UN committee calls for response from Bangladesh government on torture

The Bangladesh government is two years late in responding to a highly critical report published by the UN Committee on Torture (CAT).

UN committee calls for response from Bangladesh government on torture
Accused men in a prison van in Bangladesh. Photo: Sazzad Hossain/SOPA Images/Alamy Live News

The United Nations Committee against Torture (CAT) has upbraided the Bangladesh government for being two years late in replying to its recommendations made in a scathing 2019 report which had called on the government to recognise torture as an “urgent concern”; to “cease engaging in the practice of unacknowledged detention”; and, to set up an independent commission of inquiry into Rapid Action Battalion.

“I should urge you to provide, at your earliest convenience, a clarification as to the current status of your government’s responses to these matters, as well as an explicit indication of when the information requested will be forthcoming,” Bakhtiyar Tuzmukhamedov, the vice-chairman of the committee wrote in a letter dated March 3rd 2022.

In a withering report published in August 2019, the Committee against Torture recommended that the Bangladesh government should “publicly acknowledge at the highest levels of the government that combating the routine commission of torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement officers is an urgent concern and state unambiguously that torture and ill-treatment will not be tolerated under any circumstances or against any person.”

It also held that Bangladesh should “unambiguously affirm at the highest level of government that law enforcement authorities must immediately cease engaging in the practice of unacknowledged detention” and “publish a list of all recognized places of detention and ensure that no one is held in secret or incommunicado detention anywhere in the territory of the state party.”

In relation to Rapid Action Battalion, it recommended that the government should “commission an independent inquiry into allegations that members of the Rapid Action Battalion have carried out torture, arbitrary arrests, unacknowledged detention, disappearances and extrajudicial killings as a matter of routine policy, and ensure that the personnel conducting the inquiry receive effective protection from harassment or intimidation.”

The March 2022 letter, addressed to Mustafizur Rahman, Bangladesh’s permanent representative to the United Nations Office in Geneva, noted that the committee has transmitted its concluding observations in August 2019 and requested Bangladesh “within one year” to provide further information on follow-up to the recommendations on:

— “monitoring all places of deprivation of liberty by an independent authority and representatives of nongovernmental organizations”;

—  “ensuring the full implementation by law enforcement authorities and magistrates of the directives issued by the High Court”;

—  “ensuring that members of civil society organizations who have cooperated with the committee in the context of the consideration of the state party’s initial report are protected from any reprisals or harassment”; and,

— “establishing a complaints mechanism for persons detained arbitrarily.”

The High Court directives refer to directives confirmed by the appellate division in 2016 in a case brought by a Bangladeshi legal aid organisation. The guidelines included measures intended to prevent death and injury during custody such as requiring police officers to take injured arrestees to the hospital and requiring police to conduct interrogations at the jail gate rather than in police remand. They also require the police, when making arrests without warrant, to inform the arrested person of the grounds of arrest; to inform a friend or relative of the arrest; and, to provide them with an opportunity to contact a lawyer.

The CAT letter goes on: “The state party has not provided the information sought by the committee although more than two years have elapsed from the transmittal of the concluding observations.”

Letter from UN Committee Against Torture

In December 2022, the United States government sanctioned Rapid Action Battalion and seven of its current and senior officers for its role in committing  extrajudicial killings, referring also to allegations against it relating to torture.

Netra News has reported on the alleged torture committed by Rapid Action Battalion on two police officers accused of the murder of a retired army officer

In late 2021, the UN Working Group on Enforced Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) also wrote to the Awami League government seeking responses to allegations that 86 men remained disappeared since it came to power.

Netra News contacted the office of Bangladesh’s permanent representative in Geneva about whether it had responded to the Committee on Torture, but at the time of publication had not received a response.

The committee told Netra News that the letter was sent as part of its normal procedures.●