From Middle East to Europe, Bangladeshis are often among the victims of deadly migrant boat capsize or they end up in jail as undocumented immigrants. But their traffickers keep escaping justice as data show very few offenders have been convicted.
The recent killings of 26 Bangladeshi migrants by people traffickers in Libya made global media headlines and forced the law enforcers to get serious about handling the human trafficking cases. More than 100 people have been arrested in two dozen cases started over the incident in Bangladesh.
However, most of the traffickers in thousands of old cases pending in courts have not been punished for the crimes they committed.
The courts have disposed of only 13 per cent of the trafficking cases filed over the past 16 years. The conviction rate in these cases is a dismal 29 percent while the punishment rate is even worse - just 19 percent, according to the police.
Lawyers have blamed the delay in investigation and trial for the suspected getting away with the crimes. The traffickers also negotiate with the victims to settle the cases out of court in breach of law.
Lawyer Fahmida Akhter, who is working to protect plaintiffs and victims of human trafficking cases in the lower court, has seen a lot.
“Delay in trials and threats and pressures from influential people often lead the victims to settle the cases. It encourages the traffickers to repeat the crimes,” she said.
Not a single human trafficking case has seen the trial end in stipulated time of 180 days, according to lawyer Md Borhan Uddin, an expert in criminal procedure code or CrPC.
“The legal provision of completing a trial within 180 days is not mandatory, but directory. The state lawyers, the prosecutors, the police and the judges are exploiting this,” he alleged.
The provision of completing an investigation within 90 days in the law is also not adhered to most of the time, said another expert lawyer Aminul Gani Tito.
As many as 6,134 cases were initiated over alleged trafficking of 11,460 people between Jun 15, 2004 and Feb 29, 2020 in Bangladesh, according to Rezaul Karim, the deputy inspector general of police.
Police and other law-enforcing agencies arrested 10,928 out of the 24,504 accused in the cases.
Only 409 have been convicted in 233 cases while 1,699 were acquitted of 571 other cases.
The court sentenced eight of the convicts to death, 299 to life in prison and 102 to varying jail terms.
Many of the accused were acquitted only because trials were lengthy and delayed.
In 2006, the police started a case against 38 people, including the owners of two recruiting agencies, over the attempt of trafficking 31 women to Lebanon by using fake documents.
A total of 41 people were charged, but after eight years, almost all were acquitted due to a lack of evidence and witnesses.
THE LAW AND TRIBUNALS
The offences under the Prevention and Suppression of Human Trafficking Act of 2012 are cognisable, non-bailable and non-compoundable.
The Act stipulates that the trial of the offences must end within 180 working days, but the tribunals will be able to extend the trial upon explaining the reason behind the delay to the High Court, a provision that leads many cases to linger on for years.
For organised crimes under the law, the offenders face up to death penalty or life term imprisonment or minimum seven years in jail and at least Tk 500,000 in fines.
The government, however, began forming the tribunals under this piece of legislation eight years after its passage.
Md Jahangir Alam, a clerk at a tribunal in Dhaka, said it is yet to get a public prosecutor. Jahangir said the trial of the trafficking cases in Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunals had delayed the end of proceedings due to a heavy caseload.
Now the acting judge of the tribunal, Kazi Abdul Hannan, is only hearing bail petitions via video feed from home due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The tribunals in Chattogram, Sylhet, Khulna and some other divisional cities, except Rajshahi, have also begun work.
NON-COMPOUNDABLE, YET COMPOUNDED
Lawyers say most of the time influential people involved with the recruiting agencies settle the cases with the victims by paying them money.
Ali Asgar Swapan, a state lawyer at the Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunal No. 5 in Dhaka, said victims and their families speak in favour of the accused in many cases.
Moshiur Rahman, the coordinator at Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust’s Dhaka District Unit, said he lost interest in a case after the plaintiff gave a statement in favour of the suspect four years ago.
“It had happened even though the accused were responsible for such a situation that led the plaintiff and many others to starve in a desert in Iraq,” Moshiur said.
POLICE PROBES QUESTIONED
The police stations in Dhaka are investigating a total of 197 human trafficking cases now.
Some of them have continued beyond the stipulated time of 90 working days, said Jasim Uddin, the deputy commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police’s prosecution department.
Lawyer Fahmida Akter said a woman accused the officials of a recruiting agency of raping her and selling her to a brothel in India’s Mumbai in 2017. But the police in Dhaka’s Paltan kept only one name on the list of accused and dropped the others.
Now the Police Bureau of Investigation has been tasked with re-investigating the case following the plaintiff’s objection to the first investigation report, Fahmida said.
Jisanul Haque, a spokesman for police’s Criminal Investigation Department, said they always try to fast-track investigation into human trafficking cases, reports bdnews24.com.
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