People’s Republic of Bangladesh (Bangladesh)
Year of Last Known Execution
Methods of Execution
If shooting is used as a method of execution, its use is uncommon. In 2009, the Bangladesh Supreme Court ruled that various military officers could be executed by firing squad for their participation in a coup and the 1975 murders of Sheikh Rahman and most of his family. The sentence of public execution by firing squad—seen by some as unduly harsh and designed to appease members of the public still angered by the coup—had been contested since 1998. Ultimately, the executions were carried out by hanging despite the court’s ruling that shooting was permissible. Presumably, no-one was executed by shooting during the resolution of this case—between 1998 and 2009.
Number of Individuals On Death Row
Annual Number of Reported Executions in Last Decade
Does the country’s constitution mention capital punishment?
Article 32 provides: “No person shall be deprived of life. . . save in accordance with law.” This could imply the constitutionality of the death penalty. Additionally, Article 149 saves the 1860 Penal Code except as modified by law made under the Constitution. This does not elevate the death penalty to constitutional status, but it is constitutional reference to a body of law that includes the death penalty.
Offenses Punishable by Death
Other Offenses Resulting in Death.
Robbery resulting in death is a death eligible offense for each of the offenders involved in the robbery. Maiming of women and children by explosive, poisonous or corrosive substances is, when resulting in death, a capital offense. The likelihood of or intent to cause death or grievous injury may not be an element of the offense. Bearing false witness in a capital case, with intent or knowledge that the defendant could be executed, and resulting in the defendant’s conviction and execution, is punishable by death.
Drug Trafficking Not Resulting in Death.
Any person who cultivates, produces, transports, carries, supplies, or purchases any of the following substances may receive a death sentence: more than 25 grams of heroin, cocaine, and cocaine derivatives; more than ten grams of pethidine, morphine and tetrahydrocanbinal; more than 2 kilograms of opium, cannabis resin or opium derivatives. In addition, since December 2018, any person who transports, trades, stores, or produces more than 200 grams of yaba, or its principal ingredient amphetamine, is eligible to receive a sentence of death.
Any person who keeps, preserves, stores, exhibits or uses any of the following substances may receive a death sentence: more than 25 grams of heroin, cocaine, and cocaine derivatives; more than ten grams of pethidine, morphine and tetrahydrocanbinal; more than 2 kilograms of opium, cannabis resin or opium derivatives. Since 2018, any person found in possession of more than 200 grams of yaba is liable to capital punishment.
Military Offenses Not Resulting in Death.
Civilians may be executed for abetting mutiny. Offenses not involving death committed by military personnel in the Army, Navy and Air Force such as desertion, cowardice, inducement to such, espionage, aid to the enemy, treacherous or cowardly use of a flag of truce, false alarm in time of war, desertion in war, or any act calculated to imperil Bangladesh may be punished by death. Some offenses committed by military personnel, such as against persons not subject to the law of the service or the law of Bangladesh, may be punishable by death. The Bangladesh Guard may be included along with other military branches, per legislation pending during our research.
Does the country have a mandatory death penalty?
The Supreme Court of Bangladesh ruled in May 2015 that the mandatory death penalty is unconstitutional. The court found that articles 29, 31 and 32 of the Constitution were violated by the mandatory application of capital punishment, reasoning that the prohibition on being deprived of life “except in accordance with the law” introduced a concept “akin to due process.” The court stated:
“A provision of law which deprives the court to use of its beneficent discretion in a matter of life and death, without regard to the circumstances in which the offence was committed and, therefore without regard to the gravity of the offence cannot but be regarded as harsh, unfair and oppressive. The legislature cannot make relevant circumstances irrelevant, deprive the court of its legitimate jurisdiction to exercise its discretion not to impose death sentence in appropriate cases. Determination of appropriate measures of punishment is judicial and not executive functions [sic]. The court will enunciate the relevant facts to be considered and weight to be given to them having regard to the situation of the case. Therefore we have no hesitation in holding the view that these provisions are against the fundamental tenets of our Constitution, and therefore, ultra vires the Constitution and accordingly they are declared void.”
(This question was last updated on January 28, 2016.).
Which offenses carry a mandatory death sentence, if any?
After a High Court ruling in the appeal of Sukur Ali, joined or filed by the Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust in February 2010 (challenging the mandatory death penalty for rape) the mandatory death penalty in Bangladesh is probably unconstitutional. We had not located the ruling as of March 12, 2010."
Categories of Offenders Excluded From the Death Penalty
Individuals Below Age 18 at Time of Crime.
Article 51 of the 1974 Children act excludes offenders under the age of 16 from the death penalty, although we did not find any translations of domestic law that fully excludes individuals below the age of 18 at the time of the crime. In 2003 the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern that 16 or 17 year olds could be sentenced to death. In 2009, the U.N. CRC reiterated this concern and recommended that Bangladesh clarify its definition of the child to include all persons under the age of 18. U.N. documents indicate that Bangladesh’s position is that it does not execute individuals for crimes committed while under the age of 18, that death sentences for such individuals are rarely—if at all—meted out by courts and that Bangladesh is considering amending the 1974 Children Act to assure a clear legal exclusion. As of July 8, 2010 we did not find any reports indicating that individuals are actually sentenced to death for crimes committed while under the age of 18."
Women cannot be executed while pregnant, and the High Court may commute a woman’s sentence to life imprisonment after term.
Offenses For Which Individuals Have Been Executed In the Last Decade
In 2010, individuals were executed for the 1975 pre-dawn mass murder of Bangladesh’s independence leader, much of his immediate family, other relatives, political associates and bodyguards. While it is unclear that the conviction was for aggravated murder, the offense can be characterized as aggravated murder.
Have there been any significant published cases concerning the death penalty in national courts?
While as of March 12, 2010, we had not found any published opinions, there are at least two important and recent cases concerning the death penalty.
In February 2010, reports indicated that the High Court ruled in the appeal of Sukur Ali, joined or filed by the Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (challenging the mandatory death penalty for rape), that the mandatory death penalty in Bangladesh is unconstitutional. Presumably, such an opinion discusses the protection against torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment or treatment, or (somewhat weaker) due process and fair trial protections under Articles 32 and 35 of Bangladesh’s constitution.
In November 2009, reports indicated that the Bangladesh courts recently resolved a long-standing question of whether execution by firing squad was a permissible form of execution under the Bangladesh constitution, ruling that execution by firing squad is constitutional. Presumably, the opinion discusses whether such a method of execution is humane, although journalists reporting on the opinion concentrated on the fact that the government could choose to carry out the executions by hanging if using a firing squad proved too difficult, and the executions were in fact carried out by hanging.
Does the country’s constitution make reference to international law?
Article 25 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh recognizes the United Nations Charter, and Article 47 recognizes humanitarian law and provides that the Constitution will not limit the application of international treaties and the law of war. These provisions do not expressly recognize international human rights law, although they may imply some recognition of international human rights.
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
Date of Signature
First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, Recognizing Jurisdiction of the Human Rights Committee
Date of Signature
Date of Accession
American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR)
Death Penalty Protocol to the ACHR
DPP to ACHR Party?
DPP to ACHR Signed?
African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR)
Protocol to the ACHPR on the Rights of Women in Africa
ACHPR Women Party?
ACHPR Women Signed?
African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child
ACHPR Child Party?
ACHPR Child Signed?
Arab Charter on Human Rights
Arab Charter on Human Rights
Arab Charter Party?
Arab Charter Signed?
Comments and Decisions of the U.N. Human Rights System
Comments and Decisions of Regional Human Rights Systems
The Committee on the Rights of the Child has repeatedly expressed concern that Bangladesh law does not clearly preclude the death penalty for offenses defendants commit while under the age of 18, although Bangladesh asserts that in practice such individuals are not executed. The Committee on the Rights of the Child has repeatedly expressed concern that Bangladesh law does not clearly preclude the death penalty for offenses defendants commit while under the age of 18, although Bangladesh asserts that in practice such individuals are not executed.
The Human Rights Council, in its 2009 Universal Periodic Review of human rights in Bangladesh, encouraged Bangladesh to continue implementing birth registry measures designed to protect the rights of children, and recommended that Bangladesh institute a moratorium on executions, restrict the scope of the death penalty to comply with minimal international standards, and abolish the death penalty.
Availability of Lawyers for Indigent Defendants at Trial
Historically and recently, defendants rarely receive public defenders, although capital defendants have a statutory right to public defense. Bangladesh’s position (expressed in its reservations to the ICCPR) on public defenders is that Bangladesh aspires to fully implement the right to a public defender but that Bangladesh currently lacks the financial wherewithal to assure that right.
Availability of Lawyers for Indigent Defendants on Appeal
Historically and recently, defendants rarely receive public defenders, although capital defendants have a statutory right to public defense. Bangladesh’s position is that Bangladesh aspires to fully implement the statutory right to a public defender but that Bangladesh currently lacks the financial wherewithal to assure that right.
Quality of Legal Representation
Currently, the lack of legal representation renders the judicial system “virtually inaccessible to the vast majority of the poor and the disadvantaged,” although defendants are granted access to attorneys when they can obtain them. Attorneys, when they are used, should be able to avail themselves of prosecution evidence; however, in practice, problems with victim intimidation, witness tampering, missing evidence, and extensive corruption and subservience to ruling politicians could be an impediment to development of a legitimate, quality defense and fair trial, and under such conditions it is debatable how easily criminal defense attorneys are able to develop professionally.
The higher courts in Bangladesh are the High Court Division and the Appellate Court Division of the Supreme Court. Death sentences are submitted by the Court of Session to the High Court Division for confirmation. The Appellate Court Division has jurisdiction to hear all appeals from the High Court, and appeal lies as of right when the High Court has sentenced a person to death.
The Code of Criminal Procedure indicates that executions need not be approved by the executive. The main executive barrier to execution of a death sentence is the prerogative of mercy, granted by the Constitution and defined under the Code of Criminal Procedure and Penal Code. Condemned individuals petition the President for clemency. Additionally, the government (which may mean the legislature or some other executive official) may commute death sentences.
Availability of jury trials
Systemic Challenges in the Criminal Justice System
Reports indicate that roughly two thirds of Bangladesh’s 71,000 to 85,000 prisoners are pre-trial detainees, accounting for all or most of the overcrowding in Bangladesh’s prisons. The government sometimes held innocent citizens in detention for no other purpose than to coerce statements about other suspects. Witness tampering, destruction of evidence and victim intimidation are serious problems. While defendants are presumed innocent, backlogs are so severe that a defendant has often served the sentence for a crime before he has been tried for it.
The justice system is pervasively corrupt due to bribery and political influence, and the trial, conviction and appeals of the 1975 coup and murder defendants were marked by extensive executive interference with the rule of law and the judiciary—the beneficiaries of the coup exempted the defendants from liability, and the opposition party, led by the victim’s daughter, pressed for liability and execution, at times violently, once again in power. However, it should be noted that the High Court acquitted some defendants in that case despite the tension and violence surrounding the case. The U.N. Human Rights Council issued communications in 2006 commenting extensively on the executive’s virtually unbridled constitutional power to remove and appoint judges according to rules promulgated by the executive—a power which undermines Bangladesh’s constitutional separation of judicial and executive powers. In response, Bangladesh acknowledged problems with the independence of its judiciary and outlined some preliminary legal measures instituted to increase the independence of judges.
Where Are Death-Sentenced Prisoners incarcerated?
Description of Prison Conditions
Reports indicate that prison conditions in general are “abysmal,” with overcrowding at nearly three times the prison system’s capacity, cramped cells (in which death-sentenced prisoners are held) with poor ventilation, deficient sanitation and bathroom facilities and inadequate nutrition, water and medical care. Psychological care and work or training activities may be non-existent or insufficient. Overcrowding is so severe that some prisoners have to sleep in shifts, and disease is a serious problem. Bedding may consist of blankets spread on the floor, and prisoners’ meals may be served outdoors, rain or shine. Female prisoners may be incarcerated alongside male prisoners, and this and the practice of assigning male prisoners to cook for and feed female prisoners may continue to expose female prisoners to sexual assault and extortion. Crime and corruption in prisons are serious problems, as is the abuse or torture of prisoners. Guards may favor the use of fetters and corporal punishment, and complaints by prisoners may lead to severe maltreatment. These conditions lead to excessive custodial deaths—in 2009, 50 individuals died “due to alleged illnesses.” Custodial deaths and killings are a serious problem.
What are the nationalities of the known foreign nationals on death row?
Sri Lankans, Pakistanis, and others are under sentence of death in Bangladesh. An Indian woman was sentenced to death for child trafficking in Bangladesh in June of 2005. Recently, she was acquitted by the Bangladesh High Court on grounds that the prosecution failed to prove that she had abducted the child. There is reason to believe that other Indian nationals face the risk of a death sentence, particularly because Bangladesh law addressing human trafficking sometimes assigns the death penalty, and the Bangladesh government believes Indian nationals are likely to be involved in human trafficking in Bangladesh.
Women Known to Be on Death Row
While women may be sentenced to death, as of March 12, 2010 we did not find any reports of women sentenced to death.
Juvenile Offenders Known to Be on Death Row
As of March 12, 2010 we did not find reports of individuals sentenced to death for crimes committed as juveniles. The final observations of the U.N. Human Rights Council in its 2009 Universal Periodic Review of human rights in Bangladesh indicate that Bangladesh has instituted a new birth registry system and urge Bangladesh to implement that system to assure children’s rights.
Recent Developments in the Application of the Death Penalty
The most significant change is that under a High Court ruling in the appeal of Sukur Ali, joined or filed by the Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust in February 2010 (challenging the mandatory death penalty for rape), the mandatory death penalty in Bangladesh is probably unconstitutional, limiting the ambit of the death penalty. Another significant change is that legislation enabling the death penalty for offenses committed by the Bangladesh Guard is pending. This is significant because of the number of massacres and other capital offenses carried out by Bangladesh Guard personnel. Reports also indicate that an anti-terrorism ordinance issued in 2008 may somewhat expand the death penalty for terrorism. Finally, a court ruling on November 19, 2009 (which we had not found as of March 12, 2010) indicates that public execution by firing squad could be a legal form of execution. This ruling may be less significant because reports indicate that authorities have not used it to carry out such executions.
Record of Votes on the UN General Assembly Moratorium Resolution
2020 Record of Votes on the UN General Assembly Moratorium Resolution
2018 Record of Votes on the UN General Assembly Moratorium Resolution
2016 Record of Votes on the UN General Assembly Moratorium Resolution
2014 Record of Votes on the UN General Assembly Moratorium Resolution
2012 Record of Votes on the UN General Assembly Moratorium Resolution
2010 Record of Votes on the UN General Assembly Moratorium Resolution
2008 Record of Votes on the UN General Assembly Moratorium Resolution
Member(s) of World Coalition Against the Death Penalty
Other Groups and Individuals Engaged in Death Penalty Advocacy
Where are judicial decisions reported?
A searchable database of cases in Bangladesh is available at http://www.clcbd.org/. One limitation to this website is that it is limited to for-fee subscribers.
Helpful Reports and Publications
We found no extensively useful current reports. However, regular reports are issued by Odhikar (http://www.odhikar.org/), the U.S. Department of State (http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/), and various U.N. committees and personnel (http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/BDIndex.aspx).
A lengthy report of occasional relevance and waning currency is: U.N.D.P., Human Security in Bangladesh: In Search of Justice and Dignity, http://www.undp.org.bd/info/hsr/, Sep. 2002.
The U.N.D.P. may release other helpful reports: http://www.undp.org.bd/index.php?cal=c.
Additional notes regarding this country
The development of Bangladesh’s government, the independence of its judiciary and to a large extent the application of portions of its criminal law—including prosecution for high-profile capital offenses—has been influenced by political struggles that are often attended by serious violence and impunity.