewarding the perpetrators must be stopped now. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) urges the authorities of Bangladesh to make torture a crime punishable in compliance with (CAT) immediately. The UN Human Rights Council, where Bangladesh has been a member for three years, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights must ask the Bangladeshi authorities how long it will take the country to criminalize torture in the domestic legislation. The victims of torture must have access to justice including the right to compensation for torture perpetrated upon them. The authorities should feel ashamed to see the extreme inconsistency between their pledges and practices regarding the abuses of human rights issues and take the necessary action.

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