The selection of chairman and members of the National Human Rights Commission has to be transparent, neutral and without political influence to ensure that it regains public confidence and plays its role as an independent statutory body.
At a discussion yesterday organised by Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) at Cirdap auditorium, civil society members and rights activists also demanded that participation of the civil society be ensured in the selection process and a formal procedure be developed to make the appointments.
The Commission began its journey in December 2008 after much advocacy by civil society members and international bodies for an independent body to oversee the country’s rights situation and hold the government accountable in this regard. It was comprised of chairman and two members.
After the passing of National Human Rights Commission Act 2009, it was reconstituted with seven members.
The commission has not been able to live up to the expectation of people in the last one decade, a press statement from ASK said.
NHRC’s reviews conducted by the Global Alliance on National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI) -- the international association of national rights institutions -- backs the claim.
GANHRI reviewed NHRC Bangladesh twice in 2011 and 2015, and gave it “B” rating for not being fully in compliance with Paris Principles that outlines such institutions’ role, formation, function and procedural aspects of its work.
The present NHRC’s tenure is about to end this June, and so the selection process of new chairman and members are to begin soon. The civil society didn’t have any information about the last three selection process, though it had repeatedly insisted on being engaged, speakers said yesterday.
The chairman and six members -- one permanent and five honorary -- are appointed by a seven-member selection committee; six of them are government appointees and one from the opposition bench in parliament. The committee recommends two names against each vacant post based on the decision of majority votes.
GANHRI observed that the four-member quorum requirement appears to allow nominations solely by government appointees. It emphasised the importance of a clear, transparent and participatory selection process to promote independence of, and public confidence in the senior leadership of the commission.
Speakers at the discussion said NHRC should have one woman in one of the two posts of chairman and full-time member. One from the opposition bench should be present in the quorum.
When one comes from the judiciary or the administration and joins the Commission on deputation for administrative work, it becomes difficult for them to work without government influence, said human rights lawyer Salma Ali.
Those in honorary posts cannot be expected to give their best in discharging their duties at the Commission, and so their positions should be changed to full-time jobs, speakers said.
“Above all, the 2009 law has to be amended for a more transparent and inclusive selection process. Until then, the law should be complied with and civil society members should be consulted during the selection process. GANHRI recommendations have to be followed as well, said Sheepa Hafiza, executive director of ASK.