Bangladesh: Human rights activist urged to make torture a punishable crime in compliance with the UN Convention against Torture
Ms. Annie Jhumur Halder is the Chairperson of the Christian Development Alternative (CDA), a human rights organisation based in Dhaka urged to make torture a punishable crime in compliance with the UN Convention against Torture. She expresses her views about the issue of torture and policing in Bangladesh in an interview with the Asian Human Rights Commission.
In answering different questions she noted the problem of policing system of Bangladesh.
AHRC: What do you think about the policing system in your country?
Ms. Annie Jhumur Halder : To answer the question I need to focus on the system, the policing system is arbitrary and suppressing. It is based on colonial law and in this modern age it operates in a medieval way. The police use torture and extrajudicial killings as key tools.
The policing system is corrupt and the whole force itself is a factory of corruption. The policing system is a threat to democracy, justice and peace of the country.
Police should work as a law enforcement agency that enforces the law of the land in order to help the judiciary establish justice in the society. Police are a very important body that is involved in process of investigation of crime and prosecution. In criminal proceedings, from the stage of registering a complaint to the completion of investigation report, almost at every stage the police manipulate the facts and the process as well. They fabricate various complaints while they enforce the law, and thus, they appear as the law breakers in most of the occasions.
The government is failing in its primary duty to provide the public with an honest, efficient, effective police service that ensures the rule of law and an environment of safety and security. The government instead is using the police as an obedient tool to suppress and oppress the opposition political party and the poor and popular who talk out against the faults of the government. Many human rights activists have been beaten and tortured by the police, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB). It is very sad that in criminal proceedings the police play a vital role. Particularly, when the police torture or commit any crime then another police officer investigates the case and it is not imaginable in Bangladesh that a police officer will expose the truth through the investigation report bringing charge against his colleague. They even do not file a case against any police officer.
A recent murder case filed against Sub Inspector Abdul Mannan with the Chatkhil police in Noakhali district where a young man was tortured while in custody and subsequently died is an unprecedented record of a case being registered against a police officer by the police themselves. But, there is no reason to be happy with this incident because, the police did not come out of their own bad system. Rather, it was eyewash. It represents the policing system where the police prepared a defective complaint on which they took a signature from the mother of the victim; they registered the same complaint as an FIR (First Information Report) and paved the way to weaken the whole case, aiming to save their colleague from the murder charge. Ultimately, the police once again killed the truth at the very primary stage of the case.
George Washington said, "The administration of justice is the firmest pillar of government". The governments of Bangladesh in the past did not rely on a transparent system in order to establish the truth.
Instead, they carried lots of crimes with other corrupted ones and used the police as their hired musclemen. They are doing the same thing even until now. It appears that a silent genocide is going on in Bangladesh due to a defective policing system in the country.
AHRC: What do you think of the use of torture?
Ms. Annie Jhumur Halder : Torture is a result of our defective policing system and failure of the criminal justice system in Bangladesh but not the cause. It is the result of defective law and the huge power given to police by many black laws. Such as Section 54 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898 and the Special Powers Act 1974. Making an arrest is not the only thing that the police do. The method they apply for extracting information from the arrested person is barbarous and this is the reason behind custodial deaths. Most of the custodial deaths are pure killing by groups of criminals in the uniform. It is a way of life in Bangladesh. Abuse of power under Sections 54 and 167 the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898 by the police is alarming although it has been elaborately discussed by the High Court Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh in the case of BLAST v Bangladesh (55 DLR, page 363). In this case the High Court has given
15 directions to the government to follow along with the recommendations to implement by amending the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898. Out of the 15 directions the first eight are related to the police power of arrest under Section 54 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898. But the truth is this that the High Court's directions were not followed or practiced properly in any case.
Police use of force in extorting information from the accused is an abuse of Section 167 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898 and is very alarming. Section 167 implies two situations: (1) when an investigation can be completed within 24 hours and (2) when investigation cannot be completed within 24 hours. The provision of Section 167 also implies that while producing a person arrested without warrant before a Magistrate, the police officer must explain the reasons as to why the investigation could not be completed within
24 hours and what are the grounds for believing the accusation or information received against the person. Also the police officer shall transmit to the Magistrate the copy of the entries in the Case Diary in Bangladesh Police (B.P.) form no.38 according to the directives given by the High Court Bench (DLR 55, page 381) if the question of taking any detainee under the police remand comes. After examining the information of the Case Diary and the reason shown by the police officer, the Magistrate will decide whether the person shall be released at once or be detained further. This is the mandatory law which the Magistrate has to follow. But what is true in most of the cases is that the accused who is badly tortured are not even produced before the court. The police seek remand for 7 days normally while the Magistrate unquestionably grants 2/3 days remand. But the Magistrate simply passes an order on the forwarding letter on plain paper of the police officer authorising the police the "interrogate" the detainee either in the police station or detain in jail even though the person is not a criminal. The non-application of proper judicial mind in view of sub-section 1, 2 and 3 of section 167 of the Code of Criminal
Procedure1898 by the Magistrate has resulted in so many custodial deaths and incidents of torture in police custody.
In fact, in the absence of any specific law, although Bangladesh had signed the CAT almost a decade ago the government is liable to the international community to bring forth a new law to define torture as a crime. That is the big story regarding problem of torture in police custody and failure of governments, suppression of police and other law enforcement agencies. But out of many problems, the nation was going to see the light when Mr. Saber Hossain Chowdhury on 10 September 2009 placed a private Bill titled "Torture and Custodial Death (Prohibition) Bill-2009". Sadly still after almost a year the government has kept silent and has not legislated the law while almost every day in all the police stations people are getting tortured and many are getting killed by the criminals in uniform who get impunity for lack of justice.
Torture cannot be defined as a crime without political will. The present Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has promised the nation many times to make the nation a torture free country but it is an open question as to why she and the vast majority of the government led by her is not taking proper and speedy initiatives to pass the bill in the parliament. Another 26 June is coming and we hope that we will see 'Torture' defined as a crime in law very soon.
AHRC: What are your views on the public relations of the police?
Ms. Annie Jhumur Halder : The police are a name of fear for the normal people but they are very useful for the politicians and the rich people. In absence of democratic policing, the police are synonymous with corruption and in many cases they are the real criminals and the prime source of crime, especially in drug selling. In many cases they are the investors in the drug business or they earn a huge amount of money from it. For a woman the police station is not a safe place at all. Bangladesh has many records of where police rapped woman in police custody. The police are symbol of fear and corruption in Bangladesh. The victims get further victimized when anyone goes to police station to seek help. The very first of the problems is get a complaint registered and the police normally discourage this at the police station or in some case they become over interested to file false cases against poor people or people who are in opposition of political forces. In both situations filling a case or not filing a case, money, corruption or political forces are highly related. If eventually the case is recorded then in the inquiry and investigation process the victim and the accused are harassed. This often includes people who are not involved with the crime. The police involve them to get some money.
The UNDP funded huge amounts of money for police reform, but still there is no notable change. I think we need an effective law, its implementation and total reformation of criminal justice system in Bangladesh.
AHRC: If you have a problem these days would you go to the police station?
Ms. Annie Jhumur Halder : Personally I did not get any problem. I regularly observe what the people of my country have been facing in their everyday life.
By William Gomes
Human Rights Desk- Modern Ghana