Current Profile Status: November 2009
Table of Content
- 652090 sq km
- Total Population
- 27145000 (UN 2007)
- Prison Rate
- 51 (per 100,000 of national population)1
- Capital Punishment
- ratified (5 Oct 1998)
- not signed
Bangladesh, formerly East Pakistan, came into existence in 1971 after a war that involved India and Pakistan. It is one of the poorest and most densely populated countries in the world.
Bangladesh is a parliamentary democracy. However, there is a long history of military rule and non-democratically elected caretaker governments. Successive military coups in 1975 and 1982 led to a period of 15 years of military rule. Parliamentary democracy was restored in 1990, however much civil strife still existed. A caretaker government was set up in 2006 to oversee the elections, but exceeded its tenure and imposed a state of emergency which lasted until 2008. In this time there were also alleged attempts by the Government to exile Khalida Zia and Sheikh Hasina, two immensely popular rival politicians, from which it backtracked. Bangladesh’s political scenario is currently characterized by a rivalry between Khalida Zia and Sheikh Hasina, leaders of the two main parties Bangladesh National Party (BNP) and the Awami League respectively.
The parliament has 345 seats, and the leader of the majority party forms the government. The prime minister is the head of the government and runs the state. The president is the nominal head of state, although their powers are substantially expanded in a caretaker government.
The highest judicial body is the Supreme Court.
The independence of the judiciary in Bangladesh has been critcised for politically motivated appointments. According to the International Federation on Human Rights (FIDH), despite formal separation, the judiciary is in deep crisis from government intervention.
Bangladesh is reported to have high levels of corruption with it ranking 139 in Transparency international’s Corruption Perception Index.
It also suffers from recurring political violence leadings to hundreds of people being killed in recent years. Terrorism is also a grave challenge with two Islamist terrorist groups the Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) and the Jāgrātā Muslim Jānātā Bānglādesh (JMJB) allegedly related to Al Qaeda active in the country. The biggest terrorist attack in the country took place on 17 August 2005 when 400 bombs exploded in 300 different locations across Bangladesh, but remarkably killed only 2 people.
Religious minorities, such as Hindus and Christians, and marginalised groups such as women, lower castes and indigenous people are known to be particularly vulnerable to discrimination, according to various local and international NGOs. These groups face de-facto discrimination in opportunities for education and employment, as well as access to resources and service. According to the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR), the use of torture by the Rapid Action Batallion, the newly established security service, is routine in Bangladesh. Policing and impunity of police is a problem that has been highlighted in various independent assessments of human rights situation in Bangladesh.
Sources: BBC Country Profiles, UN Data Website, King’s College London World Prison Database, HRW (2005) Essential Background: Overview of Human Rights Situation in Bangladesh, UPR (2009) Summary of Stakeholder Rerport A/HRC/WG.6/4/BGD/3
Situation of Torture and Ill-Treatment
Bangladesh ratified the CAT in 1998. It acceded to the ICCPR in 2000. It has not ratified the Optional Protocols of either.
Bangladeshi domestic legislation also prohibits torture under article 35 of the Constitution which states that “No person shall be subject to torture or to other cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment or treatment.”
Bangladesh’s legal system has been criticised by human rights agencies for being archaic and allowing for systemic impunities for public officials. Article 46 of the constitution empowers the parliament to pass laws that provide immunity from prosecution to any state officer for any act done to maintain or restore order, and to lift any penalty, sentence, or punishment imposed. Further, section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code requires explicit government approval for the prosecution of an officer purporting to act in his or her official capacity. Section 132 of the same code prohibits prosecution of an officer who has taken action to disband ‘unlawful assembly’.
The Special Powers Act enacted in 1974 allows the government to detain people without trial for up-to four months, and sometimes indefinitely.
Practice of Torture and Ill-Treatment
Bangladesh’s cooperation with international human rights mechanisms is limited. No report has been submitted by Bangladesh to the CAT in its first to third rounds, nor to the HRC or the ICCPR.
International human rights organization and NGOs have repeatedly criticised the impunity provided to police and security personnel from prosecution for torture offences. HRW in a 2009 report said that torture has a systemic base in Bangladesh since the 1971 war which was marked by massive atrocities against the civilian population. According to the report “(t)he scale and nature of the security forces' involvement in human rights abuses has since then varied over time, but the unwillingness of governments to hold these forces to account has been constant”.
The Government established an elite ‘anti-crime’ Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) that, according to local and international human rights groups, has allegedly been involved in many torture and extra-judicial killings cases. According to HRW and ACHR extra judicial killings are particularly rife in the country, with over 300 people alleged to be killed in such a manner at the hands of law enforcement agencies between January and October 2005 itself. In 2006, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executionsexpressed concern about the trend of criminal suspects being shot and killed in crossfire while in the custody of Bangladeshi security forces, such as the RAB, as well as the regular police and its auxiliary Cheetah and Cobra units.
Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), the country’s border guard unit is also alleged to be involved in torture of those within its custody. Special concerns were raised by many NGOs regarding torture of prisoners after a bloody rebellion within the BDR’s ranks in 2009. Torture has also been known to be used to force confessions from suspects.
Women, particularly sex workers, gays and lesbians are alleged to be in a particularly vulnerable condition in Bangladesh, according to FIDH, prone to violence and abuse by police forces.
According to Amnesty, refugees in Bangladesh, particularly those originating from neighbouring Burma are also subject to constant abuse by security forces and political groups. Further, the conditions of detention in refugee camps are known to be deplorable and characterized by abuse. Various instances of refoulment of refugees have also been reported
Sources: HRW (2005) Essential Background: Overview of Human Rights Situation in Bangladesh, A/HRC/WG.6/4/BGD/3 (2009), A/HRC/WG.6/4/BGD/3 (2008), UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial and Summary Executions Communications to and from Governments (2006) A/HRC/4/20/Add.1, HRW (2009) Ignoring Executions and Torture: Impunity for Bangladesh’s Human Rights Offenders, HRW (2003) Ravaging the Vulnerable, Amnesty International (2008) Open letter to the governments of Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar and Thailand, Amnesty International Bangladesh Country Report