[Publication] Impunity Report in South Asia
7 October 2021 8:53 am

Impunity is the absence of accountability and the rule of law. Impunity is defined in an international human rights instruments as the ‘impossibility, de jure or de facto, of bringing perpetrators of violations to account’, in criminal, civil, administrative or disciplinary proceedings, because such perpetrators are not made subject to inquiries that will allow them to be accused, sentenced and ordered to provide reparations.1 Impunity enables an environment where violations are allowed to continue unhampered. Looking back the world history, conflict drivers around the world are often related to chronic impunity and lack of accountability of one kind or another. Where impunity prevails, human rights become the first casualty.

According to recent statistics, more than 10.2 million people in the world are deprived of their liberty, and an important number among them are awaiting trial.2 To hold perpetrators to account and provide justice to victims remains a challenging task, globally as well as in South Asia. People’s movement and the systematic intervention of civil society across the globe have established legal tools and best practices to combat the culture of impunity. In Latin America, people’s quest for truth-seeking, accountability and reconciliation was phenomenally influential. In Europe, there have been several attempts to combat the culture of impunity through tribunals, EU human rights mechanisms and mass creation of public memories. The principle of command responsibility was stressed upon to establish a mechanism for accountability.

Procedurally, most of South Asian states are democratic. They hold periodic elections and form governments. However, substantially, illiberalism holds way in each of the states. It is seen in the delay and denial in developing tools to combat impunity. In another indication of illiberalism, legislations, such as penal codes, which are available in all the countries, are enforced in a manner that grants immunity to erring officials rather than hold them to account. Human rights violations by armed forces and military establishments are often shielded in the pretext of ‘national security,’ ‘public order, ‘counter-terrorism’ and so on.

The culture of impunity has, thus, become institutionalized in South Asia. It thrives on the absence of the rule of law and lack of political will of the governments to tackle injustices and hold the security apparatus to account. Even the judiciary has been rendered helpless, not to speak of national human rights institutions.

This series of publications, ‘Impunity Report in South Asia’ summarises the research outcome on the institutionalised impunity in seven South Asian countries; Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Maldives.


Issue 1: State of Impunity in Bangladesh

Impunity in Bangladesh widely includes civil, administrative and criminal justice that make perpetrators immune to credible investigation of crimes, and the prevention of prosecution and lawful punishment. Impunity has been an inseparable part of the national policy of Bangladesh since the inception of the country following its independence in 1971. In today’s Bangladesh, victims of ordinary crimes or gross human rights violations remain uncertain to receive justice on time. In the given context, the perpetrators are not prosecuted as demanded by the victims following national and international standards. The society is given the impression that ‘there is no shame in violating rights’, especially if the offenders are somehow associated with the power holders.

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Issue 2: Impunity and Torture in the Maldives

The Maldives has improved its democratic credentials since the last presidential election; even so, the culture of repression and persecution is far from over. Concerns regarding the right to freedom of speech; the right to freedom of assembly and association; and the protection of minority rights and human rights defenders remain significant concerns.

This paper highlights areas where the country needs urgent, focused and intensified reform efforts. The study is based on the analysis of existing literature on strengthening the country’s human rights commitments through institutional reforms and amendments to the legal framework. The section on transitional justice is based on interviews with survivors of past atrocities in the Maldives, and an analysis of international law, with a particular focus on the provisions that deprive members of the public of effective remedies.

Police and prison reforms are central to the Maldives’ efforts to establish the rule of law, good governance and open democracy. This research focuses on the Maldives, with a view of identifying historical and structural issues that contribute to the prevalence of impunity for atrocities; as well as certain criminal offences; and the repression of rights and political violence. Recommendations made by international bodies and informed by previously completed studies, and with the acknowledgment of civil society concerns can lead the Maldives to consolidate freedom, liberty and stability if prioritised and implemented effectively.

For the PDF version of the report, click here



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