Ain o Shalish Kendra (ASK)
(Dhaka, 2003), Text pp.318, Price Tk.290
Dr. Sumaiya Khair,
Dept. of Law, Dhaka University
Human Rights in Bangladesh 2002 published by ASK primarily examines
the infringement of human rights and Constitutional guarantees from
different perspectives. It attempts to underscore the forces that
essentially impede citizens' rights and privileges under law. Spread
across seventeen chapters
the book expresses collective concern over the increasing divide
between the state and the citizens resulting from derogation of
civil and political rights with impunity. The tone of the book is
set in the introductory section, which describes the modes whereby
citizens are precluded from accessing equal opportunities due to
lapses in governance, law enforcement and justice delivery. It is
stressed that the dynamics of power operate to protect self-serving
interests of those who have the requisite financial and political
clout. Consequently, ordinary citizens are marginalised and unable
to sustain in a system that is rife with endemic corruption and
Chapter 1 presents salient events in areas of politics, administration,
national economy, environment and external relations in an attempt
to discern whether the Government has been able to achieve any improvements
in relevant fields following the national elections of 2001. It
underlines how politics and public administration are characterised
by reprisal and violence and describes the consequent effects on
ordinary citizens. The chapter focuses on the role of the Government
in tackling these challenges
and examines at the same time, the impact of confrontational strategies
adopted by the Opposition. It emphasises that the future of democracy
is at stake due to continued antagonism and absence of dialogue
between the Ruling Party and the Opposition.
Chapter 2 examines the nexus between good governance, corruption
and human rights. Drawing upon Constitutional provisions in this
context, the chapter illustrates the failures in governance and
their impact on development and human rights. It stresses that in
order to establish an accountable and transparent system there must
be checks and balances between the different organs of the state,
i.e., the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary. Highlighting
instances of corruption this section explores the insidious effects
of dishonesty on development processes. It states unequivocally
that when malpractices are tolerated and sustained the state is
confronted with challenges inter alia in areas of investment and
productivity, resource mobilisation and policy decisions.
Chapter 3 deals with the somewhat complex issue of right to development
and the status of human development in Bangladesh. It stresses on
the need for a rights based approach to development for effectively
addressing human deprivation and initiating attitudinal change towards
segment of the population. It recognises that while fiscal measures
are crucial for human development, they are insufficient, on their
own, for dealing with other important aspects of people's lives
like personal security, natural environment, community resources,
social relations and so
on. In this context, the chapter isolates five distinct freedoms,
i.e., political freedoms, economic facilities, social opportunities,
guarantees of transparency and protective security as essentials
for empowering the poor and the disadvantaged. The chapter is hard
hitting and comprehensive and
effectively brings to light different dimensions of human deprivation
and its current status in Bangladesh.
An overview of the quality of education in Bangladesh is presented
in Chapter 4. It is observed that although gender parity has been
achieved and the number of schools and the rate of enrolment have
risen, there is, nevertheless, no room for complacency as the education
system still has a
long way to go in terms of quality, management and cost effectiveness.
The urban-rural divide persists, as access to educational opportunities
and net enrolment and achievement rates remain higher in urban areas
as opposed to the rural. The chapter argues that the culture of
private coaching, inefficient and dishonest management structure
and a centralised system of
governance hinder the poor, the disabled and other marginalised
groups from enforcing their rights to basic education.
Chapter 5 focusses on environmental activism and describes the proactive
role of citizens in convincing the higher judiciary of the need
to intervene on environmental issues. Apart from exploring current
strategies and commitments adopted in both international and national
contexts for reversing degradation of the global environment, the
chapter examines legislative amendments and executive action in
the area. It also highlights judicial decisions that direct both
state and non-state actors to take necessary measures for promoting
a safe and sustainable environment.
The role of the Judiciary is scrutinised again in Chapter 6. Drawing
upon landmark decisions of the High Court and Appellate Divisions
of the Supreme Court, this chapter highlights class actions in defense
of human rights. While some of the decisions paved the way for good
governance, a few others seemingly curtailed the rights of citizens.
Cases that form the crux of the chapter are premised inter alia
on right to information, illegal detention, reservations about uniform
personal laws and freedom of religion. This section observes that
corruption, mismanagement and executive leverage over the courts
imperil the credibility and independence of the Judiciary in more
ways than one.
The issue of right to information is explored in detail in Chapter
7. This section deals at length with various statutory provisions
and legal obstacles that are customarily utilised for restricting
the free flow of information. It is alleged that these provisions
are misinterpreted by Government agencies in a bid to legitimise
their actions in denying the public access to information. The chapter
exhorts on the need for wider dissemination of information in order
to engender accountability in governance and ensure people's participation
in policy decisions. This section is supplemented by Chapter 8,
which underscores the challenges encountered by journalists in their
professional lives. It gives accounts of
journalists being harassed, threatened and even detained and dragged
to court on criminal charges of sedition and other anti-state activities
without lawful justification. Poor governance, criminalisation of
politics and the application of repressive laws severely constrain
the freedom of press media and obstruct the journalists in the discharge
of their professional responsibilities.
Chapter 9 documents instances of torture, ill treatment, arbitrary
arrest and detention. It depicts patterns of custodial aggression,
political hostility, campus violence and acts of terrorism that
persistently threaten the law and order situation of the country.
It also examines the impact of
new legislations that have apparently been enacted for curbing violence,
but which, in effect, limit the rights of individuals. The newly
enacted Law and Order Disruption Crimes (Speedy Trial) Act, 2002
and the Speedy Trial Tribunal Ordinance, 2002 are reminiscent of
the severely critiqued, now
repealed, Public Safety (Special Provision) Act, 2000. It is claimed
that selective application of these laws succeeds in harassing innocent
civilians instead of bringing real criminals to justice. The deployment
of the Army during Operation Clean Heart has had similar effects
when people were taken into custody indiscriminately and tortured.
Many died in custody allegedly from heart attacks.
Following from the previous section Chapter 10 looks at how the
right to freedom of assembly and movement of citizens is curtailed
by law enforcement authorities in flagrant violation of Constitutional
guarantees and other legal measures.
Chapter 11 describes prison conditions and the debilitating effects
on the inmates. Overcrowding in prisons is a perennial problem that
is compounded by absence of adequate staff, necessary facilities
and satisfactory budgetary allocations. Diseases are rampant, as
ailing Inmates are not provided with necessary and timely medical
care. The treatment of inmates by prison staff is determined by
the largesse offered in return for basic amenities. In the circumstances,
it is the more affluent inmates who manage to buy services to the
detriment of the poor. This chapter peruses prison reforms initiatives
proposed by the Cabinet Committee on Jail Reforms that include inter
alia action against corruption, legal assistance to prisoners, law
reforms, and correction and rehabilitation measures.
Recalling international commitments to women's rights Chapter 12
analyses the status of women and the challenges women face constantly
under national laws. Centering on selected areas of concerns, for
example, maternal rights, land rights, citizenship rights, this
chapter examines women's engagement with law in their everyday lives.
It underlines the implications of gendered violence on women's physical
safety and security. In this regard, women's insecurities are analysed
in the context of state violence, domestic violence, human trafficking,
and women in sex work. The chapter explicitly states that efforts
to mainstream women in areas of economy, health, education and policy
making are frustrated by bureaucratic lethargy, lack of political
commitment and counterproductive pressure from the Legislature.
The chapter calls for sustained attempts to deal with gender based
inequality and discrimination.
Chapter 13 looks at the situation of minority communities in Bangladesh.
It argues that differentiation on the basis of religion and ethnicity
erodes the concept of nationhood and creates discord amongst populations.
As it is, minority communities are marginalised in terms of rights,
privileges, entitlements and equal opportunities. The situation
is made more complex when they are subjected to torture, abduction,
extortion, and attacks on life and property simply because they
belong to a different social group. Although the Government is committed
to protecting the rights of minorities
the tendency to play down rising incidents of violence and intolerance
against them is indicative of double standards adopted by the state.
A review of children's rights with particular emphasis on child
labour and commercial sexual exploitation of children and associated
realities form the core of Chapter 14. Drawing upon ILO Convention
182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour and the Second World Congress
against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children the chapter demonstrates
the linkages between child
labour, trafficking and sexual abuse and exploitation of children.
This section delineates state obligations and revisits relevant
policies and laws. It also explores the compulsions that sustain
the phenomena and assesses the extent of violence children are subjected
to. The chapter
recommends coordinated efforts at the national and regional levels
for addressing the needs of vulnerable children and taking necessary
measures for their protection.
Chapter 15 evaluates the consequences of distracted urban development
on the poor and the destitute. While increasing landlessness, unemployment
and natural calamities compel the poor to move to cities in search
of a livelihood, there is no perceivable initiative either on the
part of the
Government or the private sector to provide them with housing and
shelter. Consequently, the poor resort to living in sordid urban
slums, where they live in constant anxiety of being evicted either
by the landowner or the Government. It is common for slum dwellers
to be subjected to arrest,
intimidation and physical torture during eviction drives. This chapter
peruses legal and policy framework in both international and domestic
contexts on people's right to shelter and highlights public interest
writs that have been instituted in this regard on various occasions.
resettlement schemes undertaken so far and suggests an outline for
providing the poor with sustainable housing.
Workers' rights are discussed in Chapter 16, which essentially examines
the status of workers' in the garment factories and the conditions
in which they work. This chapter provides an overview of the laws,
Conventions and Codes of Conduct for the protection of workers'
rights. It maintains that although many of the rights envisaged
in international and domestic legal standards have been incorporated
in Codes of Conduct of Transnational Companies (TNCs), their enforcement
is minimal. Consequently, workers are deprived of their basic rights
and this deprivation is often accompanied by a distinct gender bias.
This chapter defines the role of various actors, i.e., the Government,
TNCs, ILO, BGMEA and NGOs in ensuring workers' rights and minimum
Chapter 17 investigates the impact of unplanned shrimp cultivation
on agricultural lands, peoples' livelihoods and natural environment.
In the absence of adequate legal measures, shrimp culture is carried
out on an ad hoc basis under Government orders. Despite the fact
that this sector provides people, specially women and children,
with employment opportunities, it has far reaching mplications on
their health, shelter and food security. Peasants are deprived from
subsistence agriculture and
fishing as salt water from shrimp enclosures destroys agricultural
lands. Working conditions are far from ideal as wages are low and
the hard work adversely affects workers' health and well-being.
The sector is also plagued by incidents of violence, land grabbing,
kidnapping and assault and
hazardous practices that pose threats to the environment.
Drawing upon the expertise of authors who are well known in their
respective disciplines, Human Rights in Bangladesh 2002 not only
presents vivid accounts of human rights abuses but also describes
citizens' initiatives in preventing human rights violations and
advocating for change. It identifies institutional weaknesses and
executive excesses that in effect circumscribe the rule of law and
democratic practices. However, while the book provides useful information
on various forms of human rights violation, many of the articles
lack critical legal analysis of the issues at hand. Only a few of
the articles offer adequate description of the substance of human
rights from a purely legal perspective. As such, the standard of
the articles lack coherence. However, the diversity of information
in the book offers policy makers with a concrete reference point
for initiating reforms in relevant areas of law, governance and