Human Rights Special
Deteriorating conditions of human rights and human dignity in Bangladesh
Dr. M. Shah Alam
Protection and promotion of human rights is a function of multiple factors. State of human rights in a particular country may not necessarily be determined by its material and cultural richness. Polity and political regime, economy, rule of law, history, culture all come to complex interaction to influence human rights situation in any country. We in Bangladesh made a solemn pledge to secure human freedom, human dignity and fundamental rights for ourselves. Accordingly we laid down in our Constitution fundamental principles and norms under which the State of Bangladesh would function. We have been trying hard to build a society with this end in view, but not always with success. Many of our failures are attributable to circumstances under which we emerged as an independent nation. Yet, independence gave us the best opportunity to build a society to secure human rights and human dignity.
However fragile, we as a nation-state made a democratic beginning, and with many failings we are still engaged in the struggle for democracy, for it is only under democratic polity and good governance that human rights and human dignity can be secured. While we have so far not been able to create the best conditions for human rights and human dignity, our successes may also be not undermined. Considering multitude of historical and social adversities that we are confronted with, our performance is not a case of a failed state, and more importantly, is indicative of great potentials to be nurtured with care. Yet, there are signs which can be termed as anything but encouraging.
It may sound idealistic and simplistic or even rhetorical, but it is true to say that whatever we may have achieved is attributable to our people at large, and our failings are the results of manipulations and machinations perpetrated by the people at the helm of affairs, leaders both of the government and of the opposition. We make pledges which we ourselves break; we make laws which we do not implement, rather ourselves violate; we do everything and anything to cling to power or to come to power. In the process, situations are created where evils in human person are unleashed. Our laws and their implementations, government actions as well as the actions of the responsible individuals and groups in the society ought to invoke the best in the citizens. But alas! their actions are increasingly having negative impact on the society posing grave danger to human rights and human dignity. Let us consider few instances.
|We dedicate December 9 and 16, 2006 "Law & our rights" pages to the observance of "International
Human Rights Day".
Crossfire or extra-judicial killing has been widely criticized as violating human rights and human dignity and an affront on our criminal justice system. Proponents of crossfire argue, hardened criminals who are the causes of many violations of human rights are being eliminated in crossfire. But this is not rule of law, rather rule of jungle. Rule of law is a basic condition for the protection of human rights. Crossfire killing brutalises society and sets ominous precedent. When we need to stop killing by mob, not very infrequent in Bangladesh, crossfire tends to encourage such barbaric acts. Crossfire culture leaves scope for political killing which in view of our confrontational politics may become a dangerous weapon in the hands of the party in power. Political killings and repressions are becoming phenomenon in our country.
Excesses and atrocities committed by police not long ago in confronting citizens' protests, processions and meetings give reasons for grave concern. Mass arrests, torture in police custody and in remand are not good messages for human rights.
Corruption, bad governance, lack of transparency and accountability, mismanagement of development works and misappropriation of public funds have been thoroughly portrayed in the media. In fact, Bangladesh in recent years has repeatedly topped Transparency International's annual list of the most corrupt countries. Link between corruption and violation of human rights has been proved beyond all doubts. Corruption specially at the top infringes people's interests and deprives them of their legitimate rights.
Stage set by the immediate past government of the four-party alliance for general elections to be conducted under caretaker government proved to be a time-bomb for widespread protests, movement, violence and consequential violations of human rights. Whether it was appointment of the judges at the higher judiciary, or enhancing the tenure of the judges, or posting and transfer of the executives at different levels, or appointment of election commissioners, or even preparation of voter lists all proved to be seeds planted for protests, not always peaceful, during caretaker government, which have actually taken place and are taking place.
Clashes between rival political parties on October 28 involving tens of thousands of people in down town Dhaka and killings by beating in broad day light stunned the whole nation. Series of clashes and arson in a big medical college and hospital about the same time are alarming indeed. Frequent commotions and resultant clashes in the Supreme Court premises culminating in the Chief Justice's court being ransacked are disaster. Unfortunately, decisions, strategies and tactics of the people at the helm provoked the incidents, which in their turn unleashed evils in human persons. Understandably, it is not always easy to keep mass protests in reaction to any arbitrariness by the people in power peaceful. However, it is the duty of the leaders to keep any outbursts within human norms.
We are concerned rising political tensions may lead to many more situations threatening human rights and human dignity. Leaders ought to move with care and caution.
Back to basics, democratic practices at all levels, accountability and transparency in the administrative process, absence of corruption, appointment of the right persons at the right positions and rule of law as preconditions for good and effective governance can secure human rights and human dignity. These conditions are increasingly becoming victims of our power and wealth hungry politicians (there are exceptions, of course). There is no alternative to fulfilling these conditions for protecting human rights and upholding human dignity.
Dr. M. Shah Alam is Professor of Law, University of Chittagong.