A news report and an editorial from the New Age, sent by odhikar, forwarded by the Asian Human Rights Commission

Bangladesh: Victims of Custodial Torture Cry for Justice in a Public Trial.

Mock trial calls for prosecution of people involved in torture Staff Rafique-ul Haq speaks at a mock trial called Tribunal against Torture organised by Odhikar and the European Union at the BRAC Centre Inn in Dhaka.

A mock trial called Tribunal against Torture on Tuesday called for prosecution of law enforcement agencies members for their involvement in secret killings, enforced disappearances and torture in custody as such crimes amount to the breach of the constitution. The jury said that all the people accused in the mock trial were criminals and there should be no scope of indemnity for them.

The most senior member of the jury, Rafique-ul Haq, also a former attorney general, in his opinion said that the executive and the judiciary need to change their mentality and if courts were not bold enough, such torture would continue. ‘It is not enough to enact laws, their enforcement has to be ensured to uphold human rights.’ ‘We often call the Appellate Division a ‘stay division’ but Mahmudur Rahman had to face seven months’ imprisonment for making the same remark. The highest punishment for it is imprisonment for six months but he was given a month extra in bonus,’ Rafique-ul Haq said.

Another member of the jury, Mofazzal Karim, a former bureaucrat, stressed the need for good governance to stop all forms of torture. ‘Incidents of torture are increasing as the backbone of the administration has collapsed,’ he said.

Citing the deposition of Parvin Huq, sister of Faruk Hossain Kamal who was tortured to death in police custody, jury member Farida Akhtar said that anyone accused of any offence should be brought to justice. ‘It is an extreme injustice to kill him instead putting him on the dock.’ The three-member panel heard deposition of of six victims or their relatives who narrated the incidents.

Shahjahan Khan, father of the deceased Rabiul Islam Khokan from Noakhali, Tania Sultana Moly, wife of the deceased soldier of the then Bangladesh Rifles, businessman Abu Reza Rony Maradona from Magura and the acting Amar Desh editor Mahmudur Rahman also gave their depositions in the tribunal. Jurists Shaheen Ahmed and M Shamsul Haque acted for the victims.

The situation became heart-rending when the relatives began wailing as they were describing the incidents of torture. It became tough to hold tears for the audience when Golam Sarwar, father of nine-year-old Belal Hossain, described torture of the little boy in custody.

The programme was held as part of the observance of International Day in Support of Victims of Torture organised by Odhikar and the European Union at the BRAC Centre Inn, followed by a discussion in the afternoon.

The head of EU delegation in Dhaka, William Hanna, said that the prime concern of European Union now was human rights situation across the world and it was monitoring the developments. He said the European Union was also working in Bangladesh in cooperation with organisations such as Odhikar. He also referred to the reaffirmation of Catherine Ashton, the EU high representative, about the European Union’s commitment to the prevention and eradication of torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment and to the full rehabilitation of torture victims in all parts of the world. ‘This day is an occasion to speak up against this abhorrent violation of human rights and human dignity. Torture is not only a tragedy for the victims, it is also degrading and injuring those who perpetrate it to societies which tolerate such outrage. The absolute prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment is unequivocally established under international law. No culture of impunity is acceptable,’ Hanna quoted Ashton as saying.

In response, the moderator of session, the New Age editor, Nurul Kabir, citing a New York Times article written by former US president Jimmy Carter, said that Bangladesh also expects the European Union to monitor the west-sponsored violation of human rights in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries.

Communist Party of Bangladesh presidium member Haider Akbar Khan Rono said that there is an elected government in Bangladesh and it is in no way democratic but absolutely fascist. Citing a number of incidents of torture and disappearances, Haider Akbar Khan said that there was no solution to such fascist regime but a movement against fascism as it happened in Europe. ‘We become totally helpless when the state lies,’ he said.

The Samakal managing editor, Abu Sayeed Khan, recalled the torture in custody during movement against the military junta in 1983. ‘We had hopes that after establishing democracy, such things would be eliminated. The irony is that the people who formed governments through democratic means also used torture as a tool of repression,’ he said.

Ganasanghati Andolan’s central coordination committee member Abdus Salam stressed the need for a democratic metamorphosis of the state as the state has lost its acceptability to the people with such incidents of torture. He said that the people’s representatives had become pawns of their respective parties and could not enact laws in the interest of the people.

Rajekuzzaman Ratan, a central committee member of Bangladesher Samajtantrik Dal, said that a culture of oppression had been created and the people need to understand the politics behind it and its prime motive that is to plunder wealth. He also stressed the need for resistance against torture alongside protective measures for the victims.

Kalpana Akhtar of the Bangladesh Centre for Workers’ Solidarity narrated the killing of apparel worker leader Aminul Huq. She said that Aminul had been abducted by intelligence agency people from Baipail and the Ghatail police had found him dead after two days. He could be identified after his photograph was published in newspapers. He was buried as ‘unnamed’ in a graveyard at Kalihati in Tangail. ‘I am quite sure that the police would not have prepared the inquest report if they had known who he was. The report said that both of his knees were broken, there was a mark of drilling beneath the right knee and all of the toes were hammered. Even after such cruel torture, he was strangled,’ she said. Kalpana called for resisting such a culture of torture. ‘Today six people gave their depositions. If we do not resist it, tomorrow there will be 60 people to give their depositions. We cannot allow such things to continue.’

Odhikar also held protests in 25 district headquarters marking the day and submitted memorandums to the district administrations seeking an end to torture. A photographic exhibition of Shahidul Alam of Drik called Corssfire also marked the observance of the day.

Custodial torture undermines human rights and dignity

THAT at least 64 people fell victim to custodial death, while 238 more to custodial torture, as mentioned in a recent report of the rights organization Odhikar, which has been quoted in a New Age report on Tuesday, between January 6, 2009 — the day the Awami League-Jatiya Party government took office — and May 31, 2012 is not only alarming but also marks a gross violation of the incumbents’ election pledge to establish the rule of law and ‘strictly’ enforce human rights. The government is yet to enact a law directed to end ‘torture and inhuman or degrading treatment by law enforcers or government officials’ although a bill in this regard has been placed in parliament by one of its lawmakers on September 10, 2009 while the parliamentary standing committee on private members’ bill recommended its passage on March 10, 2011 after completing necessary scrutiny. Meanwhile, like its predecessors- especially the previous political government of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led alliance, the incumbent administration also appears hell-bent on defying the High Court directives issued in April 2003 which were aimed at stemming excesses and atrocities by law enforcers in terms of arresting people out of mere suspicion and interrogating the remanded detainees. According to the report, the court’s directives included amendment to Section 167 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, building rooms with glass walls in jails for interrogation of the arrested and, until such kind of rooms are made available, conducting interrogation at jail gates in the presence of relatives of the arrested and lawyers.

Notably, while it is yet to ratify the United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, Bangladesh ratified the original convention in 1998 and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 2000. That apart, the constitution describes torture as a criminal act. Yet, successive governments since independence have allowed members of different law enforcement agencies to resort to this illegal act when it comes to even dealing with their opponents, political or otherwise. With the passage of time, giving a freehand to the law enforcers may have contributed to the emergence of extrajudicial executions of various sorts, which have become widespread in recent times despite criticisms and condemnations at home and abroad.

Inflicting physical torture on one eventually leads to distorting the victims’ soul which amounts to dehumanising them. In addition, without being dehumanised themselves, the torturers cannot engage in such heinous acts. Against this backdrop, application of torture techniques by the law enforcers relates to undermining human rights as well as human dignity of the tortured. Hence, not only the human rights watchdogs but also those who seek to have a humane society need to raise their voice against such acts. At the same time, however, the court also immediately needs to come forward with follow-up actions to make the government come out of its apathy to reining in the law enforcers, particularly when it concerns custodial death and torture.

Torture, Extrajudicial Killings, and Other Abuses

Despite strong evidence that security forces were continuing to arbitrarily arrest people, often torturing and then killing them in custody, the home minister refused to acknowledge the need for accountability. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said her government had zero tolerance for extrajudicial killings, but failed to properly investigate allegations and prosecute the perpetrators.

On May 21, 2011, William Gomes, a representative of the Asian Human Rights Commission, was allegedly picked up by plainclothes RAB personnel and taken to a place his abductors described as “headquarters,” where he was stripped naked, had his hands and legs cuffed, was forced into stress position, and was verbally abused and threatened with physical torture. He was interrogated about his work documenting human rights violations.

In at least two cases, the Home Ministry ignored its own findings that RAB was responsible for wrongful killings. According to Odhikar, a Dhaka-based human rights organization, at least 1,600 people have been victims of extrajudicial killings since 2004. Before the Awami League came to power, its leaders had accused RAB of widespread extrajudicial killings; they now claim that all deaths occur during armed exchanges with criminals.

The military and police continue to employ torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment against suspects, violating both domestic and international law. Many deaths in custody are never investigated. According to Odhikar, at least 12 people died in custody due to police torture in 2011.