Aug 05, 2019
New Delhi, India
The Bangladesh Government, which submitted its first ever report on the United Nations Convention against Torture (UNCAT), is being urged to implement the recommendations of the UN Committee against Torture (CAT) in Geneva.
In 1998, after sustained efforts by national and international non-governmental organisations (“NGOs”), Bangladesh ratified the UNCAT, which obligates the State, inter alia, to take “effective legislative, administrative, judicial, or other measures to prevent acts of torture” and “other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” in any territory under its jurisdiction that are “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.”
In its seven-page State Party Report to the CAT, submitted on 30th July, 2019, the Bangladesh Government did not provide any statistical data nor did it respond to reports on any ongoing investigations into cases of torture. The 28-member Bangladesh team was led by Law Minister Anisul Huq.
During the review process, CAT Vice-Chairperson, Felice D. Gaer, noted that “while the report, prepared by the Government, claims to address implementation, it provides information solely about the country’s legal and policy architecture related to the prevention and punishment of torture.”
In his statement before the CAT, Bangladesh's law minister provided information on 94 complaints against the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB). He added that following investigations, 49 of those were found to be “false” and 44 were “confirmed”, and that courts conducted further proceedings and handed down punishments to 31 persons.
The CAT Vice-President sought information if the 31 accused had been punished in accordance with the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act 2013. She also said that according to the shadow/ alternative reports submitted by civil society organisations, only 10 cases have been filed so far under the Act.
“We appreciate the Bangladesh government’s submission of its first state report, though it is 20 years overdue,” said Sanjoy Hazarika, International Director of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI). Under Article 19 of the UNCAT, each state party is under obligation to submit its initial report to the CAT within one year from the date of ratification or accession.
CHRI called on the Bangladesh Government to respond to the remarks of the CAT Vice-President on whether specific actions have been taken under the appropriate law and urged the government to implement the UNCAT recommendations.
CHRI also expressed concern about the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act, 2013, saying that it saw a significant shortcoming in that it places primary investigative powers with the police and other Law Enforcement Authorities (LEAs), who were often accused of acts of torture and ill-treatment.
These violations are not limited to criminal custodial settings such as detention centres or prisons, but can take place in schools, hospitals, institutions that care for children, or for persons with mental disabilities. Torture or ill-treatment may also take place in the public domain, for example during demonstrations where there is excessive use of force by the authorities. During the Parliamentary elections in the country last year, it was reported that State actors, including LEAs, were involved in excessive use of force against civilians, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, sexual violence and rape and inadequate prison conditions which constitutes cruel and degrading treatment.
These attacks frequently have targeted human rights defenders, journalists, political opponents and student activists. The direct and indirect impacts of such actions have been suppression of freedoms of speech, assembly, and association in Bangladesh. Various UN bodies have recognised the issue of extrajudicial killings in Bangladesh. In April 2017, the UN Human Rights Committee, in its concluding observations, expressed concerns over the reported high rate of extrajudicial killings by police officers, soldiers and other LEAs, including the RAB. As of July 2018, the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances had officially recognised and transmitted 60 cases of enforced disappearances in Bangladesh.
Numerous laws in Bangladesh permit authorities to arrest and detain persons suspected of criminal activity without an order from a magistrate or a warrant, enabling authorities to hold detainees without charge and/or without divulging any information about a detainee’s arrest to family members or legal counsel. The Special Powers Act of 1974 and the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2009, and grant the Government broad powers of arrest and detention for “prejudicial acts” and “terrorist acts,” respectively.
Government powers have been further increased by the passage of the Digital Security Act (the “DSA”) in October 2018. The DSA incorporates Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology Act 2006 (the “ICTA”). It has been widely criticised as empowering the Government to arrest and detain, particularly journalists, human rights activists, members of the political opposition and has been cited as being inconsistent with international law.
Bangladesh has multi-fold obligations under both domestic and international law to ensure protection against torture. However, UN bodies and human rights experts have often taken note of torture and violence that continue to pervade law enforcement agencies in Bangladesh and have denounced a culture of impunity there.
In March 2017, the UN Human Rights Committee remarked that “The State Party should put an end to the practice of torture and ill-treatment. It should enforce the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act, 2013, and ensure that no immunity provisions in other laws supersede the protections in this Act”.
We urge the Bangladesh Government to implement the recommendations made by the UNCAT and other UN bodies to end the widespread practice of torture in the country.
For more information, please contact:
Sarthak Roy, Research Officer, Office of the International Director, CHRI
Aditi Patil, Research Officer, International Advocacy and Programming, CHRI