“Political will and top level commitment of the government will play a vital role in ensuring fair investigation and exemplary punishment against perpetrators of torture, abduction, custodial death, and in ensuring the protection of human rights defenders civil society activists journalists and media workers” said human rights lawyer Zahirul Islam Khan, Advocate Supreme Court of Bangladesh and Chairperson of Ain o Salish Kendra at a press conference organised by the Secretariat of the Human Rights Forum Bangladesh (HRFB) on the concluding observations of the United Nations Committee Against Torture following a review on the progress of the implementation of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment at the 67th session of the Committee on 30 and 31 July 2019 in Geneva. On 9 August, the special Committee made 77 recommendations to the Government of Bangladesh in the Concluding Observations. At the press conference held at the Dhaka Reporters’ Unity, the HRFB, a coalition of twenty human rights and development organisations, urged the Government to make a time-bound and specific plan of action for effective implementation of the Committee’s recommendations and to make the public aware of the recommendations, where the speakers emphasised that the Government should place importance on the implementation of their commitments to demonstrate their political will in ensuring the protection of any person against torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment or treatment.
The Press Conference presided by Zahirul Islam Khan included speakers Shaheen Anam, Executive Director, Manusher Jonno Foundation, Zakir Hossain, Executive Director, Nagorik Uddyog, Iftekharuzzaman, Executive Director, Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) and Shamsul Huda, Executive Director, Association for Land Reforms and Development (ALRD). Highlights of the Committee’s key concerns and recommendations were presented by Sanjeeb Drong, Secretary General, Bangladesh Adivashi Forum, and Tamanna Hoq Riti, ASK and Coordinator, HRFB. Several other members of the Forum were present in the Press Conference.
Shaheen Anam commented that when human rights organisations raise issues of concerns at international platforms, it is not their intention to tarnish the image of the country, rather to draw the attention of the government to take steps for the protection and promotion of human rights. Drawing attention to the recent allegation of a rape of a woman by police in their custody, she commented that violence against women and children have exponentially increased in epidemic proportions. As redress, citizens wish to see immediate measures taken by the Government.
Shamsul Huda shared that during the CAT review session, the Minister of the Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs merely shared the infrastructural and legal frameworks that exist in Bangladesh, however he was unable to demonstrate how far laws are being applied in practice. Zakir Hossain stated that when the Government is embarrassed at the international level, we feel equally embarrassed. We want that as a nation, the Government plays an advanced role in protecting our human rights.
Iftekharuzzaman shared that the concerns that were raised by the Committee are the national challenges that have been expressed for a long time. The government has international obligations constitutionally mandated as well as being a signatory to the Convention against Torture to remove the United Nations’ as well as our concerns. He further added that as a nation it is a matter of pride that we identify ourselves as role models for development. However, for several years, there have been allegations of all sorts of offences being linked with the law enforcement agencies, which is not a matter of pride for the nation. If the allegations against law enforcement agencies continue to rise, they will not be recognised as the protectors of the law but rather as the violators of law. Allegation does not mean the offence is proved. For the act of a certain individual or a group, the activities of the whole agency are being questioned. He emphasised on the neutral and independent investigation instead of questionable departmental inquiries.
The presiding member of the conference, Zahirul Islam Khan in his concluding remarks said that next year the country will be celebrating its 50th anniversary of independence. He said that he is hopeful as a nation that emerged from protracted war of liberation Bangladesh will definitely put great importance on the protection of human rights, public liberty and freedom. He urged the government to implement the recommendations of the Committee against Torture.