A World Bank report in 2018 stated that, “…in the last 10 years, the average traffic speed in Dhaka has dropped from 21 kilometres per hour (kmph) to 7 kmph, and by 2035, the speed might drop to 4kmph, which is slower than the walking speed.”
I can confirm that the 4 kmph may already have been achieved and well before 2035!
Thankfully, my second trip to Bangladesh for the National Center for State Courts project: Countering Terrorism Through a Strengthened Rule of Law Framework – has delivered at high speed for the last 18 days.
Since completing the Situational Evaluation and Needs Assessment in 2019, much has been done for the project to enhance judicial capacity. The team have finalised reform advocacy briefs critically reviewing the Digital Security Act 2018 (re cybercrime) and the Money Laundering Prevention Act 2012, drafted the Bench Book for Effective Adjudication of Terrorism, Money Laundering and Cybercrime Trials and completed orientation curricula to support the judiciary.
The purpose of this 2020 mission was to promote the Bench Book to key stakeholders and train Judges on essential skills for adjudicating money laundering and cybercrime trials in Dhaka and Chattogram.
We also took the opportunity to deliver awareness raising of the impact of cybercrime with law students, legal aid officers and prosecutors. With a population of more than 167 million, there are 91.82 million users online and 34 million social media users in Bangladesh. Indeed, the percentage of Facebook users in Bangladesh is one I have never seen elsewhere in the world, with a whopping 96.36% penetration!
Unfortunately, with more access to cyberspace, comes more cyber criminality. Cases of harassment online, identity theft and hacking are becoming more prevalent, with complaints increasing 30% in the last year in Dhaka alone.
One of the awareness raising events that stands out was a lecture for the students at the law faculty of the Bangladesh American International University, in an almost ‘gig like‘ atmosphere. With a slippery floor ‘catwalk‘ between the students this gave me the chance to run up and down in my attempts to engage with the next generation of lawyers and highlight the need for an open internet to allow freedom of expression. It was also good to meet the rapping lecturer Towfique Ahmed – check out his website
In between trainings I visited the Cyber Court in Dhaka and a Terrorism Court in Chattogram. The courts are woefully under resourced, with no technology. Can it be right that a Cyber Court has no computer? Additionally, poor acoustics mean an accused has little if any chance to hear the evidence against them. Small steps, such as having microphones can address this challenge. I hope by my next visit much would have been done to address this problem.
The security of courts is also of real concern. I was told of an incident in Chattogram, where an accused’s lawyer made a hole in the pages of a legal text, where he hid a bomb. As a lawyer, he was able to move freely within the court building and when he entered the courtroom he threw the bomb at the Judge. Fortunately, the Judge was able to escape unharmed after the device failed to explode.
A highlight was a presentation to Justices at the Supreme Court of Bangladesh on the challenges of adjudicating money laundering trials and admissibility of e-evidence. I was fully tested by the Justices on my knowledge of Bangladeshi law and even asked if the Money Laundering Prevention Act should have the death penalty! A lesson here is not to use colloquialisms when presenting to prevent misinterpretation – so I should not say about ‘cutting the head off the snake’ in reference to ensuring the profit is taken out of crime!
This was also a personal visit for me, as my Grandad was based in Chattogram (formerly Chittagong), during the Second World War as a medic to the Chindits. In my downtime there was an opportunity to try and locate where he may have been stationed. Through the help of Judge Halim, I was able to find where the British Army were based. Now a whet milk depot, the site manager kindly let us walk around what may have been where my Grandad lived between 1943-44, as the Chindits went on their covert missions behind enemy lines.
My Grandad never spoke about his experiences in the war and he sadly passed away back in the 1990s. I will never know if this was the place he was stationed before the Chindits went on their daring raids, but maybe, just maybe, I was a little closer to him that day I visited.
Thank you – Dhan’yabāda – ধন্যবাদ – to all those who helped with the mission – from the drivers who ensured we stayed safe, Judge Halim for guiding me around Chattogram, the NCSC team for all their hard work preparing the training and staff at my hotel who were my language teachers (sorry for being sich a poor student) and those who are committed to enhancing the delivery of justice in Bangladesh – your work is making a diference!