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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: 299
December 08, 2012

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Human Rights Monitor

Rights burnt on fire: Ash in spectacles

Md. Ashraful Alam & Eshita Tasmin

Photo: Star

MA tomi konte gela, Baba tomi konte gela (Mom, where have you gone, Dad, where have you gone)? A weaping shout of Rikta, an eight year old girl of Anowara Begum and Habibur Rahman who have been crushed in ash in fire incident of Tajrin Fashion in Asholia recently. Can the stake holders hear that echo of Rikta? 10th December will be observed as the International Human Rights Day globally. Literally human right means the rights which are inherent to a human being and without which a human being cannot survive. That provides for right to food, education, free movement, equality and life. Right to life is in the hardcore of all human rights. Now, let me ask you, are the parents of Rikta human being? And did they have right life at all? Because, who have died in Nishchintopur fire incident are not man, they are known as worker, more aptly to say garments worker. Who are responsible for the death of one hundred and eleven workers? Their lives are valued one lakh taka each. Can death compensation be only solution to the flow of burnt death?

Recently, the Human Rights Commission of Bangladesh has submitted the annual human rights report to the United Nations Human Rights Commission. The report shows various gross violation of human rights in Bangladesh. It mainly focused on extra judicial killing, enforced disappearance and minority protection. I don't know what would be the report if the Asholia fire incident occurred before submission of report. This writing is to find out the root causes for violation of human rights by two fire, one is cross fire and another is death in crashed fire.

Article-20 of Bangladesh constitution provides that Work as a right and duty. (1) Work is a right, a duty and a matter of honour 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". (2) The State shall endeavour to create conditions in which, as a general principle, persons shall not be able to enjoy unearned incomes, and in which human labour in every form, intellectual and physical, shall become a fuller expression of creative endeavour and of the human personality.

This constitutional provision vests five obligations on government. (a). work is a right of a Bangladeshi citizen. He can claim this right to work in Bangladesh. Therefore, Bangladesh government is under a constitutional obligation to facilitate oppurtunities to work. (b).Work is a matter of honour for every citizen. This right has distinguished between slavery and labour. That means government should keep in mind that who are working in factory are not slave rather human being as enshrined in the article.(c) A worker shall be paid for his work. None can deprived him for his due payment.(d) The state shall endeavoure to creat condition in which a person shall be capable to get his income. (e) para-2 provides the final strike as says- The state shall endeavour to creat a condition in which a person shall become a fuller expression of creative endeavour and of the human personality. The para alaways make the government to remember that worker or labour are human persons. Can a government give enjoyment of this right if a person is died by fire incident? There is another question before us. Bangladesh has a uniform labour code. But why this legislation is not aptable to prevent death by fire?

Part-3 of the Bangladesh labour code-2006 provides the provions for safty of worker, specially in case of fire. Section 62 deals with the provisions for measures to be taken by a factory to avoid dangers and damage due to fire. The section provides for the following:

1. At least one alternative exit with staircases connecting all the floors of the factory building as described in the rules for each and every factory.

2.No door affording exit can be locked or fastened during the working hours so that they can be easily or immediately opened from inside.

3.The doors affording exit must be open outwards, unless it is sliding in nature, if the door is between two rooms it must open in the direction of the nearest exit.

4.Marking in red letter in proper size, in the language understood by the majority of the workers, on such doors, windows or any alternative exit affording means of escape incase of fire.

5.There shall be an effective and clearly audible means of fire-warning system to every worker.

6. There shall be a free passage-way giving access to each means to escape.

7.Where more than ten workers are employed other than in the ground floor, there shall be a training for all the workers about the means of escape in case of fire.

8. There shall be at least one fire-extinction parade and escape-drill at least once a year in a factory where more than fifty workers are employed.

I think these provisions are not bad at all rather nothing. But why these are not effective? The only answer goes to lack of human rigths approach. Unless and untill human rights approach is not ensured in protection of worker rigths, none can stop this flow.

Now, I would like to discuss the second issue of extra judicial killing, that is cross fire by law enforcing agencies in Bangladesh. Most of us know about the term “extra judicial killing”. When without any sanction of judicial process the authorities of the government kill any person that is called extra judicial killing. Whenever an extra judicial killing takes place it violates a vital part of human rights. More specifically, fundamental rights of a citizen are violated. Because, as a norm he or she has a right to defend as well as none can be punished unheard. It deprived one from coming under the regular judicial system of a state. And this is unlawful because it automatically jumps or bypasses the judicial system. Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights says” in countries which have not abolished death penalty, sentence of death may be imposed only for the most serious crimes in accordance with the law ………..the penalty can only be carried out pursuant to a final judgment rendered by a competent court”.

There is about 462 deaths in the name of Cross fire (report of Human rights commission and human rights forum) in Bangladesh. Can a lame excuse be acceptable on ground that the all who were killed in those cross fire were convicted criminals, but this might not be sufficient. Because whatever the parson is, criminal or gentleman, man or women, everyone has a right to go for free and fair trial, this is also our constitutional right. Because we are human, not dogs or other animals, which can be shot at anytime and anywhere. Our neighboring country is exercising this extra judicial killing in the name of so called “encounter” in certain parts of the country. Encounter is defined as a circumstance where the person targeted is alleged to shot the policeman and the policeman shot back as self defense. Indian boarder security force BSF on continue to carry cross fire in cross boundary between Bangladesh and India. Bangladesh shares an international border of 4095 kilometers with India. Dhaka, Khulna, Rangpur, Sylhet, and Chittagong division is situated in border area. That means it would not be wrong to say that Bangladesh is surrounded by India from all most all sides. Despite of sharing a warm neighborhood and friendly relation with India and a reputation of obeying international laws in proper manner, in every four months 26 Bangladeshis are being killed by the Border Security Force (BSF) of India. Lots of are injured, abducted in spite of knowing the fact that these unarmed Bangladeshis are not having any allegation to create any violence, crime or any kind of threatening. In every meetings between BSF and BDR, this issue are arisen, assurance are also being given from higher authorities. But the irreparable damages are being done without any kinds of explanation and justifications. Sushma Sawaraj (an Indian leader) expressed her opinion regarding this border killing with the chairperson of BNP, Khaleda Zia, she said “the killing rate has decreased but the number must come down to zero”. Now we have to wait to see the reality and also to see the initiatives to be taken to protect our people and save the basic human rights. Along with the border killing issue, rights of enclaves are all in a question mark. In 1947, the India subcontinent was divided into two countries and Bengal state was divided with religious lines. Hindus were sent west Bengal and Muslims remained in east Bengal. But because of such unfair division lots of enclaves came out where some became part of one country while some remained within the border of other country. The people of theses enclaves are still unaware of modern civil life. They are deprived of shelter, education, Medicare, transportation, electricity and those without which we cannot think to survive. Now the question is which authority is about to safeguard their basic human rights?

Enforced disappearance is the most threatening crime against a person's freedom. It can be compared with abduction or kidnaping. An enforced disappearance is a crime against humanity, against the liberty.

Article 2 of the International Convention for the protection of all persons from enforced disappearance defines” enforced disappearance is conserved to be the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the state or by persons, or group of persons acting with authorization, supporter acquiesce of the state, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared persons ,which place such a person outside the protection of the law.” This crime has been radically increased in a short period of time. According to the report of Odhikar, 30 people were reported to be disappeared from January to August, 2012 among them 14 were allegedly picked up by RAB, two by police, 11 by detective branch and three by unknown people (said by Dr. Saira Rahman Khan, founder member of odhikar). And the matter of great disappointment is that our criminal law does not provide for any provision of enforced disappearance. the penal call has punishment for kidnaping or abduction but no remedy for this crime has been entered yet.

Article 4 of the International convention for the protection of all persons from enforced disappearance says” each state shall take the necessary measures to ensure that enforced disappearance constitutes an offence under its criminal law”. Bangladesh has neither signed the convention, nor has taken any step to make a strict law to stop this alarming situation. And the witness if the disaster is the case of mysterious disappearance of Ilias Ali, the former political leader of BNP, who still has not been found (was missing out on 21st April, 2012). What can be justiciable to observe the international human rights day unless we expect a worker to be treated with human personality, a man is killed without any judicial announcement like a dog or cat, And stop the flow of fire crashed death of Habibur Rahman and Anowara Begum.

The writers are Faculty Members, Department of Law, Uttara University.


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