The Bangladesh government must take urgent action to protect women and girls from illegal fatwas and extrajudicial punishments traditionally meted out to resolve disputes, a rights activist demanded.
“Women and girls, especially the uneducated and among the rural poor are regular victims of human rights violations. These punishments are tools of torture [used] by unscrupulous Muslim leaders,” said Faustina Pereira, a Catholic lawyer.
Pereira, the human rights and legal aid services director at BRAC, a leading development organization, said many victims are haunted by extrajudicial punishments, such as whippings, cutting off hair, blackening faces, wearing garlands of shoes, ostracism and the imposition of fines.
In a number of cases punishments have resulted in the deaths of victims.
“Only a Mufti [Islamic scholar] can issue fatwas which are supposed to be opinions regarding Islamic law. But they are used to unlawfully settle disputes.”
Pereira yesterday said the government needed to take note of a recent Human Rights Watch report criticizing its lack of protection for people from illegal fatwas and punishments.
The report also attacked slammed the government for not following supreme court directives last year to investigate and prosecute those responsible for cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishments and to introduce preventive steps in all educational institutions.
The court also instructed the local government ministry to inform all officials and law enforcers that extrajudicial punishments are criminal offences.
However, this has been largely ignored and thus the problem continues unabated, Pereira said.
The government must do something now to address this, she added.
According to Ain-0-Salish Kendra, a local human rights group, there were 330 reported cases across the country in the last 10 years. It also reported 16 cases in the first five months of this year.