Lengthy rape trials frustrate victims
All the accused in 25 rape cases filed from 2012 to 2016 were granted bail between 24 hours and 15 days of arrest, although the offence is not bailable under Women and Children Repression Prevention Act 2000.
Most of the accused have tried to influence the procedures in different ways, according to the Manusher Jonno Foundation.
The findings, based on case follow-ups done by its partner NGOs, were presented by MJF at a virtual press conference yesterday.
MJF's partner NGOs followed up the current status of the 25 rape cases in their working areas to identify the reasons behind the lengthy trial procedures.
Seven NGOs conducted the follow-up research in Dhaka, Gazipur, Nilphamari, Kurigram, Dinajpur, Kishoreganj, Netrakona, Sherpur, Jamalpur and Joypurhat.
Currently, 20 of the 25 accused are out on bail, three are in jail, while two are roaming free under the protection of influential locals.
The exception in section 19 (4) of the act, which entitles any person accused of the offence to get bail upon the court's satisfaction to ensure that justice is not hampered, is being misused in current practise, MJF said.
In addition, investigation and charge sheet submissions were delayed as an overwhelming majority of these cases are still under trial and at the hearing stage, while charge sheets have been filed in 22 cases six months after the case was filed, according to the findings.
Section 18 of the law, however, mandates that investigation has to be completed within 15 working days after the arrest of the accused. If the accused is not arrested, investigation has to be completed within 90 working days of the FIR being lodged or the tribunal order.
In 20 of the 22 charge sheets, dates of hearings have been fixed some 8-23 times and the hearings were postponed due to non-appearance of most of the witnesses.
According to the findings, in most cases, victims' parents were unwilling to go to court out of their frustration about the legal battle, while poor parents are reluctant to continue legal battles due to financial constraints. The public prosecutors, meanwhile, do not take any initiative to produce the victim and the witness in court on the date of the case.
MJF's partner organisations also found that nine cases filed during 2014-15 and 12 cases filed during 2016-2017 are yet to get verdicts, although the law mandates completion of cases within 180 days of the date of receipt of documents for trial.
And, once the hearing has begun, it will have to be conducted every working day, but that is not being followed properly.
No progress has been noticed in two cases, no charge sheet has been filed in three cases, and documents of four cases were unavailable, MJF said.
It was also found that children and female victims are being blamed and mistreated in the judicial process by police and the defendant's attorneys.
Besides, even though adjudicating the crime of rape is uncompromising under the law, courts often compromise under circumstantial pressure.
Two differently abled women gave births to two children, but the fathers of these two children have not been identified yet and although the state is supposed to bear the responsibility of children born as a result of rape, that guideline too is not being implemented, MJF found.
According to MJF, even though the two-finger tests have been banned by the High Court, the process is still followed in remote areas. In addition, although rape cases are closely related to the age of the victim, medical reports do not accurately state the age and most district hospitals in the country do not have a system to determine the age of the victim.
In many cases, DNA testing is not done, while the accused sometimes influences the results of the test, according to MJF.
MJF Executive Director Shaheen Anam, who moderated the conference, said, "Unless the justice system is fully strengthened and people's attitude towards women and girls are transformed positively, the menace of rape will continue and the subsequent trial process will continue to remain unhelpful to rape victims."
Senior lawyer Elina Khan said, "There is no 24-hour forensic lab in the country, which we need urgently."
Placing several recommendations, MJF demanded reforming rape laws, enacting witness protection laws, completing investigations and trials on time, and instituting strong monitoring of whether or not legal provisions are being properly observed and taking swift action against those responsible.
It also suggested amending relevant laws so that persons with language, hearing and intellectual disabilities can testify in rape cases.
Programme coordinators Nazrana Hira and Ruma Sultana presented the documents at the event.