The Human Rights Forum Bangladesh yesterday called upon the government to make a time-bound action plan for implementing the recent recommendations of the United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) for Bangladesh.
To address the issue, specific pledges and their effective implementation have to come from the state’s highest levels. Besides, the government has to show political commitment, said members of the forum, a platform of 20 organisations, at a press conference in Dhaka Reporters Unity.
The CAT during its 67th session in Geneva, from July 22 to August 9, received Bangladesh’s initial report, which was submitted after nearly 20 years, and adopted some concluding observations.
Bangladesh acceded to “the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment” on October 5, 1998. According to article 19, paragraph 1, of the Convention, the state party was obligated to submit its initial report by November 4, 1999.
At the press conference, Supreme Court lawyer ZI Khan Panna said the UN body in its concluding observations made 77 recommendations for Bangladesh.
The body highlighted three areas as “priority issues” and asked the government to prepare a report on the progress made on those issues after a year, he said while reading out a statement.
The issues are: following the High Court directives to end custodial torture and death, establishing a mechanism to investigate allegations raised by detainees, and giving protection to those NGOs which are helping CAT, he added.
“Incidents of rights violation are mostly committed by state machineries,” said Panna, also chairperson of rights body Ain o Salish Kendra, stressing the need for ending such violations.
Addressing the press conference, Transparency International Bangladesh Executive Director Iftekharuzzaman said a section of law enforcement agency members was acting “as if they were violators rather than protectors of law”.
“My concern is, if this continues and cannot be controlled effectively, then there will be a time when their names have to be changed. The name of ‘law enforcement agency’ has to be changed to ‘law violation agency’,” he added.
He alleged that there were instances in which some law enforcers were directly or indirectly involved in various criminal activities, which was reported by the media and the information could also be obtained via other sources.
No one wants to see law enforcement agency members play such a role, he said, adding that the CAT in its concluding observations had made recommendations to attach importance, among others, to political will.
Iftekharuzzaman said besides departmental probes, there should be objective and independent investigations over allegations against law enforcement agency members.
Outcomes of departmental probes often resulted in “closing” or “transferring” or at best sending the members in question to retirement. This seemed to be a “reward”, he added.
He also emphasised the importance of conducting judicial probes over such allegations, mentioning that the UN body had also stressed the need for forming an independent body to probe various allegations against law enforcers.
According to information provided by the state party’s delegation, 17 cases have been filed against members of law enforcement agencies under the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act-2013, says the CAT.
The UN body is concerned that further information about these cases is not publicly available and was not provided by the delegation. It is also concerned about reports that no case filed under the act has been completed since its enactment.
It further expressed worry over reports that officials from the police and other authorities had repeatedly requested that the act be amended or repealed to shield certain forces from liability or to limit the scope of conduct prohibited by the law.
Pointing to the government’s “denial attitude” over issues related to torture, Shaheen Anam, executive director of Manusher Jonno Foundation, said the government’s image could have been positive if it had accepted the allegations and made pledges before the UN body to correct those.
She added that the government should see the country’s rights activists as its allies in combating such incidents.
Zakir Hossain, executive director of Nagorik Uddyog, said the home ministry has to play a strong role in ending custodial torture and other rights violations committed by law enforcement agency members.
Sanjeeb Drong, general secretary of Bangladesh Adivasi Forum, praised the government’s positive initiatives, which were welcomed by the CAT, like the state’s accession to and ratification of different international human rights instruments.