Bangladesh currently has a few laws, which offer some protection to victims and witnesses, but those are not applied in a coordinated manner
Tuhin and Samina [not their real names] got married with the consent of their respective families. After their honeymoon, the husband suddenly demanded Tk7 lakh from his in-laws to construct a building. But Samina's family could not pay the dowry, and this made the husband so furious that he and his family members began a campaign of mental and physical torture on her.
As the wife moved to file a lawsuit, Tuhin's family threatened that she and her father would be made to disappear, and her younger sister would be gang raped if Samina proceeded further. Now, fear and insecurity haunt Samina's family at every step.
A nationwide study on 'Protection of Victims and Witnesses' by Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF) found justice seekers to be in a desperate situation, caused by a legal vacuum in victim and witness protection.
At a webinar held on Wednesday to disseminate findings of the study, Supreme Court lawyer, Barrister Taposh Kanti Baul, said, "We have seen far too many examples where witnesses have come under attack simply for testifying at court. Even a witness in a murder case witness was killed."
This occurs due to the legal vacuum that exists in protection of victims and witnesses, he said.
The lawyer said there are a few laws, which offer some protection to a victim or a witness. However, those are haphazard and not applied in a coordinated manner.
The study recommended quick enactment of victim and witness protection laws and establishment of district-level offices to support justice seekers.
The event participants stressed on first response services for victims and witnesses and called for introducing pre-trial conferences. They also emphasized on the criticality of a female-friendly environment in police stations and courts and advocated for the introduction of a safe space for them.
According to the study, in order to prevent harassment from law enforcement agencies and people of influence and privilege, financial assistance is a must for victims from lower-income groups, and for those who need social security.
The study further recommended forming victims' and witness protection cells at police stations and disbursing financial compensation.
Among others, Former Chairman of National Human Rights Commission, Dr Mizanur Rahman, and MJF Executive Director, Shaheen Anam, spoke at the event.