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To the Government of Bangladesh

Reform the law enforcement system

Human Rights Watch’s research demonstrates that the police are both violators of human rights themselves and ineffective at protecting against abuse by mastans. The government should consider the following proposals for police reform.

Police Conduct

  • Send a strong and clear message to police officers, through words and actions, that human rights violations will not be tolerated and that violators will be dismissed from their positions and prosecuted as criminals.

  • Establish an active, independent, civilian body for monitoring and investigating police misconduct. This body should solicit and receive complaints from civilians, and should be vested with the power to dismiss individual officers. Its findings should also automatically be forwarded to government prosecutors for possible criminal prosecution against officers.

  • Supervising officers who fail to discipline, retrain, or otherwise address the behavior of officers who repeatedly violate human rights should also be investigated, disciplined and/or dismissed.

  • Eliminate informal arrest quotas.

  • Institute regular, rigorous training for police officers, including training on human rights—in particular the human rights of vulnerable groups—and on HIV/AIDS.

  • Reform recruitment and retention practices for the police, including eliminating corruption in police hiring, raising police salaries, raising education requirements for police work, and creating a rigorous, merit-based hiring process.

  • Develop a uniform code of conduct for police officers. The code should be consistent with the U.N. Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials.

Investigation and Prosecution

  • Give high priority to prosecuting persons in positions of power who commit human rights abuses, including police officers throughout the chain of command and mastans. Consider establishing special prosecutors for the prosecution of rights-abusing police officers and mastans.

  • Develop and publicize an accessible process for filing and recording complaints (First Information Reports or FIRs). Citizens should have recourse to a second avenue for registering a complaint if an initial attempt is ignored.

  • Develop a system for monitoring each police station’s investigative and prosecutorial follow-up to complaints filed.

  • Prosecute abductions, rapes, beatings, and extortion against women, men, and children regardless of the identity of the victim and/or perpetrator. The special courts established by the 2000 Repression of Violence Against Women and Children Act for the speedy prosecution of violent crimes against women and children may provide a useful forum for these cases. Rape and other crimes committed against men should not be overlooked.

  • The law should be amended to recognize sexual violence against men and boys.

  • Create a National Human Rights Commission for the independent investigation of human rights abuses.

Criminal Procedure

  • Repeal section 54 of the Code of Criminal Procedure—which grants broad latitude for arrest and detention without a warrant or an order from a magistrate—and replace it with clear, strict limitations on situations where an arrest without warrant is permissible, such as when a crime is occurring (flagrante delicto) or about to occur. An officer’s decision to arrest should be subject to review in court.

  • Ensure that all arrestees are charged promptly and presented without delay before a magistrate, as is required by section 62 of the Code of Criminal Procedure and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

  • Ratify the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Vulnerable Persons and Victims of Crime

  • Establish regular contact between supervising officers and representatives or organizations of groups that typically face police abuse, so that persons from these groups have a forum for communicating their concerns.

  • Provide medical and legal services for victims of violent crime. Fulfill Prime Minister Zia’s promise of instituting crisis centers in all divisional city hospitals to provide treatment and legal aid for women survivors of violence.

  • End the illegal practice of confining sex workers in vagrancy homes.

  • Revise rape laws—section 375 of the Bangladesh Penal Code and the Repression of Violence Against Women and Children Act— so that they protect victims regardless of gender.

  • Repeal section 377 of the Bangladesh Penal Code, which has been interpreted to criminalize male-to-male sex.

The Army

  • The army should only be deployed for domestic law enforcement in extreme circumstances.

  • If the army is to continue to have a role, ensure that the army respects the law and the rights of suspects and all civilians. Institute procedural requirements for soldiers’ conduct and revoke immunity for abuses committed by soldiers during Operation Clean Heart.

Enhance and expand the national effort against HIV/AIDS

The government must take immediate, concerted action to avoid a major epidemic.

  • Raise public awareness about the modes of HIV transmission, methods of prevention, and elements of AIDS treatment and care.

  • Respect—and raise awareness of—the rights of people vulnerable to HIV/AIDS and the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS. This may include the use of mass media and human rights trainings for community and religious leaders.

  • Recognize and support Bangladesh’s needle exchange programs and ensure that needle exchange outreach workers are not harassed or arrested by the police.

  • Support HIV/AIDS outreach work with sex workers, men who have sex with men, and other vulnerable groups, including peer-driven approaches. Ensure that outreach workers are not arrested and are not harassed by the police or mastans.

  • Ensure access to high-quality, affordable condoms.

  • Raise awareness of the connection between sexual violence and HIV/AIDS, and undertake education efforts to eliminate the social stigma connected to being a victim of rape or other acts of sexual violence.

  • Expand the availability of humane, effective treatment for drug addiction.

  • Provide sex workers with access to training and counseling for the pursuit of alternative careers.

  • Improve institutional capacity to make use of resources available for addressing HIV/AIDS, such as the $50 million loan/aid package from the World Bank and the U.K. Department for International Development that was approved in 2000. (Implementation problems have largely stalled the project.)

To bilateral and multilateral donors

  • Support reform of the Bangladesh law enforcement system with the aim of eliminating abuse by police and mastans and protecting the human rights of all citizens, including persons vulnerable to HIV/AIDS.
  • Support the development of an effective national program to address HIV/AIDS, including protection of the rights of people vulnerable to HIV/AIDS and the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS.
  • Engage publicly and privately with the Bangladesh government to highlight the importance of respecting the rights of persons vulnerable to HIV/AIDS.
  • In particular, the World Bank and the U.K. Department for International Development should insist that as Bangladesh implements the loan/aid package negotiated in December 2000 for addressing HIV/AIDS (which is currently being scaled down in the face of implementation difficulties), the government take serious steps toward curtailing abuses by police and mastans against persons vulnerable to HIV/AIDS.
  • Support the development of membership organizations among sex workers, men who have sex with men, and injection drug users such that these persons can have collective institutional voices.

To the United Nations

  • Engage in public and private advocacy about the need to protect the rights of persons vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. In particular, U.N. agencies that work with persons vulnerable to HIV/AIDS and/or with the law enforcement system, such as UNAIDS, WHO, and UNDP, should ensure that their programs support the pursuit of greater protection for the rights of persons vulnerable to HIV/AIDS.

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August 2003