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“All Citizens are Equal before Law and are Entitled to Equal Protection of Law”-Article 27 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

Issue No: 253
January 21, 2012

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Human Rights Report

State of Human Rights in 2011

This is a compilation of the Human Rights report by Odhikar for 2011. The report focuses on the violation of human rights taking different rights separately.

Throughout 2011, violence between and within major political parties continued and the rights of the people to articulate their grievances has been brutally repressed. Ethnic and religious minorities also suffered violence and injustice. Attacks against media did not subside and dissenting voices were punished in the name of 'contempt of court'.

The report mentions that there has been a decrease in number of extra-judicial killings from 127 in the year 2010 to 84 in 2011, it seems that a shift is taking place by which citizens are placed outside legal protection and legal trials by terminating them. The State might have adopted this tactic because of the national and international outcry against extra-judicial killings. The recent decline in the numbers of extrajudicial killings can only be a temporary pause.

The enforced disappearances also increased in 2011. Total 30 people disappeared.

Another alarming indication is the level of violence perpetrated against women. Dowry related violence has increased since 2009. The report shows a chart in which it is reported that the violence against women raised to 516 in 2011 from 157 in 2001.

The report emphasises that, 'Human rights is not merely defending individual rights against the State, but by itself a constitutive of democracy. From this perspective, the 15th Amendment to the Constitution Bill 2011 passed on June 30, 2011 and containing 51 politically sensitive changes is the most alarming event for Bangladesh. The 15th Amendment has fundamentally changed the nature of the Bangladesh State. A Parliament ruled by a single party and the constitutional structure by which political power is concentrated in the hands of the Prime Minister has always been a serious concern for the people of Bangladesh, but making drastic changes in the Constitution, transforming the fundamental nature of the State was unexpected and shocking and has further worsened an already precarious situation'.

The Government has failed to protect the physical integrity and safety of the people. Discrimination on grounds of gender, ethnicity, religion and race were also common in 2011. Individual's rights such as the freedoms of thought and conscience, speech and expression, the press, and movement have also been constantly violated despite Constitutional guarantees. As a result the democratic space for dialogue and consensus building shrunk to precarious levels in 2011, as evidenced even more by the introduction of the 15th Amendment to the Constitution.

Rights such as natural justice or procedural fairness in law, particularly the rights of the accused including the right to a fair trial, due process, and the right to seek redress or a legal remedy have also been violated. The violation of the rights of participation in civil society and politics, such as freedom of association, right to assembly and the right to self defence, have reached critical proportions that demand immediate attention.

Freedom of thought and speech: Like previous years journalists have been victims of attacks and physical assault in 2011. From January to December 2011, according to information gathered by Odhikar, due to professional grounds 139 journalists were injured, 53 threatened, 24 journalists attacked, 43 assaulted and case was filed against 23 journalists.

Freedom of Assembly has been infringed at large as well by political groups and also by the police.

Right to Information: On October 2, 2011 four citizens of the country, political analyst and poet Farhad Mazhar; Professor of BRAC University, Dr. Manjur Karim; New Age Editor, Nurul Kabir; and Odhikar Secretary Advocate Adilur Rahman Khan submitted a letter to the Chairman of Petro Bangla, according to Section 8 of the Information Act 2009, in order to get a certified copy of the agreement signed between it and multi national company Conoco Philips. In the letter, they mentioned that a PSC agreement was signed between Petro Bangla and Conoco Philips on June 16, 2011 for exploring two gas blocks in the sea. Public and national interests are related to this agreement. Despite submitting a request letter as citizens of the country, they have to date not received any information in relation to this matter from Petro Bangla.

Ethnic minorities: Article 28 of the Constitution of Bangladesh states that 'The state shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth'. However, the rights of the other ethnic minority communities has been denied by adopting 'Bangalee Nationalism' privileging one language and nation by replacing Article 9 by the 15th Amendment of the Constitution. The amendment also stated in Article 6(2) that 'the people of Bangladesh shall be known as Bangalees as a nation ....explicitly denies the existence of non Bengali ethnic minority communities. From January to December 2011, 40 people belonging to ethnic minority groups were killed, 94 injured, 17 abducted, 18 raped and 40 families had their houses destroyed.

Violence against religious minorities leveled up to 183 people starting from simple injury to rape.

Election: Democracy is a form of the State and not merely an electoral process. However, the fundamentals of democracy are often marginalized and ignored, privileging the singular ritual of election. Yet, in countries like Bangladesh where a democratic state is yet to be constituted the electoral process contributes to the formation of the democratic political sphere. Electoral practice signifies the extent of the political autonomy, respect and rights assigned to the citizens to elect a government. A healthy practice of electoral process signifies the institutional strength of the State to articulate the will of the people and the ability of the political parties and citizens to realise democracy. Yet, irrespective of the regimes, elections in Bangladesh have not taken their rightful place as facilitators of the public will. In 2011, most of the elections have been tainted by allegations of corruption, violence and lack of transparency. The Election Commission was not strong enough either. In parliamentary by elections of January 27 and Narayangonj City Corporation polls in November 30, the Government did not comply with the request of the Election Commission to deploy the Army. Article 126 of the Constitution of Bangladesh stipulates that “It shall be the duty of all Executive authorities to assist the Election Commission in the discharge of its functions.” The Election Commission should be strengthened to act independently in all situations to hold free, fair and credible elections.

We look forward to a better year with less violation of our human rights, less crimes and better protection of our families and friends.

Compiled by Noor Jahan Punam.



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