Bangladesh to Change Law that ‘Further Humiliates’ Rape Victims

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
Bangladesh to Change Law that ‘Further Humiliates’ Rape Victims Bangladesh women’s rights activists rally near Dhaka University to demand the Evidence Act of 1872 be amended to allow rape victims better access to justice, Nov. 26, 2021.

Bangladesh has decided to amend a 150-year-old law that allows defense lawyers and judges to question the moral character of rape plaintiffs in court, Law Minister Anisul Huq told BenarNews.

Rights groups demanded the government strip certain clauses from the law, passed during British colonial rule, after a judge apparently referred to them last month in deciding to acquit five men accused of rape, because the victims had previously had consensual sex with two of them.

“A writ petition filed for dropping two sections of the Evidence Act of 1872 has drawn our attention. We have decided to amend all sections and subsections including the sections of the law that stand in the way of trying rapists,” Huq told BenarNews.

 “I can assure you that we must make a total review and reform of the Evidence Act of 1872. We will not leave a minimum scope that may slightly favor the rapists in the trial process,” Huq said.

Two sections of the law “create an advantage for the defense in the trial process,” Huq said, adding rights activists “were not wrong” in criticizing them.

Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST), human rights organization Ain-O-Salish Kendra and women’s rights group Naripokkho filed the petition to amend the act on Nov. 14, three days after five men were acquitted in what has been known as the Rain Tree Hotel rape case.

On May 6, 2017, a Dhaka University student filed a police complaint stating that she and another woman went to a birthday party at the hotel, where two men raped them while three others assisted. Police arrested all five and brought charges against them.

On Nov. 11, a judge found all five men not guilty, and observed that the two women had previously had consensual sexual relations with two of the defendants. The judge also said that the woman went to the hotel willingly and she censured police for filing the rape charges.

“Instead of delivering justice, the judge further humiliated the two women by raising questions about their character. This is another violation of the dignity of the women,” lawyer Sara Hossain, who represented the groups, told BenarNews.

She noted that section 155(4) of the Evidence Act stipulates that a defense lawyers can raise the moral character of a rape victim if she seeks justice.

“Exploiting the section, defense lawyers try to establish that a rape victim is of immoral character and her statements should not be accepted for conviction,” Hossain said.

In addition, section 146(3) allows the defense to raise questions about the character of witnesses during cross examination.

“The section also favors the defense during cross examinations of the witnesses – they want to raise questions about the character of the witnesses to portray the deposition as untrustworthy,” she said.

“Both sections stand in the way of trying rapists. India and Pakistan already dropped the two sections of the same Evidence Act. We should have filed the writ petition much earlier,” Hossain said.

A BLAST lawyer expressed similar concerns.

“According to the sections, a woman having prior sexual relations cannot be a victim of rape. Its spirit is only virgins can be the rape victims,” Sharmin Sheuli, a senior staff lawyer of BLAST, told BenarNews.

“This is not acceptable. Any physical relation without the consent of the women is rape,” she said.

Researchers have found a high degree of impunity for rapists in Bangladesh, including in a 2013 UN multi-country study on men and violence in the Asia-Pacific region.

The study reported that 78 percent of rape survivors seeking treatment and examinations between 2001 and 2013 at the Bangladesh government’s One Stop Crisis Center had decided not to take legal action.

“The existing Evidence Act was enacted during British rule. The two sections were incorporated in the law in line with the outlook of society at the time regarding rape. There was no idea of universal human rights,” Mizanur Rahman, a former chairman of the National Human Rights Commission and a former law professor at Dhaka University, told BenarNews.

“Enforcing those provisions in the 21st century is not acceptable. These two sections must go,” he said.



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