BANGLADESH: Torture being used to block access to justice

A Written Statement to the 46th Regular Session of the United Nations’ Human Rights Council by the Asian Legal Resource Centre

The Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) brings the issue of torture to the United Nations Human Rights Council the way the Member State has institutionalised it in Bangladesh.

The matters on the institutionalised practice of torture in Bangladesh deserves adequate attention and effective actions from the international community. Actions are required not only for the reason that Bangladesh disregards the Human Rights Mechanisms of the United Nations, and the State abuses the multilateral institutions for displaying its untrue cooperations with the international bodies. Rather, the accountability of the State is urgently needed for the successful survival of the Agenda 2030 of the UN, which strives for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) by the year 2030.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed Bangladesh’s official bias to the political, bureaucratic, and financial elites as far as providing treatment facilities to the infected COVID-19 patients are concerned. There is hardly any treatment for the ordinary citizens for COVID-19 infections and other healthcare during the pandemic. The situation pointed fingers to the fact that there is a deep divide in the society.

The judicial institutions has been playing its nexus with the executive authorities in detaining the dissenting voices under draconian laws in Bangladesh while civic space is denied. Enforced disappearances, prolonged arbitrary detention under fabricated criminal cases and systemic torture being used against the dissidents such as in the case of journalist Shafiqul Islam Kajol, writer Mushtaq Ahmed, and cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore. A fair access to justice to the detainees has been consistently denied in the given criminal justice system of Bangladesh. Torture, coupled with trumped-up charges, is used as part of the package that the authorities have used as tools to silence its critics. The judiciary of all tiers systematically ignores the allegation of torture while the victims are forced to languish in prisons for indefinite periods without proper access to justice for their sufferings. Instead, the victims have to fight for securing their release from detention and get released from the trumped-up charges spending a considerable period of their life and resources that they cannot afford.

The victims of human rights violations have to face the State’s deliberate use of the law-enforcement agencies, the judicial systems, and executive powers along with muscle power involving the ruling party’s goons altogether to survive. Such institutionalised practice apparently squeeze the lifeblood of the people leading them toward a permanent financial loss often resulting to extreme poverty, which is on the rise in Bangladesh. On the other hand, the justice mechanisms remain as a repressing tool for infringing the people. The existing practice of the government of Bangladesh indicates that the Goal 16 of SDG of the United Nations or other goals of the SDG cannot be achieved while access to justice is systematically prevented by the State.

The Human Rights Council of the UN is an integral part of the multilateral body itself. The failure of providing access to justice in a country having over 180 million population is ultimately a failure of the UN itself as far as achieving the Agenda 2030 is concerned.

The ALRC urges the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to focus on Bangladesh as a priority in setting up the actions from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The OHCHR needs to appoint a special investigating mandate to check the depth of the human rights violations being faced by the people on the ground that can enlighten the Human Rights Council for further actions. The Special Procedures Branch of the Human Rights Council should use virtual technologies through the locally based UN office and independent human rights groups to get the ground realties as Bangladesh consistently refuse the extend invitation for country visits.

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The Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) works towards the radical rethinking & fundamental redesigning of justice institutions in Asia, to ensure relief and redress for victims of human rights violations, as per Common Article 2 of the International Conventions. Sister organisation to the Asian Human Rights Commission, the ALRC is based in Hong Kong & holds general consultative status with the Economic & Social Council of the United Nations.

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