Bangladesh patronises torture instead of criminalising it

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) on the Occasion of the International Day against Torture.

(June 26 is observed every year as the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.)

The UN declared 26 June as International Day in Support of Victims of Torture in 1997 in order to increase support for victims of torture in countries across the globe.  Many states, thereafter, have come forward to amend their domestic legislations in compliance with the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Punishment or Treatment (CAT). But the behavioural patterns of some of these states do not show remarkable change.

The frequency of torture has tended to be a tool of political and governmental repression and an inseparable part of the law-enforcement agencies in Bangladesh. It has been “by default” in the custodial procedures posing it an acceptable method. It is rooted so deeply within the systems – comprising the police, border security force, armed forces, other paramilitary forces and the intelligence agencies – that they cannot go beyond this.

The policy makers, politicians, legislators and civil servants of the country recognise torture not only as a useful tool but also patronise it in their diversified capacities. Since the country’s genesis in 1971 the old-fashioned arbitrary laws made by the colonial rulers have remained in effect on the one hand, and new laws have been enacted by the regimes over the past four decades, on the other. The arbitrary legislations have only prepared the grounds for the perpetrators to walk free from the charges of torture against them. The laws have provided impunity to alleged perpetrators and the policy makers have played the role of facilitators. Even though the victims go forward through these environmental hurdles involving malpractices, they are further obstructed by the existing legislations totally unfavourable for them.

There is a specific provision in the Constitution of Bangladesh prohibiting torture and degrading treatment and punishment. Unfortunately, some laws in effect only allow remedy to the victims as a normal “victim of abuses” rather than a “victim of torture”.  The persecutory mindsets of the police and other law-enforcing agents who are responsible for investigating the cases of torture and the lack of commitment in professionals like lawyers, prosecutors and judges constrict the roads toward justice.

The military-controlled government of Bangladesh has been arresting and detaining hundreds of people since the state of emergency was imposed and all the arrested persons across the country either have been tortured or ill-treated by the law-enforcers.

This culture leaves thousands of victims with permanent and temporary disability and in some cases dead but there is no specific legislation criminalising torture as a punishable crime. The victims have no shelter to get redress or reparation or compensation for the damages. Specific legislation ensuring right to compensation and aimed at punishment for the alleged perpetrators appear to be an urgent need for Bangladesh.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) urges the civil society and human rights groups of Bangladesh to create regular discourses all around the country for criminalization of torture in compliance with the CAT of which Bangladesh is a party. Continuous discussion on the issue can only pressurize the government to frame necessary legislations. The AHRC urges the international community including the UN Human Rights Council to hold Bangladesh accountable.

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

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