IN THE context of unchecked custodial torture, extrajudicial killings and hundreds of cases of enforced disappearances, the demand made by the jurists, lawyers, human rights activists and families of the victims for the formation of an independent police complaint investigation commission is more than justified. In 2013, the government enacted a law as part of its commitment to the Committee Against Torture, a UN body of which Bangladesh is a signatory, to prohibit torture or cruel, inhuman, degrading punishment or treatment to anyone in law enforcers’ custody and punish the perpetrators. Since the enactment of the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act 2013, only 18 cases were filed against the police, of which 14 cases saw a final investigation report, but without charge sheets against the accused, the remaining cases never saw the light of the day. In breaking this culture of impunity that errant members of the law enforcement agencies are enjoying, the first ever conviction given on September 9 in a case of custodial death bears historical significance. However, as legal experts have underscored, an enabling environment must be created in which victims can report abuse without fear of further intimidation.
The demand for an independent commission came following the reported case of negligent and partial investigation into the allegation of custodial torture and death. One of the main pitfalls of the existing custodial torture and death prevention act is that it expects the law enforcement agencies to investigate its own members and risks the possibility of credible investigation. The fact that over five hundred reported allegations of police crime remain unresolved, shown in a legal notice served by a group of Supreme Court lawyers to the authorities concerned, proves that the existing legal mechanism has failed to protect the citizens in conflict with law. In the legal notice, the lawyers drawing attention to the section of the constitution and various laws that prohibit torture have asked the law and home affairs ministries and the inspector general of police to create legal provision for an independent probe body to investigate allegations of enforced disappearance, extrajudicial killing and custodial torture. The global and regional legal systems have, as legal experts have insisted, also created similar commissions involving jurists, human rights defenders and concerned citizens to maintain the integrity of the investigation. The many cases of reported intimidation of the victims and their families following cases filed against members of the law enforcement agencies and the attempt at settling matters through token money to the victims highlight the significance of the demand for an independent commission.
The government, under the circumstances, must realise that tolerating custodial torture and death of ‘suspects’ without trial is a miscarriage of justice. It should take the demand of the jurists, lawyers and human rights defenders and initiate a process of forming an independent commission to investigate the crimes committed by the members of the law enforcement agencies. However, an investigation commission alone cannot improve the situation unless the government attend to the unresolved cases of police violence and bring the perpetrators to book.
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