Human Rights Advocacy
10th December: Human Rights Day
Barrister Harun ur Rashid
The observance of Human Rights Day falls on 10th December and all member-states of the UN observe the Day as a commitment to human rights.
The language used in Articles 1, 55 and 56 of the UN Charter presuppose the existence of human rights before the advent of the UN and the Declaration of 1948 is a manifestation of the commitment of the UN Charter to human rights.
On 10th December in 1948, the UN General Assembly adopted a Declaration, known as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It was initiated by Ms. Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of the President Roosevelt who was a champion in pursuing human rights for all human beings.
The Declaration has 30 Articles, setting forth the human rights and fundamental freedoms (liberties) and Article 1 lays down the philosophy of the Declaration : “ All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”
The Declaration, according to many legal experts, represents customary international law. This means that all states are legally bound to afford to individuals within their jurisdiction the human rights set forth in the Declaration.
After the Declaration, there has been a gap of 18 years, before two notable human rights instruments were adopted. They are: the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The other instruments are the 1979 Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The Human Rights Commissioner of the UN monitors the compliance of human rights of all member countries of the UN. Recently one UN Rapporteur has visited Myanmar and inspected jails where the inmates are detained. The idea is that the detainees must be treated humanely.
Origin of the Concept of Human Rights
The concept of Human Rights goes back to philosophy of Greek Stoics. It was later developed during 16th century by Grotius in natural law jurisprudence. The modern version of human rights is to be found in the English, American and French revolutions of the17th and18th centuries.
In England the Bill of Rights of 1689 directed towards the protection of individual rights or liberties. The American Declaration of Independence of 1776 stated “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit to Happiness.” Following the French Revolution, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizens of 1789 stated that “true happiness is to be found in individual liberty”.
All the above documents of the 17th and 18th centuries show that human rights are by nature inherent, universal and inalienable simply because they are human beings and not because they are the subjects to state's law.
Second, the protection of human rights is best afforded within a democratic framework. Dictatorship or authoritarian rule curbs human rights.
Third, the application of human rights should not be discriminatory, arbitrary or oppressive.
What is the meaning of Human Rights Day?
The importance of the observance of the Human Rights Day lies in the examination of the record of human rights in a country. The examination includes whether there is any mechanism for redress for those whose rights have been violated.
The institutions for the protection of human rights on national and international area have developed exponentially since the end of the Second World War. Human rights since then have been elevated to a matter of international rather than merely a national concern.
The fact that human rights are part of the domestic and international political agenda must reflect a realization by governments that behaviour in this field is crucial to their reputation and standing in world affairs and that it may even affect in a concrete fashion the way they are treated in their dealings with other states and international in general
National institutions for protection of human rights are important in that individuals may claim that their human rights have been violated by governments' action or inaction. Individuals must in all cases attempt to secure redress of their grievances internally. This is known as the exhaustion the local remedies rule and is of fundamental importance in international human rights law.
A National Human Rights Commission was established in 1993 in India, in Sri Lanka, 1997 and in Nepal 2000. It investigates matters that include violation of human rights or discrimination on the grounds of race, colour or ethnic origin, gender or disability.
The Commission plays a central role in contributing to the maintenance and improvement of a tolerant, equitable and democratic society, through its public awareness and other educational programmes aimed at the community, government and business sectors.
National Human Rights Commission in Bangladesh
The Bangladesh Constitution of 1972 has a list of fundamental rights, emanating from the UN Declaration of Human Rights.
The justiciability of fundamental rights is itself guaranteed under the Constitution. The responsibility for the enforcement of the fundamental rights lies with the Supreme Court by virtue of Article 102 of the Constitution on a petition from an aggrieved party.
The necessity of the National Commission on Human Rights in Bangladesh could be the appropriate mechanism through which human rights of citizens could be protected, and its functions are different from those of the Supreme Court.
The Commission may provide information and strategies to improve the enjoyment of human rights in a country, the key message being that the elimination of discrimination, harassment and breaches of human rights are pre-requites for the enjoyment of equality in a society. The Commission may preserve, protect and promote culture and language of all tribal communities including those of Adhivashis.
The Commission may also be given powers, among others, in the following matters:
* To intervene in any proceeding involving any allegation of violation of human rights pending before a Court with the approval of such a Court,
* To investigate into violation of human rights of individuals
* To visit under intimation to government, any jail or any other institution under it, where persons are detained or lodged for corrective treatment and to inquire the living conditions of the inmates and make recommendations thereon,
* To undertake and promote research in the field of human rights and
* To encourage the efforts of NGOs working in the field of human rights
* To education and publicity on human rights
* To review the safeguards provided by and under the Constitution and laws and recommend measures for their review and effective implementation,
* To conduct public inquiry from human rights point of view, such as homeless children inquiry, inquiry into dwellers in slums or women discrimination inquiry
* To provide service on dispute resolution, discrimination prevention, knowledge development, and employment equity.
In Bangladesh the National Human Rights Commission may be set up under a law. It will be an independent autonomous body, composed of individuals of highest reputation, integrity and competence in human rights field. It could even be a three-member body. It is hoped that this day will be reminder to the authorities to establish the National Human Rights Commission.
The writer is a former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.