On 10 November 2018, Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST) organised a seminar titled ‘Redress for Rape: Ensuring Deterrence, Punishment and Reparation’ at the BILIA Auditorium in Dhaka. This was the final seminar in a series of four expert consultation seminars on the review and proposed reform of laws on rape, hosted by BLAST between July and November, which will lead to a national conference in December 2018.
The welcome address was given by Sara Hossain, Honorary Executive Director, BLAST, who explained that the objective of the seminar was to analyse whether penalties currently imposed for the offence of rape are proportionate, how sentencing in rape trials is affected by the absence of sentencing guidelines, and whether imposing the death penalty for rape acts as a deterrent or results in lower conviction rates.
Dr. Mahbubur Rahman, Associate Professor, Department of Law, University of Dhaka, conducted the first presentation titled “Punishment for Rape in Bangladesh: Has Punitive Rhetoric Backfired?”, where he delineated the role of certainty and severity of punishment as key factors for deterrence, and discussed them in relation to the Nari O Shishu Nirjatan Daman Ain 2000. He observed that the overall conviction rate for rape in Bangladash is abysmally low, 3% being recorded as the highest rate across all five Nari O Shishu Nirjatan Daman tribunals, which indicates that existing penalties are not acting as effective deterrents. Dr. Rahman outlined the lack of proper investigation into rape complaints, ineffectiveness of law enforcement agencies, public prosecutors and special tribunals, stringent bail provisions, and the possibility of false charges of rape and sexual violence, as the key reasons behind these failing conviction rates.
Taqbir Huda, Research Specialist, BLAST, conducted the second presentation titled “Beyond Criminal Justice: Establishing Compensation as a Remedy for Rape”. He explained that while the 2000 Act allowsjudges to treat fines imposed in rape cases as compensation to the victim/survivor, this discretion is seldom exercised and is dependent on the conviction of the accused. Mr Huda recommended three ways compensation can be established as a remedy for rape: amending relevant sections of the 2000 Act to grant victims compensation as of right; establishing a state-run compensation fund (as in the India and the UK) which would enable a victim/survivor to apply for compensation irrespective of the perpetrator being identified and prosecuted; recognising a victim/survivor’s civil claim for damages in tort against both the perpetrator and relevant third parties (through negligence or vicarious liability).
The presentations were followed by a panel discussion led by Advocate U M Habibunnesa, Member, Naripokkho and Barrister Md. Abdul Halim, Advocate, Supreme Court of Bangladesh.
Justice Nizamul Huq, Chief Legal Advisor, BLAST and former Justice of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh gave the closing remarks where he highlighted the need to look into the low rate of conviction and stated that law has to be flexible to enable the courts to sentence based on the gravity of the offence, circumstances of each case and factors affecting both the victims and the perpetrators.
The seminar was moderated by Taslima Yasmin, Assistant Professor, Department of Law, University of Dhaka.
Event was covered by Barrister Abdullah Anbar Anan Titir, Research Specialist, BLAST.