BANGLADESH: Creativity needed to address torture in Bangladesh

The obstacles to eliminating torture in Bangladesh were foremost in the discussion at a recent meeting in Dhaka organised by Odhikar, a well-known national human rights organisation. There was consensus that grave torture exists throughout the country and that its causes are systemic: these include the following.  

Torture is not a crime under national law
Although the government of Bangladesh ratified the UN Convention against Torture in November 1998, no enabling legislation has been passed to make torture a crime under national law. Old British laws prevail–made when the colonial regime tortured supporters of national independence. The lack of a domestic law is an obstacle to developing local jurisprudence to eliminate torture, into which the rich international jurisprudence can be assimilated. There is also no immediate plan to introduce such a law.

No means exist to compensate and rehabilitate torture victims
No legal provisions exist to enable victims of torture to make claims for compensation or rehabilitation. The state does not provide medical facilities for physical and psychological injuries suffered due to torture. Again, there is no immediate plan to introduce such legal provisions.

Criminal justice remains very primitive
The criminal justice system has hardly changed since the British colonial times. Many laws go back over a hundred years. At no stage has there been a serious attempt to modernise the criminal justice system and take advantage of the great developments happening elsewhere. The system for implementation of laws is even worse, moving so slowly as to be completely out of touch with the rapid developments in communications, transportation and sense of time among people in other parts of the world.

No specialised police officers exist for criminal investigations
Police officers have a range of day-to-day duties on top of criminal investigations. For every 13,000 citizens there is one badly paid and poorly trained police officer. The very idea of specialised police officers for criminal investigations does not yet exist. One of the most needed reforms is for a separate criminal investigation branch with the necessary training and equipment to fulfil its duties. 

Public prosecutors are politically controlled
All public prosecutors are changed every time a new government comes to power. As a result, they do not accumulate experience, nor build an institutional legacy to pass from generation to generation. The skills needed for proper prosecuting do not develop, and instead political bias is the determining factor in prosecution cases. 

No link exists between the prosecuting and investigating branches
The prosecuting and investigating branches are completely detached. If the police do not investigate a crime, the prosecutor has no responsibility. The prosecuting branch needs to be informed when serious crimes are being investigated, so as to advise the investigators on basic legal issues. This would reduce the opportunities for police to fabricate cases against innocent persons. By collaborating while preserving the independence of each branch it is possible to avoid prosecutions that lack sufficient evidence and also ensure successful cases, which at present are few. 

No independent branch exists to investigate police officers over gross violations of human rights
At the moment, police investigate all crimes. Naturally, when police officers investigate their colleagues over alleged torture, extrajudicial killings and other grave violations, there is undue influence on the outcome. As the public lacks confidence in these investigations, many people may not even complain when suffering abuse at the hands of the police. 

No witness protection programme exists
People do not want to complain or give evidence–especially in the growing number of serious crimes–as they fear serious repercussions and lack any form of protection from the perpetrators. This also applies to the victims of human rights violations complaining about law-enforcement officers, who hold great power locally and can cause serious harm to the victims, their families and their property. This issue must be seriously addressed if the justice system is to obtain popular cooperation. 

Torture is politically motivated 
Often torture results from deliberate attempts to harm political opponents. The party in power typically harasses the opposition in this manner. Despite torture and law enforcement being used for the purposes of political repression, no serious attempts have been made to address the problem.  

Torture victims are disregarded because most of them are poor
The poor are badly treated in all areas of life, and this does not attract interest. Bad treatment of the poor at police stations is therefore no exception. The poor have little access to the law, and therefore, most torture cases do not come to the public attention. Constant reporting on all cases of torture is not yet being practiced. 

No human rights institution exists to monitor law-enforcement agencies
Despite years of discussion–and some drafting of legislation–towards establishing a national human rights commission, no practical steps have been taken to this end. No reason has been given for the delay; no timetable has been set for its establishment. The government has not even committed to establish it, and neither have the opposition or civil society groups taken up the issue with the urgency it requires.  

Violence is prevalent across the society but the state remains inert
Throughout Bangladesh, violence is daily committed in a wide range of social, political and religious institutions, particularly against women. It is often defended on ideological grounds, and a general ethos of intolerance permits daily acts of brutality to continue unabated. Such violence may constitute torture in cases where the state is cognisant of what is happening and does nothing to stop it. 

All these obstacles are commonly acknowledged, including by all the major political parties; nonetheless, no strong lobby exists to call for action. There is agreement that something is wrong, but no sense of the need to do anything about it. Civil society organisations must take a lead role in building public opinion capable of changing this situation. To do this requires imagination and creativity. By effective lobbying with specific demands for action, steps can be taken to see victims make complaints, police investigate torture, prosecutors win cases, and other people besides act to eliminate torture. 

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-39-2004
Countries : Bangladesh,
Issues : Torture,