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CAT findings on torture: UN body recommends independent inquiry into allegations against law enforcers

  • Published at 12:59 pm August 10th, 2019
File photo of Members of RAB stand guard Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

The UN Committee Against Torture has expressed concern over the allegations of routine torture, ill-treatment by Bangladeshi law enforcement

The United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) has recommended that the Bangladesh government commission independent inquiry into allegations of torture and ill-treatment raised against the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB). 

The UN agency unveiled its findings on human rights records in Bangladesh, along with several recommendations, yesterday, according to a news release forwarded by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland.

The findings, officially termed concluding observations, contain positive aspects of Bangladesh in implementing the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, highlight the UN body’s main matters of concern in terms of human rights violation, and make recommendations regarding the allegations of such violations.

In the report, the Committee Against Torture expressed concern at consistent reports alleging widespread and routine torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement officials for the purpose of obtaining confessions or to solicit the payment of bribes, the lack of publicly available information on these cases, and failure to ensure accountability for law enforcement agencies, particularly the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB). 

The committee is seriously concerned at numerous, consistent reports of arbitrary arrests, unacknowledged detention and enforced disappearances, and reports of excessive use of force, including in the context of recent elections and public demonstrations. 

The committee recommended that the government publicly acknowledge that torture will not be tolerated under any circumstances, and ensure that its authorities, preferably independent bodies, carry out prompt, impartial, effective criminal investigations into all complaints of torture, ill-treatment, unacknowledged detention, disappearances, and death in custody. It recommended an independent inquiry into such allegations raised against RAB members. 

When contacted last night, RAB Additional Director General (Operation) Col Tofayel Mustafa Sorwar, who was with the Bangladesh delegation to attend the session of UN Committee Against Torture (CAT) on July 30-31, said they had responded to the allegations made by the committee at the meeting in Geneva.

"We have presented the explanations from our side against the allegations made at the meeting. Now, Law Minister Anisul Huq, who was our team leader, can make formal comments on the observations made by the UN committee,” he told Dhaka Tribune.

Dhaka Tribune reached out to the law minister around 9:40pm yesterday. The minister said he was still reading the Committee Against Torture observations and would not make a comment before studying it completely.

The other observations

The UN Committee Against Torture expressed concern about alleged pressure on the judiciary that constrains fundamental legal safeguards. The limited use of the mandate of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to investigate torture was noted as an issue.

It also expressed concern about inadequate prison conditions, violence against women and ethnic and religious minorities, and corporal punishment in law and against children. It is also concerned about trafficking, including that of the Rohingyas. It noted that civil society activists and human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists have faced harassment and violence for dealing with torture cases and other serious human rights violations.

It recommended that an independent vetting procedure guided by the UN be established for all proposed peacekeepers.

The Bangladesh government was advised to amend legislation such as the Code of Criminal Procedure and notably to reform arrest without warrant and limit detention on remand, as well as to amend the Prisons Act to remove corporal punishments.

The CAT also recommended amending legislation that restricts civic space, such as the Digital Security Act, the ICT Act and the Foreign Donations Act. 

The government was further advised to reform rape legislation and eliminate exceptions under the prohibition on early marriages. The committee recommended witness and victim protection legislation and ensuring redress and rehabilitation.

Numerous improvements of prison conditions were suggested, as were training of public officials and awareness raising of the general public.

The application of anti-terrorism legislation and the Narcotics Control Act should be carefully reviewed, and a moratorium on the death penalty considered, the UN body said in the news release.

The Committee Against Torture also recalled the need to ensure non-refoulement of refugees and their access to services, and cooperation with the ongoing investigation at the International Criminal Court (ICC). 

Bangladesh was also advised to ratify the Optional Protocol under CAT, establishing a national preventive mechanism, and to regularly publicize data. 

The committee recommended inviting, without delay, independent special procedures to visit Bangladesh, notably the Special Rapporteurs on Torture and on Human Rights Defenders, and the Working Groups on Arbitrary Detention and on Disappearances. 

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