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     Volume 9 Issue 38| September 24, 2010 |


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Human Rights First

The much talked about National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), formed for the first time in the country during the previous caretaker government, was reconstituted in June this year with the objective of protecting, promoting and preserving human rights. The commission has started its journey with its newly appointed chairman DR MIZANUR RAHMAN, a Dhaka university law Professor along with six other members. The Star's FARHANA URMEE talks to him on his planning and dealing with the NHRC to uphold and develop human rights and guard its violation in the country.

Dr Mizanur Rahman

How do you plan to make the commission work effectively?
Our priority would be to make law enforcers well aware about human rights through training. Our plan is to give the law enforcers knowledge about human rights and its violation. Our task would be to make them aware about their professional responsibilities to protect and promote human rights.

The training would not only target the top officials but also officials in district and Thana levels. The Human Rights Commission of India is holding such training and they are ready to share their knowledge and experience with us.

Alongside other activities of the commission, our activities would also be targeted at educating mass people about human rights. If education and prevention goes hand in hand, it would develop a culture of preserving human rights in every sphere of life. The Ministry of Education can help in this regard by including human rights issues in the syllabus beginning from the level of primary education till the higher level.

We will translate important instruments (pieces of writing and other documents relating to human rights) and make sudden visits to the government institutions providing service to the people.

What would be the visits like?
The Commission will pay sudden visits in the institutions from where people of the state are supposed to receive a service, like hospitals, homes, orphanages and correction centres. There would be no specific team or period when the drive will be carried out. Every commission member would conduct the visit. As we have less manpower, we won't be able to cover the whole country, but I believe a single visit to a hospital can work as an instance for the whole institution of medical service in the country. The Commission will also include media-men into its visiting team. If any non-compliance is found, Commission is responsible to report against the particular institute.

Shortage of manpower was evident in the earlier Commission. How is the reconstituted Commission dealing with the problem?
If the National Human Rights Commission is asked on the present status of human rights situation in the country, I would not be able to say anything based on our own analysis. The National Human Rights Commission of a country should have such an assessment. I would have to be dependent on newspaper reports or take help from annual human rights reports of different non-government organisations as I lack the manpower to study and research into the current state of human rights.

Research and investigation is necessary to assess the condition of human rights in a country. I neither have a research cell nor an investigation cell yet. Moreover, I also need trainers to make my staff eligible to carry out the research and investigation.

The former NHRC chairman Justice Amirul Kabir proposed an organogram of 128 staff for a full-fledged commission. Different ministries reduced the number in phases and finally approved a team of 28 staff. After a number of assessments the reformed commission has asked for 87 staff members. But we are yet to get that too. Our neighbouring country India is running such a commission with 300 staff while Philippines has 286 staff members and even a small country like Nepal has more than hundred staff members.

Why does a state have a human rights commission?
The concept of human rights generated after the Second World War when the world learned the significance of upholding human dignity and was determined not to compromise with it anymore. Even since the '80s and onwards many donors introduced a practice of providing aid after judging the human rights situation of the recipient country. It is a worldwide concern. Thus, such a national commission, whose main task is to help preserve and protect human rights and checking on its violation and prevention, cannot remain uncalled for. The commission must be an independent one free from any influence, especially political influence. The stronger a human rights commission is, the better its image is internationally.

How do you view the status of the current human rights situation in the country?
The rate of extra-judicial killing is declining as a democratic government is in power. It had an alarming rate during the tenure of the immediate past caretaker government. The tenure of caretaker government was a state of complete lawlessness. The state of complete lawlessness allows the state to violate human rights. Once lawlessness reigns, it is very tough to make anyone accountable.

But when a government is accountable to the people it has to answer to every single question of violation of law and rights. Once a culture is established when the law enforcers can do anything, it would take time to change the situation. Things cannot be done overnight. Yet the independent operation of National Human Rights Commission can introduce another pro-human rights culture in the country.

As a chairman of the commission how do you judge extrajudicial killing in the country?
No civilised society can go for such a barbaric way of violating rights. This would be an ominous sign for a democratic society. I cannot make any conclusive statement on extra-judicial killing without having an impartial investigation into a particular death. If there is sufficient proof that law enforcers are abusing their power, that won't be tolerated. If the state allows killing of people without having a fair trial, if the law enforcers violate law and rights, if people find their protectors (law enforcers) as enemy, the very concept of 'rule of law' becomes a sheer mockery.

Your commission has announced a war against torture in law enforcers' custody, extra-judicial killing and custodial deaths. The commission has announced that its first year of work will be dedicated to bringing an end to the practice. What would be your working plan for attaining such a goal?
A democratic state should not allow such killing. It violates the basic right of a citizen, denying their right to the procedure of justice and trial. The Commission is committed to bring an end to such malpractices. Our first strategy would be to establish a close contact with the law enforcement agencies and develop a relationship of mutual understanding with them. The commission would make the law enforcers accountable by building a relationship of mutual understanding. The tendency cannot be stopped overnight and a reduction in the rate of such incidents taking place should be considered an achievement.

Do you think the National Human Rights Commission Act is sufficient to protect and promote human rights?
The law of the Commission could not be used properly yet. I have to first utilise the law fully. I might have a recommendation for law once it is fully implemented. Yet, I must say, the law is much more efficient than the prior ordinance on human rights commission.

How are you going to take the National Human Rights Commission to the common people?
People might say the Commission Chairman talks much and delivers less, but I am here with an objective to let people know that such a Commission exists. When people will come to know about its existence, eventually they will come to it for its service.

Despite numerous insufficiencies the Commission would work in a different manner. We are going to launch a massive campaign in electronic and print media for promotion and protection of human rights. We are working on a draft of 'Citizen Charter' where we mention what service the Commission is going to provide for the people. We have a website, and I can assure no complaint will be left unattended even if the complaint is not under the jurisdiction of the commission, the complainant would be informed about it.

Even many bureaucrats do not know about the legal position and authority of the National Human Rights Commission (it has been authorised as a civil court). We have to let those people know about our status. I hope the commission would reach the target in three years when every organ of the state would have to take it very seriously. Then people will find NHRC a place to come whenever they encounter an incident of human rights violation.



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