National Human Rights Commission

National Human Rights Commission The constitution of the National Human Rights Commission was in the top priority of the Bangladesh Government for long, to ensure that any rights violator is brought to justice. Human rights situation and overall political and security conditions in Bangladesh has been signaling deterioration on many counts for the last decade, concurrent with the shift in the role of the state from socio-economic welfare of the citizens to promoting 'free' market that in essence uncritically safeguard the interest of the private sector against the citizens at large. The shift also signals the paradigm shift in governance: the state has to become more concerned about security and law and order situations since shift in governance paradigm did set into motion imminent economic contradiction and conflict of interests by widening gap between rich and the poor. In the absence of effective instruments and institutions defending the collective and individual rights of the citizens overall situation showing symptoms that are alarming.

The idea of a national human rights institution in Bangladesh has been around for several years. 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. Later on 10 December 2001, Bangladesh Government formed a committee headed by the law minister to examine the prospect of setting up of the human rights 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 23 January 2003, the committee finalised the draft and sent it to the Cabinet Division. Since then, the bill has not been placed before the cabinet meeting. On 11 January 2007 the Caretaker Government of Bangladesh pledged to establish the Human Rights Commission to honour and institute human rights in the country. Foreign ministry placed a draft to this effect before the council of advisers on 8 September 2007. 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 9 December 2007.

After that approval, the National Human Rights Commission constituted under the provisions of the National Human Rights Commission Ordinance 2007 consisting of a chairman and two other commissioners since 1 December 2008. Chairman of the Commission is a retired judge of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh, and of the two commissioners one is a retired professor of the University and the other is a woman human rights activist. The Ordinance provides that the chairman shall be the executive head of the Commission and the members of the Commission shall be appointed by the President on the recommendation of the selection committee. No member of the Commission shall be under the age of 50 years and above the age of 72 years. The chairman and the members shall hold office for three years from the date of their joining and shall be eligible for reappointment for a further one term only. The selection committee shall be constituted with six members consisting of a judge of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court to be nominated by the Chief Justice, who shall be the chairman of the committee; secretary of the cabinet division; Attorney General for Bangladesh; Comptroller and Auditor General of Bangladesh; chairman of Public Service Commission; secretary of the Ministry of Law Justice and Parliamentary Affairs who shall provide secretarial assistance to the committee. Chairman and other members of the Commission may be removed from office on the same grounds and by the same method as applicable to a judge of the Supreme Court. The Commission shall be a body corporate having its own seal and permanent succession and shall sue and be sued in its own name.

The Commission has been entrusted, amongst others, with performance of any of the following functions:

to inquire suo moto or on the complaint of any aggrieved person himself or by any other person on his behalf into any violation or incitement to violation of any human right by any person, state or government body or institution, and to inquire suo moto or on the complaint of any aggrieved person himself or by any other person on his behalf into any violation of, or incitement to or negligence to prevention of violation of any human right by any public servant.

The Commission while inquiring into such complaints shall hear the person or body or institution complained against, the complainant and his witnesses with power to summon witnesses ought to call for documents from the custody of any person to be produced before the Commission. On completion of such inquiry, if the Commission finds the complaint to be true then it may recommend to the government to commence a legal proceeding or any other legal steps against the person concerned specifying the legal proceeding or other legal step to be commenced in relation to the fact of the matter. The Commission itself or on behalf of the aggrieved person may arrange to file a petition in the High Court Division of the Supreme Court if the matter is remediable by an order or direction made under article 102 of the Constitution. The Commission may also recommend to the government or relevant authority to grant temporary aid to the aggrieved person or his family as considered appropriate to it. The Commission shall also supply a copy of its inquiry report to the aggrieved person or his representative. The Commission shall also send a copy of the inquiry report with its recommendation to the government or relevant authority, and within three months from the date of receipt of the report the government or the relevant authority shall inform the Commission about the steps taken or proposed to be taken by it on the basis of such recommendation provided that the government or relevant authority differs with such decisions or recommendation of the Commission or is unable or refuses to take steps in accordance with such recommendation, it shall inform the Commission within that time limit its reasons for such difference, inability or refusal to take steps. The Commission shall publish the summery of the relevant report and its decision or recommendation thereon in the manner as considered appropriate by it provided that if the Commission is satisfied considering the importance that it is necessary that the whole or part of any inquiry report should be published for the knowledge of the public, then the Commission shall publish the whole or part of it in appropriate cases. Within 30 March of every year the Commission shall submit to the President an annual statement of its activities of the previous year. A memorandum shall be accompanied by the annual report, which shall include amongst other reasons, as known to the Commission, for not commencing necessary proceedings or steps by the government or the relevant authority in accordance with the recommendation of the Commission.

Secretary and other officers of the Commission shall be appointed by it for the performance of its functions, whose services shall be regulated by the rules framed by it with prior approval of the President. Commission shall have financial independence, and the fund allocated to it by the government annually shall be spent by it in the approved and allocated heads without any prior approval of the government.

The National Human Rights Commission Act 2009 has re-enacted most of the provisions of the lapsed National Human Rights Commission Ordinance 2007 to give continuity to the formation and activities of the Commission constituted under the Ordinance of 2007 and to modify and replace some of its provisions about the formation of the commission and of the selection committee and to change the age of the chairman and members of the Commission. Under the Act of 2009 the Commission shall consist of a whole time chairman and not more than six members of whom one shall be whole time and rest part time members, of whom one shall be from women another from ethnic people, and whole time member to perform the functions of the chairman during his temporary absence, and their age shall not be less than thirty five years and more than seventy years, and the selection committee to be constituted with the Speaker of the Jatiya Sangsad as its chairman, Law Minister, Home Minister, chairman of Law Commission, Cabinet Secretary and two members of the Jatiya Sangsad to be nominated by Speaker, one from the government party and another from the opposition party as its members to suggest names to the President for the constitution of the Commission. [Kazi Ebadul Hoque]