Bangladesh Factory Collapse Trial Resumes

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 7, 2022


After more than five years of being halted while several defendants attempted to have their charges vacated, recent reports have indicated that the murder trial over the Bangladesh factory collapse in 2013 has recommenced.

The decision, ordered by a judge early last week, resumes the trial for 36 of the original defendants, however, three of whom have since died, while the cases of two other defendants appealing their indictments are to be considered separately.

Disaster Background

Around 9 a.m. on April 24, 2013, the nine-story Rana Plaza complex on the outskirts of the capital city of Dhaka collapsed. At the time, it was reported that as many as 3,500 people were working within the textile factory’s five garment segments when the collapse occurred.

Although rescue and recovery efforts continued for several weeks following the incident, the death toll in the disaster reached 1,135. Nearly 2,500 people had been rescued, but many suffered serious injuries.

The day before the collapse, the building had been issued an evacuation order by police after deep cracks were discovered on the building’s seventh floor. Owners of various shops and a bank within the structure had also instructed its employees not to report for work that Wednesday.

Despite these efforts, garment workers were reportedly instructed by factory owners that operations were to continue as usual and were threatened with the loss of a month's wages if they did not show up for work.

According to reports, Bangladesh is the world's second-largest exporter of garments after China. The $35 billion-a-year garment industry is powerful, accounting for about 80% of Bangladesh’s exports and employing more than four million people.

Following the tragic collapse, more than 10,000 people were reported to have taken to the streets in protest. While the public demonstrations of outrage and grief started with carrying black flags, blocking roads and demanding an accounting for what happened, the protests later escalated to setting buses on fire and clubbing windshields.

Among the demands set by protestors, fighting for those who laid siege to the head office of the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association at Karwan Bazar in Dhaka, was the arrest of the factory owners and the death penalty for Sohel Rana, the building's owner.

That Friday, a spokesperson reported that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina ordered the immediate arrest of Rana and the owners of the five garment factories.

Building Design, Illegal Construction and Architect Input

In the weeks following the structure collapse, several allegations and inputs would be publicized regarding the building’s history, construction and cause of collapse.

Among the alleged violations, officials said at the time that Rana illegally constructed four floors above what was permitted. He also allowed the garment factories to install and use high-capacity generators, which could have played a role in the collapse of the building.

Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha News Agency reported that “heavy machinery and high-capacity generators” were “largely responsible” for the structure’s failure and went as far as to cite initial results of government inquiry into the collapse.

“During the inquiry, we have found that use of substandard materials during the construction also contributed to the building collapse,” the leader of the inquiry, Main Uddin Khandaker, told the news bureau.

In additional reports issued by the Associated Press, the building was not designed for such heavy industrial work in the first place. Masood Reza, an architect from Vastukalpa Consultants, the firm that designed the original five-story building, told the Press that the building was designed in 2004 to function as a shopping mall and not for industrial purposes.

Former Home Minister Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir also reported at the time that the building was not built in compliance of safety rules and regulations.

Arrests and Murder Charges

Shortly after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina ordered the immediate arrest of Rana and the owners of the five garment factories, the nation's high court ordered that the owners—all of whom were believed to be in hiding or fleeing the country—appear in court on Tuesday, April 30, 2013.

The following month, it was announced that Rana and two other people were facing allegations of murder, negligence and illegal construction. The murder charges rose after the wife of a garment worker killed in the accident filed a complaint with a Dhaka magistrate, alleging that her husband and others were “pushed toward death” by Rana, local government engineer Imtemam Hossain and employer New Wave Styles Ltd. owner Bazlul Adnan.

Rana was said to have told tenants—including the five garment factories—on the day of the evacuation order that the building was safe for occupancy. Rana, however, blamed the ready-made garment factory owners.

In addition, nine people, including two government engineers who were responsible for issuing safety permits for the building, were arrested in the fatal collapse. However, none of those arrested had been formally charged at the time.

A Dhaka court ruled that the owners would be questioned by police for 12 days without charges being filed and that the police had 15 days to question Rana.

In July, it was announced that the city’s former mayor, Mohammad Refayet Ullah was arrested for his oversight of the building’s construction and design. Ullah was alleged to have illegally approved construction of the building in 2006, including the addition of the extra floors. Moreover, builders reportedly used inadequate construction materials, including substandard rods, bricks and cement to build the new floors.

According to reports, Ullah was the highest-ranking government official arrested in the disaster and had been the mayor of the municipality for 14 years. He was suspended from his position just one week after the collapse.

It wouldn’t be until a year after the incident that officials would announce that the owner of the Bangladeshi factory would be facing murder charges for the over 1,000 workers lost in the tragic collapse.

Lead police investigator Bijoy Krishna Kar said that Rana was one of about 40 people who would face charges for the incident. “We are planning to press murder charges against Sohel Rana and some other accused,” Kar told Agence France-Presse.

Others who may also be charged include Rana’s father, who is a co-owner of the building, and garment company managers who operated the complex. At the time, officials were also weighing charges against engineers and regulators who illegally approved the building construction in 2006, without inspection.

In June 2015, murder charges were officially brought against Rana and more than a dozen government officials in connection with a building collapse. Authorities explained that the process had been challenging, noting that no one was previously punished for accidents at garment factories.

Investigators recorded statements from more than 1,200 people, including injured factory workers, government officials and experts to collect evidence and testimony.

Authorities in Bangladesh charged a total of 42 people in the disaster. Forty-one were charged with murder; 18, including 17 of those charged with murder, face building-code violations, according to news reports. The building-code violations include structural fault found at the building, constructing the building with substandard materials and violating the National Building Code, according to the Daily Star.

Among those charged with murder in addition to Rana are his father, Abdul Khalek and the owners of the five garment companies housed in the building.

The accused faced the death penalty if convicted of murder, according to the BBC. At the time, a court hearing was set for June 28, 2015, to outline the proceedings. The collapse was the worst industrial disaster in the country’s history and prompted global criticism of factory working conditions.

A copy of the charging documents were not available for review June 3, 2015. It was also unclear whether those charged were in police custody.

What Now

Last week, a murder trial for the over the Bangladesh factory collapse in 2013 was ordered to resume by a judge. The trial for 36 of the original defendants—three have since died—resumes after having been halted for five years while several defendants tried to get their charges vacated.

During that time, the country’s high court suspended the indictments of two local officials accused of approving the shoddy building.

As the trial resumes, a prosecution request to vacate the two suspended indictments will be considered separately.

“We want to conclude the trial as quickly as possible. Already too much time has been wasted,” chief public prosecutor Sheikh Hemayet Hossain told AFP. “The building didn’t have any (construction) plan. It would shake when machines were switched on. And the owner of the building, Sohel Rana, used hired muscle to force the workers to go to work on the day of the collapse.”

Hossain added that all of the accused except Rana had been freed on bail.

“We haven’t got justice for nine years,” said former garment worker Rehana Akhter, 35, whose left leg was amputated after she was trapped in the complex. “Of course we want justice. They should keep (Rana) alive so that he could look after the amputees like me and all other victims.”

At the time of publication, no information had been reported as to when the accused would appear in court

   

Tagged categories: Architecture; AS; Asia Pacific; Building codes; Building owners; Commercial / Architectural; Commercial Buildings; Disasters; Fatalities; Government; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Laws and litigation; Lawsuits; Program/Project Management; Safety

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