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October 10, 2004

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Torture and death in custody

Oli Md. Abdullah Chowdhury

Human rights are rights possessed by all persons irrespective of their language, religion, ethnicity, economic condition and different abilities. The Constitution of the People Republic of Bangladesh guarantees human rights for the citizens of Bangladesh. Rights to life and equality before law are basic human rights principles and the constitution also ensures it. Besides, Bangladesh has signed and ratified a number of international human rights convention. The government is accountable for the fulfillment of those rights mentioned in the conventions that Bangladesh ratified as state party.

Definition of torture
Torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It has been defined in International Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Human Rights Convention
Right to life and protection from torture have been stated in Article 3 & 5 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). "Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person", says Article 3 of UDHR. Article 5 asserts that no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, human or degrading treatment or punishment. What would be the case with a person charged with a penal offence?

Article 13 of UDHR deals with it superbly. The article states, "Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence". International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) also explains right to life in Article 6 (1), "Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life."

Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) clarifies the responsibility of states in Article 2, 'Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction". "No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political in stability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture". Therefore, there is neither scope for the justification of torture in any situation nor an order from a superior officer or a public authority will be invoked as a justification of torture. Let alone political unrest, torture can't be invoked during the state of war even.

Constitutional safeguard against torture
The Constitution of the People's Republic of Bangladesh provides safeguard against torture. Article 35 (5) of the constitution addresses it directly, 'No person shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment or treatment'.

Moreover, a person accused of criminal offence has rights too. Right to an independent, impartial trial has been ensured for such persons articulated in Article 35(3)-"Every person accused of a criminal offence shall have the right to a speedy and public trial by an independent and impartial court or tribunal established by law".

Context of Bangladesh
There are reports of alleged deaths in police custody every year in Bangladesh by human rights organisations. There are reports of death of 17 people in the newspaper after the formation of RAB in April 14, 2004 (The Daily Prothom Alo, September 16, 2004). Though victims were charged with penal offence, their rights to trial have been denied.

During an investigation, ODHIKHAR found that Md. Sha Newaz Titu (30) was brutally tortured to death by RAB on August 4, 2004 at Choumohoni area under Double Mooring Thana in Chittagong. All the neighbours including children were witness to the immoral and brutal behaviour when RAB personnel entered into the house of Ziaul Alam where they demolished and messed up the goods and furniture of the two floor of the house.

Children witnessed those incidents will not learn anything positive from the act of torture and cruel, inhuman and negligible treatment. "States Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to The development of respect for the child's parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child is living, the country from which he or she may originate, and for civilizations different from his or her own"- as said in the Article 29 of UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). As Bangladesh ratified UNCRC, the government is accountable for the implementation of UNCRC and the torture incurred by law enforcing agencies in front of children certainly violates the rights of the children.

Concluding remarks
Training of law enforcement personnel, civil or military, medical personnel, public officials and other persons who may be involved in the custody, interrogation or treatment on human rights is badly needed because all these rights together are relevant to securing a quality of life that enables people to live with dignity and security. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment asserts in Article 10, "Each State Party shall ensure that education and information regarding the prohibition against torture are fully included in the training of law enforcement personnel, civil or military, medical personnel, public officials and other persons who may be involved in the custody, interrogation or treatment of any individual subjected to any form of arrest, detention or imprisonment". As a state party, will the government of Bangladesh take it seriously?

The writer is a human rights worker.

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