A timely call
THE call made by participants at a discussion held in the city on Saturday for the passage of the Torture and Custodial Death (Prohibition) Bill meant to prevent custodial deaths as well as torture by law enforcing agencies and government officials, which is pending in parliament, indeed resonates with the public sentiment. According to a New Age report on Sunday, the discussants also urged the government to adopt the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
It may be worth noting that Bangladesh ratified the international convention against torture in October 1998. A lawmaker from the treasury bench placed a bill consistent with the convention in parliament on September 10, 2009 which proposed punishments that include life-terms and suspension from service during investigation against perpetrators, ‘regardless of whether the offender is a member of regular law enforcement agencies or the armed forces, or of any public office’. It also proposed a timeframe of seven months since the recording of the complaint for investigation and six months from the filing of the charge sheet against the accused for completing the trial. The parliamentary standing committee on private members’ bills and resolutions has also recommended passage of the bill with some amendments. Regrettably, however, there has been little progress since.
The call comes at a time when custodial deaths and torture have marked an alarming rise. Ever since the incumbent Awami League-Jatiya Party government assumed power in 2009, there have been lots of cases across the country in which members of different law enforcing agencies, particularly the police and the Rapid Action Battalion, allegedly picked up people from their houses or streets even in broad daylight, that too without any charge, and tortured them mercilessly. What is worse, all but a few cases like the one of Kader, a Dhaka University student who fell victim to police brutality in the capital Dhaka in July last year and later got redress following the intervention of the High Court, have remained so far unaddressed. The less said about the torture unleashed more often than not by the law enforcers in particular on opposition leaders and activists the better. Unfortunately, such an obnoxious tactic apparently to tame the opposition camp has remained popular with successive governments regardless of their political inclination since independence. Needless to say, the existence of a law in question would at least allow the victims of the brutality of the law enforcers to seek redress in the court of law.
To comply not only with the constitution but also its election pledge that ‘human rights will be strictly enforced’, the incumbents immediately need to pay heed to the call in question.
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