BANGLADESH: The Prime Minister must act to prevent torture than repeating dreary pledges 

Bangladesh ratified the UN Convention against Torture, and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Punishment or Treatment (CAT) on 5 October 1998. Since then the country has kept its obligation under the international law to criminalise torture at the domestic level to be pending. A domestic law criminalising torture will expand the scope of seeking legal remedies for torture in Bangladesh.


Since the adoption of the country’s constitution, in theory, the citizens have protection against torture under Article 35 (5) of the Constitution. It is a fundamental right in the country. The irony however is that there is unimaginable differences between theory and practice. The extend of brutality forced upon the people by the law enforcement agencies is of such nature that due to sheer fear the ordinary citizen is afraid to complain against torture. Even if one dares to complain there is still no law criminalising torture that could guarantee prosecution of this heinous crime.


Torture is endemic in Bangladesh. It takes place everywhere like in the custody of police, armed forces, paramilitary forces like the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), intelligence agencies, special interrogation cells such as Joint Interrogation Cell (JIC) and Task Force for Interrogation (TFI). Torture continues to benefit the powerful persons in the society and fulfils the interest of the ruling political parties irrespective of their colour.


Some of the country’s politicians, who claim themselves as veterans in the country’s politics, pretend to be generous and promoting the rule of law and some of the self-proclaimed experts on policing and criminology argue in favour of retaining torture. They defend their argument in favour of torture since they are of the opinion that the practice is required for “controlling militancy” and “running a third world democracy “.


These arguments expose the fact that the ruling elite require and encourage the police to abuse power. This exposes the reality that the politicians in the country favour abuse of power and benefit from the resultant lawlessness. Constitutional protection of fundamental guarantees has no place in such politically perverted mindset.


In Bangladesh torture is condoned on various excuses. The torture-friendly politicians find torture as a tool for controlling the opposition in order to survive in the game of retaining power. The Bangladesh Police require torture for extorting bribes and maintaining the ‘bribery collection chain’ that runs from the lowest ranking constable to the highest officer in the chain of command. Their efficiency is in maintaining this chain of profit. Crime investigation since long has been reduced to extraction of forced confessions by torture from anyone whom the police can lay their hands upon.


The armed forces and other paramilitary forces are synonymous with the term torture as they use it to superimpose their authority upon everything else in the country. Torture is used by the armed forces and the paramilitary to continue their domination upon the people and even upon the political parties and the police. So far they have remained above the law and the culture of impunity is deep-rooted among the rank and file of the armed forces and the paramilitary units. Criticism about this status quo is muffled by brutal force.


Lawyers and judges do not care to speak about torture, even if their clients insist because experience has taught them that breaching the status quo is suicidal. Many others in the legal profession consider torture as a necessary tool for crime prevention and view it as ‘normal’ behaviour of all law enforcement agencies and thus to be ignored. This ignorance of a large section of the country’s legal professionals is frightening.


The academics view torture as an issue that should be left for the attention of human rights organizations. The non-government organizations view torture as an excuse for mere income generation through projects and a fashionable word to be used in work. This approach has left the victims and the cause high and dry in the country.


The media do not view torture beyond its limited news value, depending upon the identity of the victim. So far there has been no single attempt by the media to generate a debate on torture, viewing it as a vital issue that needs to be tackled to realize true democracy. There is literally no intellectual discourse about torture in the country for the past one decade.


The National Human Rights Commission has completely failed in dealing with the issue. Its findings if any, has thus far remained mere recommendations, which the government has completely ignored. In any case, beyond deciding cases filed before the Commission it has never taken the initiative to be engaged in the subject. The government on its side has not provided any infrastructure to the Commission to do anything better than what it is engaged with right now.


The result of this impasse is that the list bearing names of victims of custodial torture and death increases each year. Since independence, not even five victims of custodial death have received justice in the country. The government is not interested to bring about a change in the situation. The last resort, the judiciary of the country is incapable to deal with the issue.


The “Torture and Custodial Death (Prohibition) Bill-2009” was tabled in the Bangladesh Parliament on10 September 2009, as a Private Members’ Bill. The government was reluctant to consider this as a Treasury Bench’s Bill. More than nine months after the tabling of the Bill there has been no move either from the Parliamentary Committee on Private Members’ Bills and Resolutions or from the government to proceed with the Bill.


The Prime Minister however spares no chance to publically pledge that she wants to establish a “Nirjaton Mukto Bangladesh

” (torture-free Bangladesh). So far this has remained an empty rhetoric.


The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) urges the Government of Bangladesh to legislate the Torture and Custodial Death (Prohibition) Bill-2009 immediately, thereby proving that the head of the government means what she says. The legislation will encourage the people to regain their belief in the democratic process in the country.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-133-2010
Countries : Bangladesh,
Issues : Torture,