Tribunal awarded compensations to rape victims in 6.8% cases: BLAST study
Compensations should be accessible as a legal right, not dependent on the outcome of criminal proceedings
Justice for rape is thought to be secured only through punishment to perpetrators, while victims are left alone to deal with physical and psychological damages inflicted by the crime.
The 2000 Women and Children Repression Prevention Act for the first time introduced provisions of compensation for sexual and gender-based violence, including rape, but it is the tribunal's discretion to attach the obligation of compensating the victims with the jail sentence.
As per a recent analysis done by the Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST) of 44 rape cases filed under the 2000 act, the Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunal asked convicts to compensate victims only in three cases.
But the High Court acquitted convicts in two out of the three cases, thus invalidating the tribunal's compensation orders in those two cases.
It is to be noted that the 2000 act has provisions to impose a fine along with a jail sentence for all the six offences of rape, including gang rape and rape leading to murder. The court can convert the fine into compensation that is paid to the rape victim, not to the government exchequer.
This amount can be realised from the convict's existing property, and if that is not possible, then from his future inheritable property.
But compensations in criminal law depend not only "on the rape survivor being able to prosecute the perpetrator, but also on being able to secure a conviction," the report said.
The prerequisites are limiting access to compensations, as studies suggest more than 90% of rape accused never face legal consequences in Bangladesh and the conviction rate of rape cases tried at three Dhaka tribunals in a span of 15 years was less than 3%.
It is believed that the impunity enjoyed by perpetrators is why violence against women is rampant in Bangladesh. Instead of holding perpetrators accountable, often the blame is shifted to the survivor for what she says, how she dresses or for her "character".
While the figures show that the victims' right to compensation is not protected by the law, the BLAST report published recently also reveals that the amounts awarded in compensation were inadequate.
The study was conducted as part of the "Rape Law Reform Now" campaign supported by UN Women and Global Affairs Canada.
The report says that in the cases filed over rape causing death and gang rape where the minimum of Tk1 lakh compensation is applicable, the court never imposed more than that.
The committee formed under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which Bangladesh is a signatory of, says states should ensure that remedies are adequate, effective, and proportional to the gravity of the harm suffered.
And remedies should include, as appropriate, restitution, compensation, and rehabilitation.
"If women truly have the right to live free of violence, it is the obligation of every state to make sure their rights are fully protected and fulfilled," the BLAST report says.
This is the backdrop to BLAST recommending that the draft Crime Victims Compensation Act prepared by the Law Commission in 2007 be enacted.
A Crime Victim Compensation Fund will be created under the act in every district, and victims of violent crimes will be able to seek compensations, independent of any criminal proceedings.
Also, the 2000 act should be amended to establish compensation as a legal right, not a matter of judicial discretion, as per the report.
"As we celebrate our graduation from the Least Developed Countries (LDC) category, it is essential that we reinvest some of the country's wealth in activating the Crime Victims Compensation Fund so rape survivors get compensations irrespective of the outcome of the criminal prosecution," said Taqbir Huda, research specialist of BLAST.