Bangladesh Institute of Law and International Affairs (BILIA) held a symposium titled ‘Towards Tort Liability for Sexual Violence’ at the BILIA Auditorium on 25th April 2018. Professor Dr. Shahnaz Huda, Department of Law, University of Dhaka presided over the event while Dr. Shahdeen Malik, eminent jurist and Honorary Director, BILIA gave the welcome address.
Mr. Taqbir Huda, Research Officer, BILIA, presented a paper titled 'Towards Tort Liability for Sexual Violence Against Women' which illustrated how tort law can play a crucial role in combating the sexual in Bangladesh by granting victims of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment the much needed right to sue for damages (i.e compensation) not just against the offenders but also against relevant third parties such as employers and premises owners for their negligent supervision or failure to provide adequate security. He emphasised the significance of the pending, potentially landmark tort case of Begum Shamsun Nahar vs British American Tobacco Bangladesh (66 DLR AD 80), which is possibly the only case in which a victim of sexual violence (namely sexual harassment at the workplace) has sued for damages in tort in Bangladesh, the success of which would set a landmark legal precedent for all other victims of sexual violence to similarly sue for compensation in tort.
The designated discussants included Advocate Fawzia Karim Firoze, President, Bangladesh National Woman Lawyers Association (BNWLA) and Barrister Muhammad Nawshad Zamir, Advocate, Supreme Court of Bangladesh and legal counsel for the claimant in the BATB case.
Advocate Firoze highlighted the trauma rape victims have to face in criminal trials because of the line of questioning put forward by defence lawyers which is yet another ordeal. Thus she too recognised that a civil law alternative may prove to be more empowering and beneficial to victim of sexual violence.
Barrister Zamir explained in detail the factual, procedural and appellate history of the BATB case and how BATB has engaged in dilatory tactics to frustrate the litigation process by filing frivolous applications under the Code of Civil Procedure (e.g. for rejection of plaint and rejection of amendment of plaint etc). Thus he highlighted the need for the court to penalise such flagrant abuse of the Civil Code by defendants to vitiate the trial process.
Dr. Malik highlighted that activism on part of the lawyers and judiciary are more likely to help bring about practical change in law rather than parliamentary intervention. Professor Huda acknowledged the importance of establishing tort liability for rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment and the need for the law to have a different response to tackle the sexual violence epidemic.
The claimant, Begum Shamsun Nahar was also in attendance but chose not to speak or be addressed. Participants consisted of legal practitioners, lecturers, activists and other civil society members. Notable participants included Mr. Kamruddin, Former Bangladeshi Ambassador to Iraq, Ms. Khushi Kabir, eminent women’s rights activist and Co-ordinator of Nijera Kori, Dr. Mahbubur Rahman and Dr. Rumana Islam, Department of Law, University of Dhaka and lawyers from Naripokkho.
The event is covered by Tasmiah Nuhiya Ahmed , Advocate, Supreme Court of Bangladesh and Researcher at Bangladesh Institute of Law and International Affairs (BILIA)