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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: 96
December 6 , 2008

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Unfolding the untold truth

Fayazuddin Ahmad

Rights based approach to development for the (dis)abled people is recent in Bangladesh. The (dis)abled people are extensively deprived of the opportunity of fully participating in the life of the community. In certain cases law forbids (dis)abled people to exercise the rights affirmed on their behalf by international instruments. In other cases (dis)abled persons do not receive the support they need in order to participate. Let's (dis)cuss some of the key areas where the situation is more susceptible. WHO estimates that (dis)abled people make up 10% of the population as a whole i.e. more than 15 million (dis)abled people live in Bangladesh without fulfilment of their basic needs and with denial of their rights. The government adopts a welfare and charity approach instead of rights based approach for the development of (dis)abled people.

Article 17 of Bangladesh constitution says “the State shall adopt effective measures for the purpose of- uniform, mass-oriented and universal system of education and extending free and compulsory education to all children to such stage as may be determined by law” The enrollment of school going (dis)abled children is 4%, while the average enrolment rate is more than 90%. The teachers are not trained; materials not available and school buildings are not accessible. The primary education policy is not (dis)ability inclusive.

Article 29 says “there shall be equality of opportunity for all citizens in respect of employment or office in the service of the Republic. No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth, be ineligible for, or (dis)criminated against in respect of, any employment or office in the service of the Republic”. The former Prime Minister declared that quota will be for the (dis)abled people in BCS. Article 20 says “work is a right, a duty and a matter of honor for every citizen who is capable of working and everyone shall be paid for his work on the basis of the principle 'from each according to his abilities to each according to his work'”. However, the (dis)abled people (intellectual and hearing loss people) are paid half or even nominal in the community although they do the same job as other people in the community do.

Article 36 of Bangladesh constitution mentions “subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the public interest, every citizen shall have the right to move freely throughout Bangladesh, to reside and settle in any place therein and to leave and re-enter Bangladesh”. However, the (dis)abled people cannot move for the inaccessibility of buildings, transports and environment. The Bangladesh Building Code is not (dis)ability sensitive. Article 38 of Bangladesh constitution says that every citizen shall have the right to form associations or unions, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interests of morality or public order; according to (dis)ability Welfare Act 2001, the Government will “Create opportunities for formation of Self-self Organizations of the (dis)abled people” (Section- J). But the Bangladesh National (dis)ability Foundation gives fund to more than 100 organizations that hardly include the Self-help Organization of (dis)abled People. The tokenism of (dis)abled people's representation is ensured in the seminar, workshop organized on the (dis)ability issue.

The right to vote in elections is acknowledged for all persons including the (dis)abled persons. Although (dis)abled people are entitled to vote, they seldom have the opportunity of actually doing so. There are also a lot of problems connected with the actual voting procedure. Polling stations are not physically adapted for (dis)abled, voting papers are unavailable in Braille. The polling stations are so far away from the (dis)abled person's home and the way there so impassable, that people with physical (dis)abilities are prevented from voting. Under the constitution all citizen of Bangladesh are equal before law. But this seems far from reality for the (dis)abled people.

Violence to (dis)abled people, especially women has increased in numbers during last one year. Neither these incidents had been addressed duly nor did the victims receive legal relief. Here the (dis)abled Peoples' Organizations played a noteworthy role, in cases of violence to (dis)abled person, especially (dis)abled women, the local administration and law enforcing agencies have shown sensitivity and initiated due action. However, in most cases there is a lack of proper follow up in fulfilling their responsibilities according to the legal procedures. And there is a tendency among the victims and their families to make a compromise and not proceed legally in exchange of cash or kind. Both print and electronic media are playing a very noteworthy role, supporting campaigns for (dis)abled people in establishing their rights.

As most of the (dis)abled people are not organized, they are not empowered to fight against (dis)crimination and violations of rights. The DPOs adopt rights based approach for the development of (dis)abled people. The DPOs have plans to organize other (dis)abled people in the union, thana and district level and build their capacity through awareness, advocacy and campaign programme for the rightful inclusion of (dis)abled people in the society. Reality is that most of them do not know about their rights. They should be aware of the national and international human rights instruments that protect their rights. The (dis)abled women are doubly vulnerable because of gender and (dis)ability. The violence against women increases gradually for the unrest and intolerance of the society.

Article 26 of our Constitution says that all existing law inconsistent with the provisions of fundamental rights shall, to the extent of such inconsistency, become void on the commencement of this Constitution. The DPOs may campaign for laws that will be consistent to protect the rights of the (dis)abled people. The (dis)ability Welfare Act 2001 passed in the parliament is under the process of amendment. The (dis)ability movement needs alliances from all sectors to bring a change in the mindset of society and to introduce inclusive policies so that they enjoy equal rights like other citizens of the society. The economist, policy makers and civil society support the struggle of the (dis)abled people and the government formulates (dis)ability inclusive poverty reduction plan and programme so that education, employment, social dignity and participation of (dis)abled people are ensured at every level of the society- and as a party to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, our Government is now under international legal obligations too.

The writer is an advocate and researcher.

Ban on cluster munitions signed

The new international treaty banning cluster munitions, which opened for signing on December 3 and 4, 2008, is one of the most important measures that nations have taken to protect civilians from the deadly effects of armed conflict, Human Rights Watch said in a press release issued on 4 December 2008. By the close of the signing conference in Oslo, 94 nations had signed the treaty, which bans cluster munitions outright and provides strong humanitarian provisions for their cleanup and assistance to victims.

"This treaty is a major advance in international humanitarian law that will strengthen protection for civilians both during and after armed conflict," said Steve Goose, director of the arms division at Human Rights Watch. "Clusters have been one of the most ubiquitously used weapons and also one of the most harmful to civilians."

The convention prohibits the use, production, transfer, and stockpiling of cluster munitions. It commits participating nations to clear affected areas within 10 years, declare and destroy stockpiled cluster munitions within eight years, help affected nations with clearance, and provide comprehensive assistance to victims of the weapon.

"Nations such as the United States will find it difficult to use this weapon when its closest military allies have given it up," said Goose. "The stigma created by this convention will have a powerful effect even on those who have not joined."

The new treaty has a groundbreaking provision requiring states that join it actively to discourage other nations from using cluster munitions in joint military operations.

Signatories include dozens of stockpilers and former producers and users of the weapon. Eighteen of 26 NATO nations, including the UK, France, and Germany, signed the agreement. Those signing included some of the most severely affected states, such as Laos, Lebanon, and Afghanistan, which made a surprise announcement that it was signing after a change of heart by President Hamid Karzai.

The agreement will become binding international law six months after 30 signatories have ratified it. Four ratified in Oslo: Holy See; Ireland; Norway and Sierra Leone.

"There's a healthy competition now under way to be among the first 30 to ratify," said Goose.

Many states announced early steps toward carrying out the treaty's provisions. Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, South Africa, and the UK are already destroying their stockpiles of cluster weapons. Spain said it would destroy its stockpile within the next seven months.

Cluster munitions can be fired by artillery and rocket systems or dropped by aircraft, and typically explode in the air and send dozens, even hundreds, of tiny bomblets over an area the size of a football field. Used in urban areas, they invariably kill and wound civilians. Used in any circumstance, they can harm civilians decades after the war is over, as "duds" on the ground act like landmines, exploding when touched by unwitting civilians.

The treaty will now be available for signing at the United Nations in New York and will remain open for signature until it enters into force, after which states must join directly through a process known as accession (a one-step process for signing and ratifying).

Source: Human Rights Watch.


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