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Rights Commission: Out of agenda again?
Government might deserve primary commendation, at least, for placing the
much talked (In)dependent Anti-Corruption Commission in the parliament
expeditiously in the last budget session of the 8th Parliament for whatever
motivation. Whether it is or will be substantially independent one is
a different discourse. Interestingly, the Government is keeping absolute
mum on the question of two other critical institutions i.e., Ombudsman
and Human Rights Commission. Particularly in case of human rights commission
where the present government reportedly completed the process of drafting
the legislation, nothing has happened so far to approve the bill in Cabinet
and present it in the Parliament.
human rights accessible
Human rights are ultimately a profoundly national, not international,
issue. In an international system where government is national rather
than global, human rights are by definition principally a national matter.
Though human rights transcend the barrier of domestic jurisdiction, international
and even regional human rights mechanisms are simply inaccessible to the
vast majority of the world's population. Indeed individual rights and
freedoms will be protected or violated because of what exist or what is
lacking within a given state or society. States are holders of the obligation
under the international human rights treaties to uphold and realise human
rights of people within their respective territories. Hence the concept
of national human rights institutions gained currency all over the world.
The United Nations uses the broad term "institution" to describe
a domestic human rights mechanism. This term initially includes "virtually
any institution at the national level having a direct or indirect impact
on the promotion and protection of human rights." Subsequently the
definition was narrowed down to include those institutions that have the
following functions: educational and promotional activities; provisions
of advice to governments on human rights matters; and investigation and
resolution of complaints of violations committed by public (and occasionally
also private) entities. A national human rights institution has been described
as "a body, which is established by a government under the Constitution,
or by law or decree, the functions of, which are specially defined in
terms of the promotion, and protection of human rights."
Paradoxically, the credibility of a national human rights institution,
created and funded by the state, depends on its ability as an independent
body, to monitor and scrutinise the state's performance against human
rights criteria. In many countries national human rights institutions
failed to fulfil the expectation they created when they were first established.
On the contrary, in some jurisdictions where the expectations greeted
with profound suspicion, the institutions made explicit difference. While
national institutions are not necessarily the 'ideal type' of human rights
mechanism, if autonomous and appropriately structured, they can be a useful
means for promoting a dialogue between governments and their citizens.
It can, at least, offer the people in difficult situation, an affordable
alternative to seek justice.
In a country like Bangladesh where the violations of human rights by state
agencies are rampant, the expectation from any such proposed institution,
thus minimal. But at the same time, it might not be seen justified to
spend donor money in a sector where the government is politically unwilling
to set up the commission. Forming sub-committee, involving in prolonged
discussion, or undertaking research study to delay the process underplays
government's international obligation and national commitment towards
Rights Commission: No hope for early enactment?
It seems there is no hope for early enactment of any Act pertaining
to protection of human rights through national institutions. It is disappointing
to see that the successive governments frequently changed their policy
on national human rights institutions. The process of setting up such
institutions, in fact, began in late 1994 during the then BNP regime.
The Institutional Development of Human rights in Bangladesh (IDHRB) project
was formally launched in 1995. The work of drafting a law was continued
during 1996-2001 under Awami League government. However the Awami League
Government did not establish the Commission due to lack of political commitment.
The 4 Party Government led by BNP initially decided to continue the process.
The present cabinet at its regular meeting on December 10, 2001 formed
the committee headed by law minister Barrister Moudud Ahmed to examine
the prospect of setting up of the commission. Communications Minister
Barrister Nazmul Huda, Post and Telecommunication Minister Barrister Aminul
Haque and Information Minister Dr. Abdul Moyeen Khan are the other notable
members of the committee. The cabinet committee came up with the idea
of enacting a comprehensive law on the protection of human rights instead
of legislating a bill for instituting a National Human Rights Commission
only (thereby scrapping the Awami League draft). In about 18 months since
its formation, the sub committee held numerous meetings to finalise new
draft legislation all over again!
The process has been continuing for last 9 years. No other country has
so copiously researched the necessary parameters of an effective National
Human Rights Commission. However, despite the work of the IDHRB, the Government's
effort to establish such a Commission has been half-hearted. Those Bangladesh
NGOs, which are critical of the Government's performance on the protection
and promotion of human rights, have allegedly been excluded from the process.
It remains to be seen whether the numerous high level seminars and study
tours were designed to teach the government how to set up an effective
commission, or are merely a part of the Government's strategy to create
a toothless tiger - it also remains to be observed whether the bill will
incorporate the UN Paris Principles appropriately on national human rights
The ruling BNP led coalition's attempt to establish a National Human Rights
Commission should not be a political exercise to differentiate it from
its predecessors, Bangladesh Awami League. The process should be aimed
at strengthening civil liberties and nascent democratic institutions in
the country. The Bangladesh Government needs to make its position clear.
It has already created resentments in both national and international
human rights fraternity. The simple question of the day is: how long the
government will take to establish a National Human Rights Commission for
Hasnat, a human rights advocate and legal researcher, is an expert on
national human rights institutions. He can be contacted at <HRDev@postmark.net>.