Committee chair urges Dhaka to submit plan to implement recommendations
The UN Committee Against Torture (CAT), which questioned the Bangladesh team regarding alleged human rights violations and heard their answers in Geneva on Tuesday and Wednesday, will issue its concluding observations on August 9.
CAT Chairperson Jens Modvig on Wednesday called upon Bangladesh to submit a plan to implement the recommendations, three of which will be labelled urgent, to be issued after the review. He did not elaborate.
Modvig also encouraged Dhaka to protect the civil society organizations, notably those that had worked with the committee in the context of the review, according to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) of the UN.
In response, Law Minister Anisul Huq, who led a 28-member Bangladesh team, assured him that Bangladesh “does protect the civil society,” which drew a satisfactory response from Modvig.
Bangladesh submitted its report before CAT on July 23 for the first time since its ratification of the UN Convention against Torture in 1998.
At the 67th session of CAT in Geneva, Switzerland on Tuesday and Wednesday, the Bangladesh delegation defended various alleged human rights abuses in the country like extrajudicial killing, enforced disappearances, death and torture in custody, protection of victims and witnesses, reprisal against civil society, taking confessional statements forcibly, independence of judiciary, corruption in judiciary, and impunity of law enforcement officials.
Introducing the report, the law minister said Bangladesh had had a long history of suppression before it had gained its independence in 1971.
The country remained committed to the promotion of human rights and prevention of any violent, cruel or degrading punishment and acts of torture, he said.
Bangladesh maintained a zero-tolerance policy for custodial deaths related to torture or other forms of ill-treatment, Anisul said, and added that the government was diligent in curbing any violence or torture targeting minorities in order to maintain a secular and inclusive society.
It also maintained strict policy to address any form of violence against religious minorities under any pretext, he said.
The Bangladesh delegation consisted of State Minister for Foreign Affairs Shariar Alam, representatives of the ministries of law, foreign affairs, social welfare, women and children affairs, home affairs, Bangladesh Police, National Security Intelligence, the Prime Minister’s Office, Rapid Action Battalion, and the Permanent Mission of Bangladesh to the UN Office in Geneva.
In the ensuing discussion, the committee experts welcomed the constitutional prohibition of torture and the enactment of the Anti-Torture Act, but expressed concern about provisions in other laws that authorized conduct that could amount to torture or ill-treatment, according to OHCHR.
CAT had received information alleging that law enforcement and other authorities routinely committed torture and that the vast majority of allegations had not been effectively investigated.
In this context, the reportedly low number of prosecutions for acts of torture was particularly perplexing, it said. In general, one got the impression that the police, as well as other law enforcement agencies, were able to operate with impunity and zero accountability and that the police was an independent state within the State.
The experts urged Bangladesh to regain control by establishing effective mechanisms of independent oversight of the police, take measures to shield judges from political pressure, and strengthen the independence of all judicial officials.
The rates of pre-trial detention were alarming: as much as 81% of the prison population in Bangladesh was made up of detainees who had not been sentenced.
Raising concern about the links between torture and pre-trial detention, the experts asked about the plans to reduce and regularise pre-trial detention and ensure that judicial orders to release individuals were actually implemented.
They also discussed the growing trend of electoral violence, and asked what was being done to curb the phenomenon and whether the government would allow independent monitoring of its elections and polling stations.
The committee will next meet on August 6 to discuss the follow-up to two articles and reprisals.