BANGLADESH: REDRESS and AHRC write to the National Human Rights Commission of Bangladesh to express their concerns about ineffective investigation into violent attack against the human rights defender 

A Joint Open Letter from REDRESS and the Asian Human Rights Commission to Prof. Mizanur Rahman, Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission of Bangladesh

Dr Mizanur RAHMAN,
National Human Rights Commission of Bangladesh
Gulpheshan Plaza,
8, Shahid Salina Parvin Sarak,
Maghbazar, Dhaka-1217,

London / Hong Kong, 22 July 2011

Dear Dr Mizanur Rahman:

BANGLADESH: REDRESS and AHRC write to the National Human Rights Commission of Bangladesh to express their concerns about ineffective investigation into violent attack against the human rights defender

We are writing to you in connection with the case of Mr FMA Razzak, a Bangladeshi human rights defender, who was severely assaulted in Paikgachha on 29 April 2011. This letter is written in response to your letter sent to the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) on 16 June 2011.
This letter will outline the facts of the case, refer to the applicable international standards and conclude as to the adequacy of measures taken so far by the Bangladeshi authorities to investigate the ill-treatment to which Mr Razzak was subjected.

I. Factual background

On 29 April 2011, at around 10:30 p.m., Mr Razzak, resident of the village of Godaipur in Paikgachha, and his brother Badiar Rahman were attacked by a group of people at the bus station in Paikgachha. After having been severely beaten up Mr Razzak and his brother were brought to a home of Major Mostafijur Rahman Bokul of the Bangladeshi Army. At that location Mr Razzak and his brother were repeatedly beaten up with rifles, pistols, butcher knife and iron rods and kicked at their face, mouth, hands, legs, and chest. Mr Razzak was further told that Major Bokul had ordered to kill him. There was an attempt to gouge his eyes and destroy them with a screw driver. His bones were broken. Instructions as to further actions were sought from Major Bokul himself by phone.

Only subsequent to involvement of the media, police arrived at the house of Major Bokul several hours thereafter and escorted the victims to the Paikgachha Hospital which referred them to the Khulna Medical College Hospital. The victims were further referred to the Dhaka Medical College Hospital which also did not provide the necessary treatment to Mr Razzak who was critically injured. Later the attendants had no option but to transfer him to a private hospital (Trauma Center) where Mr Razzak was diagnosed with fractures of his right leg and right hand. Sub-conjunctival injuries in both his eyes were diagnosed by an eye specialist. On 2 May 2011 Mr Razzak underwent a complex surgery. He was discharged from the hospital only on 23 May 2011 and is still recovering.

On 6 May 2011 the formal complaint in connection with the above-mentioned events was lodged with the Paikgachha police by Mrs Rahima Razzak, a wife of Mr Razzak. It was recorded by Md. Enamul Haque, an officer in charge of the Paikgachha police station, under first information report no. 08 and General Register no. 177. Thirty-eight persons were named in that complaint as those involved in the attack against Mr Razzak. Seven independent witnesses of abduction of Mr Razzak were also named.

On 9 May 2011 the case was brought to the attention of the National Human Rights Commission which, as you informed the AHRC in your letter of 16 June 2011, in turn, referred the matter for investigation to the Paikgachha local administration and the rapid action battalions’ central headquarters.

As it follows from your letter of 16 June 2011, the National Human Rights Commission concluded, on the basis of the investigation report sent back to it, that Mr Razzak had not been attacked or tortured by police or rapid action battalions but that he had been “attacked by the local villagers and relatives regarding his involvement in personal problems with them”. It was also reported that there had been no proof of Major Bokul’s involvement in the matter.

No details were however given either to Mr Razzak or to his counsel and/or next-of-kin as to which investigative measures had been taken by those looking into the matter, what evidence, if at all, has been obtained and, on a more general footing, who exactly was in charge of the investigation.

II. Applicable international standards

Pursuant to Article 1 of the 1984 Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (“the Convention against Torture”) to which Bangladesh is a State Party, “the term torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him [or her] or a third person information or a confession, punishing him [or her] for an act he [or she] or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him [or her] or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity”.

Taking into account severe character of physical sufferings of Mr Razzak, the purpose of the whole attack, that is, to intimidate him and to punish him for his human rights activities, and alleged involvement of a public official (Major Bokul), it can be safely concluded that there are reasonable grounds to believe that an act of torture has been committed in the territory of Bangladesh. This conclusion unequivocally triggers the duty of the Bangladeshi competent authorities to proceed to a prompt and impartial investigation (Article 12 of the Convention against Torture).

Another international treaty to which Bangladesh is a State Party, the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“the International Covenant”), unequivocally outlaws torture (Article 7 of the International Covenant) and provides that any person whose rights or freedoms recognised in that treaty are violated shall have an effective remedy, notwithstanding that the violation has been committed by persons acting in an official capacity (Article 2 § 3 (a) of the International Covenant).

This obligation has been further interpreted by the Human Rights Committee, a body of independent experts tasked with application and interpretation of the International Covenant. The Committee pointed out that “[a] failure by a State Party to investigate allegations of violations could in and of itself give rise to a separate breach of the [International] Covenant” (General Comment No. 31: The Nature of the General Legal Obligation Imposed on States Parties to the Covenant, UN Doc. CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.13 (26 May 2004), para. 15) and added that “[n]ational human rights institutions, endowed with appropriate powers, can contribute to this end” (ibid.). Investigations into credible allegations of serious human rights violations, such as torture, must be impartial, prompt and effective. Apart from it, they should be “thorough and diligent” (Giri v. Nepal, Human Rights Committee views of 24 March 2011, UN Doc. CCPR/C/101/D/1761/2008, at para. 9).

Moreover, victims of gross human rights violations, such as torture, have an internationally recognised right to the truth about the events that have taken place, including the identification of the perpetrators of the facts that gave rise to such violations (Human Rights Council Resolution 12/12 of 12 October 2009). Right to the truth implies right to know the preliminary and final results of any domestic investigation undertaken.

Furthermore, States have obligation to protect the human rights defenders (Article 9 of the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms unanimously adopted by the UN General Assembly Resolution 53/144 of 9 December 1998).

III. Adequacy of the investigation and indispensable further measures

There is insufficient publicly available information to determine with certainty which steps have been taken by any of the competent officials who had been tasked with establishing the circumstances of the attack against Mr Razzak which took place in Paikgachha on 29 April 2011.

It is important to note that in her complaint of 6 May 2011 deposited with Paikgachha police Mrs Razzak indicated certain eye-witnesses of her husband’s abduction and alleged assailants by name. There is no information that anyone from that list has ever been questioned by Paikgachha police or any other agency in charge of investigation into the circumstances of the attack against Mr Razzak.

You stated in your letter of 16 June 2011 that “the National Human Rights Commission requested the local administration in Paikgachha, Kulna, as well as RAB forces central headquarters to conduct fact finding investigation regarding the matter”. As mentioned above, investigations into credible allegations of serious human rights violations such as torture must be impartial, prompt and effective. According to Mr Razzak’s complaint the local police officers were involved in the attack against him. Therefore, any investigation conducted by local police would not be truly impartial. The National Human Rights Commission did not take this concern into account but made its conclusions based solely on the investigation reports put together by local police. Therefore, the National Human Rights Commission should conduct an independent investigation which would ensure full impartiality of the further proceedings.

It is also evident that by failing to properly communicate the results of investigation, if any, to the victim the authorities of Bangladesh fell short of their international obligations as described above.

The National Human Rights Commission has an extremely important role in safeguarding the rights of all citizens in Bangladesh and in carrying out full and effective investigations in accordance with the law. We therefore urge the Commission to conduct full and diligent investigation into the circumstances of abduction and subsequent ill-treatment of Mr FMA Razzak and fully disclose the results of such investigation, and to issue the appropriate recommendations addressed to the governmental bodies concerned so that incidents such as this one do not recur.

We note your statement that the National Human Rights Commission has limited resources and capacity. Yet we urge you to be mindful of the purposes for which the Commission was established.

We stand ready to provide necessary advice to the Commission in this respect.

Sir, please accept assurances of our highest consideration.

Yours faithfully,

Carla Ferstman, Director of REDRESS
Wong Kai Shing, Executive Director of AHRC

Document Type : Open Letter
Document ID : AHRC-OLT-008-2011
Countries : Bangladesh,
Campaigns : Attack on FMA Razzak
Issues : Human rights defenders,