<%-- Page Title--%>
<%-- Navigation Bar--%>
<%-- Navigation Bar--%>
International's Report on Bangladesh '2003
Death in custody, torture, arbitrary arrest and other human
rights violations routinely ignored by government
For decades, successive
governments in Bangladesh have failed to curb serious human rights violations
arising from the use of legislation and widespread practices in the law-enforcement
and justice system which violate international human rights standards.
These violations include torture, deaths in custody; arbitrary detention
of government opponents and others; excessive use of force leading at
times to extra-judicial executions; the death penalty; sporadic attacks
against members of minority groups; and acts of violence against women.
detention, undermining the judicial system
Each year, thousands of people are arbitrarily detained under
administrative detention laws, which deny them access to judicial remedies.
The most commonly used of these laws is the Special Powers Act, 1974 (SPA).
In practice, when the government invokes the SPA, it is invariably to
detain members of opposition parties. When the district magistrates invokes
the Act, it is usually to secure the detention of someone whose release
- whether or not on bail - would, in their opinion, cause the commission
of a "prejudicial act".
Although the SPA gives a wide discretion to the detaining authority to
act according to its own opinion, in practice, most detention orders are
declared unlawful by the high court - but only on procedural grounds.
This is because the Constitution empowers the High Court to satisfy itself
that a person is detained in custody under a lawful authority. Calls for
the repeal of the SPA has come from the Bangladeshi legal community and
human rights organisations. It has also come from political parties but
only when they are in opposition. When in government, they have defended
the use of the SPA and maintained it.
For many years, torture has been the most widespread and persistent human
rights violation in Bangladesh but has been routinely ignored by successive
governments since Bangladesh's independence in 1971.
Children, women, the elderly, opposition politicians, criminal suspects,
and innocent bystanders in the streets, have all been victims of torture.
Perpetrators are most often police personnel but members of the armed
forces carrying out law enforcement duties have also been involved in
Methods of torture have included beating with rifle butts, iron rods,
bamboo sticks, or bottles filled with hot water so they do not leave marks
on the body, hanging by the hands, rape, "water treatment" in
which hose pipes are fixed into each nostril and taps turned on full for
two minutes at a time, the use of pliers to crush fingers, and electric
Successive governments in Bangladesh have failed to prevent torture, despite
provisions in the Constitution of Bangladesh and their obligation to provide
durable and effective protection against torture to the people in the
country under treaties which Bangladesh has ratified.
Impunity is one of the major reason why torture continues. Government
authorities have persistently failed to bring perpetrators of torture
to justice. Allegations of torture are rarely investigated, particularly
when victims are members of opposition parties. On the rare occasions
when allegations of torture have been investigated, this has usually been
due to a public outcry generated by the death of the victim. In other
cases, victims who have filed complaints about torture in police custody
have been put under pressure to withdraw the case. This has most often
been done by threats and intimidation, but in some instances, money has
been offered to the victim in return for the withdrawal of the case as
"out of court settlement".
Furthermore, judicial proceedings against a public employee - including
a police officer - can proceed only if the government authorises that
proceeding. In practice, the government rarely does so.
While the constitution of Bangladesh guarantees fundamental human rights
and specifically forbids torture and while torture is a criminal act under
the Penal Code, a number of laws in Bangladesh create the conditions which
facilitate torture. The most commonly used of these is Section 54 of the
Code of Criminal Procedure. Section 54 enables the police to arrest anyone
without a warrant of arrest and keep them in detention for up to 24 hours
on vaguely formulated grounds. In all cases of detention under Section
54 of the Code of Criminal Procedure reported to Amnesty International,
the detainees claimed that they had been tortured and that torture began
from the moment of their arrest.
Legal immunity from prosecution to perpetrators of torture
On 9 January, President Iajuddin Ahmed issued "The Joint Drive Indemnity
Ordinance 2003" which provided impunity to "members of the joint
forces and any person designated to carry out responsibilities in aid
of civil administration during the period between 16 October 2002 and
9 January 2003". Under the ordinance, no civil or criminal procedure
could be invoked against "disciplinary forces" or any government
official for "arrests, searches, interrogation and other steps taken"
during this period.
The Ordinance related to "Operation Clean Heart" which started
on 17 October as a campaign against crime carried out jointly by army
and police forces. The campaign was the government's response to growing
concern within Bangladesh and the international community about the continuing
deterioration in law and order, including a rise in criminal activity,
murder, rape and acid throwing. At least 40 men reportedly died as a result
of torture after being arrested by the army. The government acknowledged
only 12 deaths and claimed they were due to heart failure. Families of
the victims and human rights activists, however, claimed the deaths resulted
from severe torture while in army custody.
ruling for safeguards against torture
On 7 April 2003, the High Court announced its judgement on a
writ petition in public interest filed before the court in November 1998
by three Bangladeshi human rights organisations and five concerned individuals
following the death of a man in police custody in July 1998. The petition
sought mandatory guidelines to prevent torture in custody after arrest
under Section 54. The judgement restricts arbitrary use of administrative
detention law including the Special Powers Act. It makes it mandatory
for the police to inform the family members of anyone arrested; for the
accused to be interrogated by an investigation officer in prison instead
of police interrogation cell, and behind a glass screen so that his/her
family members and lawyers can observe whether or not he or she is being
tortured; and for the detainee to receive medical examination before and
after remand into police custody. It empowers the courts to take action
against the investigating officer on any complaint of torture if it is
confirmed by medical examination. It directs the government to amend relevant
laws, including Section 54, within six months to provide safeguards against
their abuse, and recommends raising prison terms for wrongful confinement
and malicious prosecution.
Lack of independent
The failure of successive governments to address human rights violations
in a consistent and effective manner points to the desperate need for
an independent, impartial and competent human rights watchdog in the country
- such as a National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). Human rights defenders
and the international community have been urging Bangladeshi governments
to set up a NHRC. Both the previous Awami League government and the present
BNP government have acknowledged the necessity for its formation, but
neither have taken the appropriate action to establish it.
Concerning the Special Powers Act
Amnesty International considers the Special Powers Act a law designed
to bypass safeguards against arbitrary detention. It allows the government
to detain people who are not charged with recognisably criminal offences.
It circumvents the rules of evidence and standard of proof in the criminal
justice system, leaving individuals, who should be presumed innocent unless
found guilty by a court, at risk of being punished without trial. Amnesty
International believes that it is a violation of fundamental human rights
for states to detain people whom they do not intend to prosecute or deport.
Amnesty International is therefore urging the Government of Bangladesh
to repeal the Special Powers Act as it has pledged to do.
the use of Section 54
Establish clear and enforceable safeguards against abuse of Sections 54
of the Code of Criminal Procedure and other administrative detention procedures
resulting in torture.
Ensure that the magistrates do not ignore safeguards against unlawful
detention when ordering a prisoner's remand into police custody; to that
effect, ensure that the prisoners are physically produced before the magistrates
when police request a prisoner's remand into custody, and ensure that
the magistrates actively take steps to ascertain whether or not the detainee
has been tortured, taking care not to prejudice the detainee's safety,
for example, by asking questions in the presence of the detaining police
Investigate every allegation of torture through an impartial and independent
inquiry to identify perpetrators of torture according to international
Ensure that all perpetrators of torture and those whose negligence has
facilitated torture are brought to justice without delay.
Make public all reports of previous commissions of inquiry into allegations
of torture and any such future reports.
Provide compensation to torture victims or their families.
Invite the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Commission on Human
Rights on Torture to visit Bangladesh.
Amend Bangladeshi law to reflect the provisions of the international human
rights instruments to which Bangladesh is a party.
Implement the Principles on the Effective Investigation and Documentation
of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Implement the recommendations of the UN Special Rapporteur on torture
to the General Assembly of July 2001.
Concerning police training
Train police personnel in effective methods of investigation which respects
human rights. Make it clear to them that any act of torture including
rape and sexual abuse of detainees is a criminal act punishable by law.
Ensure that training on the gathering, analysis and preservation of evidence
and other aspects of the investigation of alleged crimes, including techniques
of interviewing and taking statements from suspects and witnesses, is
designed to develop the capacity of the police to build a case in an efficient
manner that avoids reliance on coercion.
Ensure that human rights is a permanent component of police training,
reflected in long-term training plans and resources allocation. It should
be key component of all basic training for new recruits. It should also
be included in all relevant in-service courses, such as refresher courses,
training in crime investigation skills and public order policing.
Ensure that police personnel at all levels know that they will be held
personally responsible and accountable for their own actions or omissions.
Police personnel at all levels should be made aware that they have a right
and duty to disobey orders to carry out acts of torture or ill-treatment.
Ensure that all detainees are given immediate access to relatives, legal
counsel, medical assistance and relatives after being taken in custody.
Ensure that the detainees are promptly informed of their rights to lodge
complaints about their treatment.
Ensure that special training is given to the police on dealing sensitively
with issues of violence against women, as well as how to deal with all
women victims of crime, Female guards should be present during the interrogation
of female detainees and should be solely responsible for carrying out
any body searches of female detainees.
Ensure that children are detained only as a last resort and for the shortest
possible time. Special training should be given to the police on the specific
rights and needs of children. Training should involve how to deal sensitively
with issues of violence against children, as well as how to deal with
children that have been victims of crime.
Ensure that all training initiatives are linked to the creation of effective
Establish internal monitoring and investigation procedures to ensure that
allegation of human rights violations committed by police are immediately
and impartially investigated and those found responsible are brought to
the creation of a National
Human Rights Commission
Amnesty International encourages the creation of a national human rights
commission in Bangladesh if it conforms to Amnesty International recommendations
as detailed in its publication entitled: National Human Rights Institutions:
Amnesty International's recommendations for effective protection and promotion
of human rights.
It urges the Government of Bangladesh to ensure from the outset that a
such a commission is empowered as an independent body to investigate all
instances of human rights violations impartially and competently, regardless
of the identity of the perpetrator or their links to political parties.
It recommends that the creation of a national human rights commission
should be accompanied by a determined government policy aimed at holding
the perpetrators of human rights fully accountable, thus ensuring that
those who violate human rights cannot do so with impunity.
It reiterates that the creation of such a commission should go hand in
hand with a thorough review of existing legal and other institutions in
order to make these more effective instruments of human rights protection.
The implementation of these recommendations would be a decisive and welcome
step towards the fulfilment of Bangladesh's human rights obligations under
international human rights treaties to which Bangladesh is a state party.
These include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,
the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment
or Punishment, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention
on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
This is edited version of Amnesty Internationals'
report on Bangladesh.