NHRC sitting on draft rules for a decade
Even after a decade spent discussing, drafting and re-drafting, the National Human Rights Commission has not yet formulated a set of rules, which is supposed to outline the detailed procedure of how it will address human rights violations.
The statutory body runs under the National Human Rights Commission Act-2009, but the law does not specify how it should mediate or investigate complaints of rights violations. Different sets of rules give these specifics, complementing the act.
Immediately after its inception in 2010, the commission started the process of drafting two sets of rules -- one for appointing a mediator or councillor to conduct mediation and conciliation, and the other for investigating complaints. But neither has been formulated yet, obstructing the commission’s smooth handling of complaints.
When asked about the delay, former chairman Prof Mizanur Rahman claimed that the law ministry did not take any action upon receiving the draft rules.
But documents show that both the drafts were vetted by the law ministry in 2016. In separate letters, the ministry wrote that “if the drafts serve the purpose of the commission” it could finalise them.
Seeking anonymity, an NHRC official told The Daily Star that the commission must have felt the necessity to tweak the drafts. Because of its lack of dedicated staff with legal expertise, the rights watchdog has failed to get the tweaking done in time.
“Nobody is an expert here,” he said.
HC ON FRAMING RULES
In the absence of the rules made in line with the 2009 act, the commission faced difficulty dealing with complaints.
Over the years, the High Court has received several petitions that challenged the commission’s decisions and accused it of “going beyond its legal jurisdiction”.
The court then asked the commission to explain why it shall not be directed to frame rules “for disposal of complaints in accordance with law”.
Regarding a complaint of medical negligence in 2014, the court stayed implementation of its recommendations, in which the commission concluded that the two doctors accused inflicted “irreparable loss” to the victim who had undergone surgeries by them.
But the accused challenged this observation in court.
WHAT HAPPENS IN ABSENCE OF RULES?
“The commission has to follow the due legal process” in handling a complaint --recording, mediating or investigating, and making recommendations to the authorities concerned, said Abdul Halim, a Supreme Court lawyer.
And the legal procedure has to be well defined.
Without rules, it is difficult for the commission to function because the 2009 act is not a “complete code of law” on human rights, he said. “It is a special piece of legislation, and the law is no way connected to the CrPC.”
For example, the act does not have definitions of “enquiry” or “investigation”. Nor can it borrow the definitions from the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPc) or elsewhere.
As the commission is a statutory body and does not depend on any other institution, it should have legal tools -- an act and rules -- to make itself complete, Halim said.
The act empowers the commission to seek reports from government agencies accused of violating human rights, but there is no mention of how long the authorities in question would get to submit such reports to the commission.
The law also does not specify other issues such as the process of summoning someone or the kinds of recommendation it should be able to make, Halim said.
Different sets of rules give the specific details of these procedures.
At a meeting in September 2014, the commission discussed the delay in finalising the rules on mediation and conciliation, and was about to launch an inquiry to find out who was responsible for the procrastination, according to the meeting minute.
At another meeting in May 2015, the commission had an elaborate discussion on the second draft of the rules on mediation and approved it.
Talking to The Daily Star, NHRC Chairman Reazul Hoque said they finalised the drafts and sent them to the law ministry on June 19. “The next step is simple. Since the vetting was done before, all we need to have is the president’s approval.”
He said, “It was our job to make the rules. The delay was from our side.”