NHRC must be freed from partisan influence
The basic human rights are enshrined in universal declarations and guaranteed by our constitution to every individual, irrespective of cast, creed or colour. But human rights involve much more than written guarantees, legislation or ratification of international conventions. What is required is the correct attitude and fair application. Unfortunately, in countries like ours, laws and conventions are observed more in their violation than in their application.
While our leaders wax eloquent about human rights, they are found wanting in upholding those. Because of bias and prejudice and a certain lack of respect for individual rights and dignity—not only among the ruling party, but also among many in the administration—the application of basic rights is done selectively, while gross violations are overlooked.
That being the case, it is imperative that the national watchdog on human rights should be made more eclectic, by appointing people with differing opinions and from all across the political spectrum. That would lend it the gravity and importance it deserves and engender public confidence in it. Our experience has been, regrettably, quite the opposite. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has been made up of people with affiliation to the ruling party. This belief has once again been affirmed at a discussion organised by Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) on Wednesday.
Undeniably, there are flaws in how the NHRC recruits—not only the chairman and other members of the committee, but staff in various capacities as well. It is also true that the NHRC has done little to fulfil its mandate. Its tendency to tread gingerly on issues of human rights points to its restricted independence in functioning. For example, it is surprising to see the very tepid reaction, if at all, of the NHRC to the extrajudicial killings that have made our government the focus of international human rights watchdogs.
We believe that the observations made in the ASK discussion are worth noting and acting on. The Paris Principles must be followed in letter and spirit. The first imperative for institutions like the NHRC to be credible is to be independent—something that a statutory body composed of people with party affiliations cannot be expected to be. Having credible people at the helm is a basic requirement. Apart from that, the commission should be invested with adequate power to ensure that its recommendations are followed unfailingly.
Since the only reason for the NHRC's existence is to protect the human rights of the country's citizens, it should be willing to pursue and point out any violation of those rights. And the government should ensure that those violations are dealt with appropriately under the law. Unfortunately, as with many other national institutions and statutory bodies in Bangladesh, our NHRC has been crippled by partisanship over the years. This must change. The administration would do well to take note of the ASK observations and allow the NHRC to fulfil its mandate.