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Thursday, June 26, 2008

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JUNE 26 is United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.

The UN Convention Against Torture first came into force in June 26, 1987, and in 1997, to highlight the plight of victims of torture, the UN General Assembly officially proclaimed June 26 as the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.

The day reminds us that torture is a crime, and provides us with an opportunity to stand united and voice our opinion against torture, a cruel violation of human rights.

The Bangladesh government ratified the UN Convention Against Torture on October 5, 1998 but, unfortunately, with the reservation of Article 14 (providing compensation to the victim of torture) of the convention. The Bangladesh Rehabilitation Centre for Trauma Victims (BRCT) has been observing the day in a befitting manner since 1998. This year's theme is -- "Let's erase torture."

Torture is one of the most horrifying abuses of human rights, taking a terrible toll on millions of individuals and their families. Rape, blows to the soles of the feet, suffocation in water, burns, electric shocks, sleep deprivation, shaking and beating are commonly used by torturers to break down an individual's personality. As terrible as the physical wounds are, the psychological and emotional scars are usually the most devastating and the most difficult to repair.

Although Article 35 (5) of Bangladesh constitution strictly prohibits any form of torture, it is a common phenomenon in Bangladesh. Victims of torture are affected mentally, and become socially isolated and shattered, ultimately becoming a burden on their families. A victim's family members are also affected, especially mentally. This is called secondary victimisation.

Torture not only affects the victim, it also threatens good governance, democracy and development. The aim of torture is to break down the personality of the victim and to create panic in the society.

In such a panicked society, even people who have not been subjected to torture dare not participate in any developmental activities. That is why it is said that torture is a threat to democracy and a barrier to development. Therefore, for the sake of democracy and development, we need to prevent torture.

Our experience shows that torture can be prevented before occurrence. Therefore, prevention is better than cure. Here we urge the government to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture.

The optional protocol establishes a system of regular visits by independent international and national bodies to places where people are deprived of their liberty, or become victims of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

An Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, was adopted by the UN on December 18, 2002, and was approval on June 26, 2006.

Article 3 of the optional protocol says each state shall set up, designate or maintain a national preventative mechanism for the prevention of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The state shall guarantee the functional independence of the national mechanism and the expenditure shall be borne by the United Nations.

Bangladesh has not yet ratified the optional protocol even though thirty-five countries have. BRCT is working to get it ratified by the government.

Bangladesh Rehabilitation Centre for Trauma Victims (BRCT) provides treatment to torture victims with a combination of medicare, physiotherapy, psychotherapy and counseling, and has developed an Integrated Rehabilitation Approach (IRA) which is conducted by a multi-disciplinary group including doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, psychotherapists, legal counselors and social workers.

Most victims are affected with problems such as nightmares, sleep disturbance, anxiety, depression and, in some cases, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is a challenge for the society to rehabilitate and integrate hundreds of victims to the society fully.

BRCT tries to rehabilitate them through a Victims' Association (VA), a self-help cooperative body, and also by registering them with the concerned government cooperative bodies. There are 46 such Victims' Associations in Khulna division.

Local professionals can also play a vital role in preventing torture, and can provide safety and security to the victims. BRCT has a Taskforce Against Torture (TFT), a group of local professionals consisting of journalists, doctors, lawyers and social workers, so that they can prevent torture and provide treatment to the victims of torture at local level.

On the occasion of the UN International Day in Support of Victim of Torture, BRCT recommends and urges the government:

* To create a National Human Rights Commission, Police Complaints Authority to carry out investigations promptly and effectively and to order appropriate actions.

* Adopt legislation making torture a specific criminal offence. Some of the laws such as Article 197, 161, 54, 167 etc of CrPC are contradictory to the provision of Convention Against Torture. The laws need to reform to prevent torture.

* Reform the police by enhancing accountability and transparency as well as professional capacity, facilities and salary to remove the incentive for corruption. New legislation replacing the colonial police act should be introduced.

* Bangladesh ratifies the Convention Against Torture with a reservation of Article 14 of the convention, which obliges government to provide compensation and rehabilitation of victim of torture and his families. Providing compensation by the perpetrators of torture will prevent recurrence of torture. Therefore we urge the government to withdraw the reservation and fully ratify the convention for the rehabilitation of torture survivors.

* Many cases of torture are happening in police custody. So we urge the government to ratify the optional protocol to the convention to help national prevention mechanism to prevent torture.

* BRCT also urges the government to ratify the UN Declaration of the Human Rights Defenders and to disseminate it with a view to ensure safeguard to the human rights defenders who have been fighting against torture.

Akram H. Chowdhury is the founding secretary general of Bangladesh Rehabilitation Centre for Trauma Victims (BRCT).

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