Only introduction of death penalty, which is incompatible with contemporary human rights standards, is not enough for preventing rape or ensuring justice for survivors: HRFB

[Dhaka, 13 October, 2020] The cabinet has recently approved a draft of the Women and children Repression Prevention Act, 2020 through incorporating the provision of the death penalty as the maximum punishment for rape. Since the parliament was not in session, the bill was passed through a Presidential Ordinance on 13 October 2020.

Human Rights Forum Bangladesh (HRFB) is deeply concerned at the rising incidence of various forms of violence against women, including rape, in the country. The Forum welcomes the government’s recognition of the urgency of reforming the law, but it fears that the inclusion of death penalty as one of the punishments will not bring the desired benefits.

Besides, it wants to draw attention to the fact that the inclusion of capital punishment—which is incompatible with contemporary human rights standards—will not be enough to prevent these heinous crimes. To achieve meaningful change, we need changes to more than just the nature or degree of punishment. We need reforms to overcome the existing limitations of the relevant laws, to address the challenges faced in obtaining medical reports and other forms of evidence, along with other challenges faced by survivors in accessing justice; our education system and curriculum needs reforms as well.

Overall changes in how women are perceived in society are crucial, and for that some coordinated initiatives must be taken. More than capital punishment, we need to ensure appropriate punishment to prevent crimes and after conducting psycho-social analyses, undertake reform-oriented steps against the perpetrators.

It is not the severity of the sentence, but confidence and trust in the justice system which can effectively contribute to the prevention and eradication of such crimes. To that end, we must focus on the proper implementation of the law, and transparency and accountability in the process through regular monitoring. In view of the additional barriers faced by rape survivors in certain geographical regions such as the Chittagong Hill Tracts and those from certain marginalised communities, such as indigenous women, Dalit women/girls, persons with disabilities and the hijra community, we urge the government to take special care and context-based preventive and remedial measures.

HRFB believes that the failure to bring rapists to justice is one of the many factors behind the rise of rape incidents in the country. The existing social, educational and political contexts all play a significant role in the increasing propensity of crime and its sustenance. If we do not acknowledge the structural factors which create the mentality of rape in our society and prevent achieving justice, then rape will not be eradicated.

Legal reform is undoubtedly important and many human rights organisations have been demanding specific reforms to overcome the limitations of the relevant laws for a long time. The Rape Law Reform Coalition has issued a 10-point demand on legal and institutional reform, including the enactment of a Victim and Witness Protection Act, the establishment of a state compensation fund for rape survivors, expansion of the legal definition of rape to make it non-discriminatory, and gender-sensitisation training of justice actors.

Within the existing legal framework, many survivors of rape, families of those who were raped and killed or died as a result of rape, are not getting justice and are having to face different type of harassment while seeking protection or justice. On the other hand, while the judicial processes are supposed to be completed within 180 days, due to weaknesses in the investigation, prosecution and judicial processes, most of these cases either drag on for a long time or the perpetrators escape justice altogether.

Social scientists and legal professionals have already expressed apprehensions that the new provision of capital punishment for rape is likely to result in an increase of post-rape killings since perpetrators would want to silence survivors or witnesses from speaking out against them. The Forum would like to reiterate that the death sentence as a punishment is incompatible with all contemporary standards of human rights.

Without taking specific initiatives in ensuring strict application of the laws, along with the adoption of necessary legal reforms and the holding of discussions with relevant stakeholders, this sudden incorporation of the death penalty as a maximum punishment will not achieve any meaningful change. The Forum rather believes that this move will be perceived as a politicaltactic.