Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK), a legal aid and human rights organisation, has expressed deep concern in the cabinet's approval of the draft of the Women and Children Repression Prevention (Amendment) Bill, incorporating the provision of capital punishment for rape.
ASK said on Monday in press statement that states around the world are gradually prioritizing the abolition of the death penalty as the highest form of punishment, as it violates the principles of human rights.
It would not be in line with the principles of human rights if just the death penalty provision is added, without incorporating other necessary reforms in Bangladesh, the statement added.
Earlier on Monday, the cabinet approved the amendment proposal, incorporating a provision of the death penalty or life-term in jail for rape amidst countrywide outrage against the increasing numbers of rape incidents in the country.
In existing law, the highest punishment for a rape case accused is life-term imprisonment.
ASK strongly believed that the government's initiative to amend the law may work as a short-term strategy to calm down public outrage, but a heinous crime like rape cannot be eradicated by increasing the punishment alone.
ASK thinks that it is time for the government to take steps to bring about the structural reforms necessary to prevent rape using this public support.
What should be focused on are the patriarchal mindset, which is what motivates the rape in the first place, and the victim's survival, which is complicated when she, rather than the perpetrator, are subjected to social stigma.
The hurdles a victim needs to cross at every turn to seek justice should be eliminated. Simply by increasing the scale of punishment will not prevent these crimes, the statement added.
A man is not born a rapist; rather, the existing social, educational or political structures turn him into one. If these structures are not changed, it will be a long while before the creation of a society and state that respect women.
It is undeniable that the law needs to be reformed in order to bring justice to rape victims, but prematurely increasing the punishment alone will not root out the problem. Although life imprisonment is a punishment under the existing law, this is not adequate to ensure justice for the alarming number of rape cases across the country.
The accused are getting away with impunity through various loopholes in the prosecution, investigation and trial process, while the victims suffer and face harassment.
Therefore, Asak believes that it is essential to update the laws by overcoming the structural impediments, and to bring necessary legal and structural reforms after detailed discussions with concerned stakeholders.
In bringing about legal reform, the government must consider broadening the definition of rape, amending Section 155 (4) of the Evidence Act and other related sections, enacting the Witness Protection Act, ensuring compensation for victims, and changing education curricula.
Asak demands that the government take immediate steps to hold discussions to establish a rape-free state.