Has any member of the Government actually read the recent Human Rights Watch report alleging custodial deaths, torture and unfair trials following the Bangladesh Rifles mutiny.

The law minister’s speedy dismissal of the allegations as ‘false, baseless and concocted’ would suggest that he at least has not; that the government is only interested in providing a ‘political’ response to the report rather than one which engages with the details of the international human right organization’s claims.

Human Rights Watch is generally respected for the quality of its research, but even it can make mistakes-and it is always difficult to investigate and corroborate allegations of custodial torture. There is, therefore, nothing wrong with a government contesting allegations made by the organization-but for any criticisms to have credibility they must actually engage with the substance of the report’s findings.

Alleging that the HRW is part of some kind of international conspiracy, and that its claims are false, might feel satisfying at the time and make instant headlines, but I would guess that name-calling an organization like the HRW only acts to discredit the perception of the government held by the general public.

Whilst most of the information in the report on torture comes from the relatives of the detained/deceased BDR men, the claims made by the HRW are detailed and consistent, is made by named (not anonymous) individuals and are in a number of cases backed up by post mortem reports, medical records and the current poor physical health conditions of the detained men.

So if the law minister expects anyone other than the Awami League’s party loyalists to accept that the report is ‘false, baseless and concocted’, then first he must answer some obvious questions that any cursory reading of the report will raise.

So let me make a challenge to the law minister-or indeed anyone else in the government. Before making any further comment about the HRW report, first please respond to these 25 questions.

The Asian Human Rights Commission worked in close collaboration with the Private Member in the drafting of this law. This draft has incorporated the most developed conceptions of law on this matter and deals with some of the more difficult problems of investigations and prosecutions on torture in the Bangladesh context.

The global community is deeply committed to the promotion of the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) and for the elimination of torture globally. The experiences of many countries that have already had similar laws for a long period now are valuable examples for Bangladesh. The successful adoption of this law in the country will enhance the respect for the rule of law and protect the rights of the people, particularly relating to fair trial.

The Bangladesh Awami League ratified the CAT on 5th October 1998. One of the requirements of the CAT is that the ratifying state must enact an enabling law to make torture declared as a serious crime recognized in the country. This has not been done so far and this requirement will be fulfilled if the proposed bill, now placed before parliament, is enacted as soon as possible.

In the past there had been various objections to treating torture and custodial deaths as serious crimes in Bangladesh. Some have argued that Bangladesh being a third world country requires the use of third degree methods for the control of crime and for dealing with serious political opponents to ruling regimes. However, the adoption of such narrow views will only denigrate Bangladesh before the eyes of its own people as well as the international community.

The development of democracy and rule of law requires that the primitive methods of dealing with criminal investigations should be displaced. Experience has clearly demonstrated that allowing the use of torture leads to the abuse of the powers. The police and military often use these powers for unjust enrichment by way of bribery and corruption and also to suppress freedom of expression and association.

The development of a proper criminal investigation system depends on the possibility of proper inquiries being conducted into crimes without brutal methods such as torture and cruel and inhuman treatment.

The presentation of this bill before parliament should provide an opportunity for an enlightened discussion on all matters relating to justice in Bangladesh. We hope that all persons of good will and all civil society leaders will take an active part in the promotion of this proposed bill so that both the public and the civil service will be able to appreciate the benefits of this law.

The Asian Human Rights Commission urges all law makers of Bangladesh to take an active part in the passing of this law as soon as possible, thus providing the people of the country the benefit of a law that they are very much entitled to.