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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: 48
December 15, 2007

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Governance update
Human Rights Monitor
Law opinion
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Governance update

National Human Rights Commission sees the light of the day

Sultana Razia

Photo: UDHR.org

This year before the Human Rights Day the council of advisers approved the National Human Rights Commission Ordinance 2007. The cabinet approved the ordinance to set up the long-awaited National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), which will work like a national human rights watchdog. This NHRC was in the top priority of the successive political governments for long, to ensure that any rights violator is brought to justice. This NHRC can investigate human rights violations but is empowered to only settle issues or refer them to the court. This ordinance was passed when the state of emergency is going on.

Composition of the NHRC
The selection committee will be headed by an appellate division justice, to be nominated by the chief justice, and will include the cabinet secretary, attorney general, comptroller and auditor general, chairman of the public service commission, and law secretary as members.

The chairman and members of the human rights commission will be appointed for three-year tenures and for no more than two consecutive terms, according to the proposal. Their age limit will be between 50 and 72.

The chairman must have outstanding contributions made in protection of human rights, welfare of the humanity, and social work. One of the members will be either a serving or a retired judge of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court.

Function of the NHRC
The functions of the commission will include investigating any allegation of human rights violation received from any individual or quarter, or the commission itself can initiate investigation into any incident of rights violation. The commission would be empowered to investigate particular human rights violation allegations brought forward by citizens or discovered through their own monitoring. If a human rights violation has been proved, the NHRC can either settle the matter or pass it on to the court or relevant authorities.

In late 1994 the process of establishing this institutions was initiated. 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. Later BNP-led alliance government on December 10, 2001 formed the committee headed by the law minister to examine the prospect of setting up of the commission. They proposed to enact a comprehensive law on the protection of human rights instead of legislating a bill for instituting a National Human Rights Commission only. After a series of meetings on January 23, 2003 committee finalised the draft and sent it to the Cabinet Division. Since then, the bill has not been placed before the cabinet meeting.

In an international conference in 2004, the former law minister informed that difference of opinion among the ministers was delaying the constitution of the institution. In the previous tenure of Awami League, their law minister was also promised to establish the institution during their tenure.

The draft bill stipulated a five-member commission led by a retired judge of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, which must have one-woman member. The commission is supposed to investigate any human rights violation and recommend actions. It could probe any such incidents by the defence forces. The human rights commission was also a demand of the international donors who thought good governance critically depends on the rule of law. The process has been continuing for last the 12 years. May be the first country in world that is taking this long time to establish an effective institution. The non-governmental organisations and the civil society who were critical about the progress of this institution are also keeping their views confined in seminars and meetings with the international organisations. After coming to office on January 11, 2007, the present council of advisors pledged to establish the commission to honour and institute human rights in the country. Foreign ministry placed a draft to this effect before the council of advisers on September 8. The council in principle approved the draft and asked a seven-member committee headed by the law secretary to finalise the draft proposal and resubmit it in the shortest possible time for its consideration. The law, justice and parliamentary affairs ministry accordingly submitted the revised proposal, which the council of advisers approved on December 09, 2007.

UN approach
The establishment of a National Human Rights Commission consistent with the Paris Principles relating to the status of National Human Rights Institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights could have served as an effective mechanism to address gross and systematic human rights violations.

The concept of national human rights commission/institution is, however, very more specific--referring as it does to a body whose functions are specifically defined in terms of promotion and protection of human rights. The national institutions considered here are all administrative in nature--in the sense that they are neither judicial nor law making. As a rule, these institutions have on-going, advisory authority in respect human rights at the national and/or international level. Their purposes are pursued either in a general way, through opinions and recommendations, or through the consideration and resolution of complaints submitted by individuals or groups.

From the experience of the various national human rights commissions United Nations realised that no single model of national institution can, or should, be recommended as the appropriate mechanism for all countries to fulfil their international human rights obligations. Although each nation can benefit from the experience of others, national institutions must be developed taking into account local, cultural and human rights orientation of that region and legal traditions as well as existing political organisation.

The role of national governments in the realisation of human rights is particularly important. Human rights involve relationships among individuals, and between individuals and the State. Therefore, the practical task of protecting and promoting human rights is primarily a national one, for which each State must be responsible. At the national level, rights can be best protected through adequate legislation, an independent judiciary, the enactment and enforcement of individual safeguards and remedies, and the establishment of democratic institutions. In addition, the most effective education and information campaigns are likely to be those which are designed and carried out at the national or local level and which take the local cultural and traditional context into account.

Concluding remark
National human rights commission will be the uppermost domestic mechanism and can contribute a remarkable role in UN mechanism. We hope this long waited commission can raise voice against the human rights violations and force the state to be more accountable and comply with the international norms and standards. This establishing a NHRC is not only a moment for celebration and self-congratulation but is also a very crucial time with challenge--the challenge of making rights real, of closing the gap between the promise of the Universal Declaration and the performance of government and other actors to uphold human rights in Bangladesh.

--From Law Desk.


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