When will Bangladesh have a tribunal to handle trafficking cases?

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In an effort to prevent human trafficking and punish the criminals, the all important act was passed and later, the rules of the act were formulated in 2017

It has been seven years since the government passed the Prevention and Suppression of Human Trafficking Act-2012. However, the constitution of a special tribunal to exclusively handle human trafficking cases, a major provision of the act, has remained unimplemented.

In an effort to prevent human trafficking and punish criminals, the all important act was passed and later the rules of the act were formulated in 2017. 

But a tribunal required by the law to try cases filed under this act has not been instituted till date.

Shariful Hasan, Migration Program Head at Brac, told Dhaka Tribune that a tribunal was a major part of the law and it was the responsibility of the government to implement it.

“We are already on the Tier-2 watch list for the third time, and we might get blacklisted if the situation worsens. We have only two orthree months in hand to improve the situation,” he said, warning the government that a failure to implement the provision might push Bangladesh into Tier-3.

Tier 2 refers to governments in countries that do not fully meet the US Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s (TVPA) minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those criteria.

Hasan went on to suggest that if the government decided to start trials with a few special tribunals, it would in effect introduce a formal process to combat human trafficking in Bangladesh. 

“The government should launch special tribunals in a few districts where the number of trafficking related cases is high and, thereby, the authorities can progressively expand the number of tribunals to other districts,” he suggested.

The Bangladesh government has reported only 10 to 15 convictions a year in human trafficking cases, in stark contrast to 50 to 80 convictions a year in neighboring Nepal, according to the UNODC 2016 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons.

Between the years 2013 and 2019, a total of 4,668 cases were filed. However, only 245 of them were gone through and resolved. As of July 2019, a staggering 4,106 cases were still pending for trial. 

The highest number of cases was filed in the capital Dhaka, with the second highest number of cases filed in Jessore, followed by Cox’s Bazar.

Shariful Hasan, quoting data from the Trafficking in Persons cell of the police department and court records, said in only 33 cases perpetrators had been prosecuted over the past six years, which was a mere 0.5% of the total number of cases.

Officials concerned have said that in the absence of the specific tribunals mandated by the act, subordinate courts are dealing with the cases, which in turn has created a backlog of cases in the courts. 

This is one of the main reasons for delays in trafficking cases, they added.

Section 21 (1) of the Prevention and Suppression of Human Trafficking Act 2012 stipulates that the government may establish an Anti-human Trafficking Offence Tribunal comprising a judge with the rank of a sessions judge or additional sessions judge in districts.

Law Minister Anisul Huq had in 2015 said that at least one special tribunal would be set up in every division of the country for a faster disposal of cases  related to human trafficking.

Dhaka Tribune on Tuesday placed calls to the minister over phone, but the calls went unanswered.

Political Counselor of the US Embassy Brent Christensen at an event in Dhaka in September this year said if tribunals were set up as per the 2012 legislation, Bangladesh would make significant progress in addressing the recommendations made in the US State Department report.

Describing the human trafficking situation in Bangladesh as alarming, Christensen said that the State Department’s recommendations advised Bangladesh to increase the rate of prosecutions and convictions for human trafficking offenses. 

“The focus now must be on an implementation [of anti-trafficking measures],” he said.

The 2012 Prevention and Suppression of Human Trafficking Act (PSHTA) criminalizes sex and labor trafficking and prescribes penalties of five years to life imprisonment and a fine of not less than 50,000 Bangladeshi Taka.