Bangladesh: Bushra case encapsulates this injustice system

Asia Human Rights
November 22, 2016
Reproduced with Permission
Asian Human Rights Commission

The Police, Prosecution, Judiciary, and Jails are designed to protect perpetrators of crime that are associated with the powerful elites in the country. This is how the system was devised over 200 years ago, and all who are associated with the institutions have only further twisted this system against the common people since.

The lifespan and ultimate recent resolution of a case, involving Ms. Rushdania Islam Bushra, who was raped and murdered in her bedroom 16 years ago, is another reminder to the people how the citizens inhabit a system that cannot be termed as a justice system. Here is a recap:

On 1 July 2000, Bushra, an honours student, was raped and murdered in her bedroom in Dhaka. She was 18 at the time. The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) investigated the case filed by Bushra's mother, Mrs. Layla Islam. The CID investigation report charged six related persons for the rape and murder.

One of the accused was Mr. M. Abdul Kader (step-brother to Bushra's uncle and a political leader, serving as Relief Affairs Secretary of the Dhaka City Unit of the ruling Bangladesh Awami League), and the others were Mr. Sheikh Shawkat Ahmed and Mr. Sheikh Kabir Ahmed (i.e. brothers-in-law to Mr. Kader), Mrs. Runa Akhter (Mr. Kader's wife); Ms. Kaniz Fatema Henna (Mrs. Runa Akhter's sister); and Ms. Sufia (domestic help to Bushra's family).

The investigation report and subsequent prosecution concluded that the relatives had collaborated to kill Bushra, aiming to eliminate a potential heir to family assets. And, on 30 June 2003, the Women and Children Repression (Special Prevention) Tribunal of Dhaka, a Sessions Court, sentenced M. Abdul Kader, and his wife's brothers, Sheikh Shawkat Ahmed and Sheikh Kabir Ahmed, to death; Kader's wife Runa Akhter got life imprisonment; Kaniz Fatema Henna and Sufia were acquitted.

Then came the appeal process, which took nearly another 4 years. The High Court, on 29 January 2007, passed its verdict following an appeal. The High Court upheld the death penalty against M. Abdul Kader and life imprisonment to his wife Runa Akhter and acquitted Kader's wife's brothers.

Nearly 10 years later, on 15 November 2016, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, the apex tier of Bangladesh Judiciary, made its decision. The Court has acquitted all the convicts, following appeals filed by convicts and the State. The highest tier of the Judiciary concluded that the evidence was insufficient to punish the defendants.

To pronounce a verdict 16 years after the crime is committed is a crime by itself. To keep the victim's family in the lurch for this long is terrible injustice. However, the hurt will only run deeper because after 16 years of struggles for justice, the victim's mother has found that nobody is guilty of the crime committed, despite a teen-aged girl having been sexually humiliated and murdered.

It is universally accepted that justice cannot be partially done to defendants, ignoring the victims, or vice a versa. The end result of the justice process must convince all the parties that "justice" has been upheld transparently and comprehensively. Therefore, responsibilities of a functional rule of law apex Court do not end only in acquitting defendants on the basis of imperfect or insufficient evidence. The Court has an obligation to guarantee justice to victims, regardless of their colour, race, or socio-political identity.

For those with blinders, who, in the face of all manner of judicial atrocities, still believe that Bangladesh Supreme Court's Appellate Division's decision on the Bushra case pronounced on 15 November 2016 is a reflection of an impartial and professional criminal justice system, little can be said. However, for anyone willing to peek behind the curtain of a fraying façade, the painful truth of a failed system that operates as a phantom limb is available to see. Even for the former minority, the process of this case would show how vast is the chasm between the polish of the façade of the apex tier of the Judiciary and all the other components of the criminal justice system.

As for the international community, from which Bangladesh receives resources to protect the rights of women, particularly victims of violence, this unjust institutional system, incapable of administering justice and designed to behave subjectively, deserves much attention. An incapable system cannot protect rights, be it women's rights or any other thematic rights that are universally guaranteed. Mere training of a few judges, prosecutors, and cops is not going to enable such institutions, unless they are redesigned to uphold justice.

The institutions and the professionals must be equipped intellectually to comprehend the notion of justice. Then, the administrative and logistic infrastructures required to support this idea of justice need to be built so that justice can be found in every step of action: starting from the complaint mechanism, crime investigation, forensic examination, prosecution, adjudication in trial courts right up to the appeal in superior courts.