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Study recommends limiting relevance of rape complainants' past sexual background

  • Published at 11:34 pm January 20th, 2020
Chhayanaut
Guests speaking at a study dissemination program held at the capital's Chhayanaut Auditorium, Dhanmondi on Monday, January 20, 2020 Fahim Reza Shovon/Dhaka Tribune

A set of five recommendations was put forward at a study dissemination program in Dhaka

A study by Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST), and UN Women, has recommended limiting the relevance of a rape complainant’s past sexual history with the accused.

A set of five recommendations was forwarded at a study dissemination program at Chhayanaut Auditorium in Dhaka's Dhanmondi on Monday.

BLAST organized the program as part of their first installment in the Rape Law Reform Research Reports series.

The study, "Between 'Virtue' and 'Immorality': Why character evidence must be prohibited in rape cases," recommended several amendments and inclusions to the Evidence Act 1872.

The research was conducted by Taqbir Huda, and claimed to highlight issues in procedural and substantive laws on rape which obstruct justice for rape survivors in Bangladesh, with recommendations for reform.

The speakers unanimously agreed to the recommendations of the study to repeal the discriminatory provision, section 155(4) of Evidence Act 1872, and urged the government to take necessary initiatives in this regard.

The study also recommended the amendment of section 146(3) of the Evidence Act, imposing restrictions on questions concerning the character of the complainant in cross-examination, amending section 53 of the same act on limiting relevance of facts relating to the character of the complainant, and amending section 150 regarding introducing judicial duty to ensure limits on the use of character evidence which are enforced in practice.

After amendments to those sections, other reforms in clauses of "The Prevention of Women and Children Repression Act 2000" will be suggested accordingly.

"The report seeks to highlight the damaging impact, admissibility of character evidence has on rape complainants," according to Taqbir.  

"It is high time we reformed the concerned areas of the law. Legal amendments have been made in other South Asian countries like India and Pakistan in this regard," Taqbir added.

Associate Professor of Jagannath University, Fatema Sultana Shuvra, said: "Authorities concerned should define the term 'rape' clearly as the pattern of the crime has changed. ‘Crossfire’ is not necessarily the solution. Rather, there should be coordination between the relevant laws."

Human rights activist Nurun Nahar Osmani said: "How a rape survivor's character was in the past, can be utilized as side evidence, but not as major. This term should be withdrawn immediately."

Regarding section 155(4) of the Evidence Act 1872, former Supreme Court justice AFM Abdur Rahman said: "A line should be included in the Act that the section would not be applicable in rape cases."

Former justice Md Nizamul Haque, and chief legal adviser of BLAST, said: "If there are no witnesses of the rape, then the rape survivor is the only witness, and more often than not, witnesses of rape are not found."

"The judge will decide if the verdict will be delivered on the basis of the rape complainant's statement as witness or not. It is an important duty of a judge to realize the real scenario by rejecting anything false," he added.

"We do not want an innocent survivor to be victimized, and an innocent accused," Nizamul Haque continued. 

The dissemination session was conducted by Advocacy and Capacity Building advisor to BLAST, Advocate Tajul Islam, while lawmaker and member of Parliamentary Standing Committee on Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, Gloria Jharna Sarker, among others, spoke at the event.

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