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“All Citizens are Equal before Law and are Entitled to Equal Protection of Law”-Article 27 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

Issue No: 244
July 1, 2006

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Law Campaign
Star Law analysis
Reviewing the views
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Ratify the OPCAT

Ahmed Sayeed

The Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT), which will establish the first international system of detention monitoring of its kind in the world, has already entered into force on June 22, 2006. Following the simultaneous ratification by Bolivia and Honduras on 23 May 2006, the instrument now has the necessary twenty ratifications to come into effect. Nice to see that this came as a great news specially to the victims of torture in the eve of International Day in Support of Torture victims and Survivors (June 26) after a long negotiation of almost four years.

The UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) entered into force on 26 June 1987 and Bangladesh has ratified it in 1998 without much delay putting a question mark on its willingness to eliminate torture by declaring that it “ will apply article 14 paragraph 1 in consonance with the existing laws and legislation in the country”. Article 14 paragraph 1 states “ each state party shall ensure in its legal system that the victim of an act of torture obtains redress and has an enforceable right to fair and adequate compensation, including the means for as full rehabilitation as possible. In the event of the death of the victim as a result of an act of torture, his dependents shall be entitled to compensation.” However there are no laws in Bangladesh that implement the provisions of article 14 paragraph 1.

Bangladesh is also lagging far behind in terms of the reporting obligation under the convention. The initial report has been pending for 7 years since November 1999 and the second periodic report is pending since November 2003.

Moreover, various domestic laws are contrary to the rights of victims and perpetuates impunity for perpetrators of torture. Impunity, for example, is enshrined in Sections 132 and 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which legislate that prior sanction by the government is required in order for courts to take cognizance of any offence committed by any public servant, including members of the police or other forces, while on official duty. Furthermore, the government can decide whether an offence will be prosecuted and if yes, in which court will be tried. In addition, the Indemnity Act 2003, which was brought into force following the notorious Operation Clean Heart in which more than 11,000 people were allegedly arrested and 58 were tortured to death in 2002, enables blanket impunity to all actions performed by the army and other security forces during the period between October 2002 and January 2003. As regards the indemnity given to the special force, the government also ignored the urgent appeal made by the special rapporteur on extra judicial killing jointly with the special rapporteur on torture on 30 October 2002. On 21 Januray 2003 they sent another urgent appeal concerning the indemnity ordinance for the army personnel deployed in the special operation. In the urgent appeal the special rapporteurs expressed concern that if the ordinance were approved by the Parliament no soldier would be investigated or brought to justice for the alleged deaths or torture which were reported to have taken place during the crack down.

This culture of endorsing immunity has subsequently contributed to make torture rampant in Bangladesh. After the withdrawal of Operation Clean Heart in June 2004, the special force called Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) was brought to the field by the Armed Police Battalions (Amendment) Act, 2003. This amendment has been done on the “The Armed police Battalions ordinance, 1979”. And according to the Section 6(b) of the Act the RAB has been entrusted with any kind of investigation under direct instruction of the Government.

Death by law enforcing agencies: January 2004- April 2006
Force/AgencyNature of Death
RAB & Police
Kobra & Chita
BDR/ Army
Joint Force
"Crossfire" (without arrest)
"Crossfire" (in custody)
Physical Torture (Without arrest)
Physical Torture (in Custody)
Shooting/Shot (Without arrest)
Shooting/shot(in Custody)
Note: The ward `Crossfire' has been used in the newspapers.

RAB from the very beginning of its operation has been engaged in extra judicial killings, which are typically excused as 'death in crossfire'. According to the statistics compiled by the Documentation Unit of Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), between June 2004 to the end of the year 59 people have been killed in “crossfire”. While as per the statistics of the same source in 2005 as many as 112 persons have been killed by RAB and other law-enforcing agencies following the showed path of 'crossfire' in maximum cases.

The pervasive fear atmosphere created by the ruthless of the RAB operation is to the extent that many of the victim's family remains scared to talk to outsiders, not to think of lodging the complaint for grievances and to seek justice. This could imply that the actual number of persons killed extra judicially by the RAB could be even more.

The most outrageous is instead of persecuting or criticizing the government of Bangladesh has taken the way of appreciation of the killings of RAB and the elite force has even awarded the Independence Award in 2005.

Thus the killings and torture are in a rising trend. In the first four months of 2006, the law enforcing agencies has killed 101 people. The following table prepared by ASK Documentation Unit on the basis of newspapers will show the range and method of torture of the law enforcing agencies.

At present Bangladesh is serving as one of the members of the newly formed UN Human Rights Council, which is convening its first session in Geneva right now. Will Bangladesh take this historic opportunity to show her real willingness against the culture of torture? Giving a declaration to ratify the OPCAT could be an appropriate mean to express that commitment.

The author is a human rights activist, working as the Coordinator, Media & Communication Unit, Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK).


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