“Domestic Application of International Human Rights Law in Bangladesh”

“Domestic Application of International Human Rights Law in Bangladesh

1. Introduction

Human Rights is the basic fundamental right of the human beings. It is a right that is endowed on every individual regardless of sex, race, color, religion, ethnicity etc. and basically it means that just because an individual born as a human, he or she has those rights. Therefore, human rights has the universal appeal[1]. Human rights have long been a debatable issue for several reasons one of which is that there are is no general consensus on the validity of the argument on what should be considered as human rights violation or not. There are various examples regarding the debate of human rights such as the basic and most fundamental of all the human rights is “right to life”[2]. So in order to preserve this right, such laws as capital punishment for killing another human being has been established in almost all the countries. However, this law contradicted with the human rights known as the “right to life”, therefore following some cases in the UK after 1945, which has been a subject of debate for several reasons and thus except a few notable exceptions in 1957 Homicide Act was enacted abolishing the capital punishment for murder[3]. According to Islamic or Shariah Law rape is considered a crime eligible for capital punishment whereas in the western world capital punishment for rape is considered a violation to human rights[4]. Another debate exists in the issue of abortion of human fetus, which is a very common scenario in the world. Now it has been long argued by the scientists that fetus have life, so abortion rather takes the life away from it, which is the violation of the most fundamental law that is “right to life”. However, whether is fetus constitutes the basic requirements of life is a subject of a long and tedious debate[5]. Therefore, contradictions have always been persisted since the inception of the human rights concept and formed as law in United Nations General Assembly in 1948 following the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The term Human rights is relatively a modern concept however it dates way back, regarding the concept of natural civil rights and liberty to the Ancient Greece and Roman Empire. Since 1948 human rights has been the center of attention in the world till today[6].

2. Backgrounds on International Human Rights

As mentioned before the first International Human Rights Laws have been set through the declaration of International Human Rights in 1948 following the devastation of World War II. This mainly happened due to lots of violation of Human Rights especially Holocaust led by Nazis of Germany in order to exterminate European Jews. Atrocities committed in World War II made the world realize the basic fact that an international governing body is necessary in order to protect the rights of the individuals from all over the world. It came as a clear scenario that Human Rights issue is no more a concept for one country but rather a international issue which must be addressed and dealt with proper transparency[7]. In 1941, U.S President Franklyn D. Roose first addressed this issue regarding the four main rights known as the Four Freedoms: “Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Conscience, Freedom from Fear and Freedom from Fear.” Now, mainly USA and its allies, victors of World War II, led the declaration as USA is thought to be the model country for human rights and justice. However, its true color came out after September 11, 2001 when it opened a notorious prison in Guantanamo Bay where all the detainees were sexually harrassed by the prison guards. So, for the record it can be said that right to make Human Rights belong to those who have the bigger stick than the other’s. Unfortunately that is an irony everyone has to face now[8].

Ø   Regional Human Rights Issue

Although each individual country establishes its own Human Rights Act, however regional enforcing system has been a key factor in establishing human rights in each of the continents. The laws enacted to protect the human rights in under several regions as mentioned below.

  • African Human Rights Issues

Unfortunately this is a continent where human rights are most violated according Geneva Convention, such as the atrocities committed in Darfur. As the land borders were made up in Africa by the Colonists of Europe, the tribes of same ethnicity got divided through being citizens of separate countries. Thus this caused a path to civil war that is going on in Liberia, Somalia and other countries of Africa. However, the establishment of African Union (AU), which is an union made up of 51 countries of Africa was established in 2001, and the purpose of African Union is to set a standard of Human Rights and bring an end to the civil war that is going on in several countries of Africa. However its effectiveness is under a big question mark[9].

  • Human Rights in America (Both South and North America)

As mentioned before U.S.A is considered a model country for the rest of the world, especially the developing countries, regarding the implementation of human rights. But in recent times controversial prisons for holding the so called suspected terrorists have ripped them from the status of the model country. However, organizations such Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has been established to oversee the human rights issues in Americas, which is comprised of both North and South American countries. However, like all the human rights organizations it is also a toothless tiger as it was powerless to stop the violations of Human rights in several countries such as, Colombia, Canada, Cuba, Mexico, The United States, Venezuela etc[10].

  • Asia Human Rights Issues

Although there is no single continental organization, which oversees the overall human rights issues in the Asia, however the regional organizations such as ASEAN, SAARC, CCASG and several others try to oversee the human rights issue along with other economic developments[11].

  • Australia (Oceanic Continent) Human Rights Issues

Human rights record of Oceanic countries has always been good when compared to other countries of other continents. Australia at times have been subjected to allegations by the international community that they violated human rights law regarding the immigration. Human Rights in Oceanic countries managed to uphold human rights by individually while there is no single regional human rights organization to see the human rights issues[12].

  • Europe Setting Standards on Human Rights

Europe is comprised of organization and as well as courts to see that the human rights issues are maintained such as European Convention on Human Rights and European Court on Human Rights. Europe is considered to be the oldest continent to pioneer the concept of human rights organizations. Scandinavian countries such as Sweden, Finland and other countries of Europe Switzerland have one of the best human rights practice in the world. Although if we consider the fact that nobody is perfect then it can be said even in these countries some form of violation is made but that is too negligible to consider[13].

3. Human Rights Issues in Bangladesh

Bangladesh, as a developing nation faces many crisis that cannot be overcome without economic development and stability. Crime rates are one of the highest in world and the increasing demographic pressure is taking its toll in such a small country. Usually it is seen that the human rights in developed nations are up to the high standard however in the developing nations such as Bangladesh human rights is an elusive right for the citizens. Each and everyday violation of human rights is occurring while nothing is being done about it as the judiciary system is constantly being crippled by the respective governments of Bangladesh in each term. However, in 1993 Protection of Human Rights Act was first established in which it is said that Bangladesh will be democratic republic and it is implied indirectly in the act that fair trial will be conducted on the people accused for committing crime. In the UDHR, it also says that all men are innocent before they are found guilty through trial, complying with Bangladesh Human Rights Laws.. Therefore like this lots of Acts in Human Rights have coherence with the UDHR (Universal Declaration of Human Rights) however as mentioned before its implementation is the major factor which is discussed later[14].

Extrajudicial killings and Custodial Tortures in Bangladesh

Before the discussion of human rights in Bangladesh lets start with a story that I read in a book of a famous writer of Bangladesh, Humayun Ahmed. It starts like this that the protagonist of the story known as Himu was caught by RAB (Rapid Action Battalion) and sent to interrogation cell, there he met a top terrorist known as Murgi Salam. He talked to that terrorist and heard from him that he was going to be killed by RAB under the label of “crossfire”. And it happened also as the day after he was caught there was a big headline in the news that Murgi Salam died during a crossfire as he was trying to escape during an attempted raid to capture his accomplices[15]. Although this is a story however it is an ironical example of extrajudicial summary executions, which has been going on in Bangladesh since the formation of RAB. In Bangladesh it is a known fact that the judicial system is loose and there are lots of ways in which the criminals can get out even though they committed heinous crimes. The reason behind it lies at the very foundation, which is the flaw during the investigation done by the police. Even at times the police gets corrupted during the investigation and loose the evidence of proving the criminal activities, so in the court the criminal is set free due to lack of evidence[16]. So in order to stop the crime the government instead of improving the rule of law rather takes unlawful initiatives of forming a force to kill the terrorists without any trial. Even at times it is seen that some are not terrorist but even then fall under the extrajudicial killing. Unfortunate as it is but true to the every last bit. Now this is a clear violation of the International Human Rights Laws. European Parliament sent strong allegations on these extrajudicial killing as a gross violation of the human rights issue. However, Bangladesh Government defended it by saying that encounter killing reduced fifty percent crime rate however, extrajudicial killing is a similar type of crime according to Human Rights watchdog Amnesty International.

Custodial torture is also another major issue that is hurting Bangladesh in terms of complying with the international human rights standards. Although some might say that it is for the criminals to disclose the information under torture. However, there are ways in which psychological torture can be used instead of physical torture to retrieve information from the prisoner. Compliance to human rights is absolutely necessary in this case[17].

Analysis of Domestic Application of some International Human Rights Issues

1. Domestic Application of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in Bangladesh

There are various articles in this covenant tells us about the fundamental human rights that is applicable for all the nations of the world. However, domestic application of these Articles in Bangladesh is very much rare because of high political instability, slow economic development and illiteracy.

I.      According to article 6, 7 and 8 of this covenant right to life and abolishment of torture and slavery is established as the basic human right internationally. However, if we think in the context of Bangladesh somewhere the melody of these rights are not present there because of the fact that right to life is almost absent in Bangladesh when considering all the killings going on[18].

II.      Articles 14, 15, and 16 says about equality of law for everyone, a fair and impartial trial, a man or women is innocent until proven guilty. Now in Bangladesh although there is fairness in law but in practice, these are absent, as partial trial has become the norm of this countries judicial system. It is almost non-existent that the judges in the court gave verdict against government as they are recognized as something more than normal. For example, the cases against the present prime minister have been lifted but for the opposition leader is still going on. Unfortunately, this is going on like a viscous cycle[19].

III.       According to Article 24, the right to join a political party and right to vote is domestically very much applicable to Bangladesh. As a democratic country this human rights issue has been even praised by the international community. However, in the rural areas this right is violated time and again through proxy voting and buying votes with money, however improvements are being made through various steps such a voting id card issue etc[20].

IV.      Article 25 states that prohibition discrimination on the base of religion is a issue that is very much ignored in the rural areas of Bangladesh. The reason behind this is that the minority in Bangladesh Hindu, Buddhist and Christians are treated unfairly in a lot places especially the village areas of Bangladesh. The treatment is based on religious segregation. which is a gross violation of article 25. But as mentioned before instead of saying that religious tolerance is not high in this country, it is better to say that the religious issue is constantly politicized. It is implied that even a Muslim person kills a Hindu person for dispute of land it is the nature of the political parties to blame it on religious discrimination and oppression. However if compared to neighboring India then of course it has to be admitted that the minority in Bangladesh are better off[21].

V.       Articles 12,13,17-24 states that individual liberty exists in the form of the freedoms of movement, thought, conscience and religion, speech, association, assembly, family rights, the right to a nationality, and the right to privacy. Although these rights are there more or less and implemented in Bangladesh however it is not up to the extend to that of the Western countries. The freedom of speech is not allowed up to the extend of the Western countries. Now in a democratic nation it is quite natural that people will criticize the government however if a speech is given which hurts the religious sentiment of a person then the international human rights law will be violated[22].

2. Domestic Application of International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Act  in Bangladesh

I.      Article 9 of this covenant states that social security must be provided in the form of social insurance. However, in Bangladesh the implementation of this article is bare minimum. The reason behind this is that insurance is expensive and in a poor country such as Bangladesh this would be near impossible to implement for every person[23].

II.      Article 10 of the covenant recognizes the need for family life and the right to marriage. However, contract of marriage must be made on free consent and not forced upon. However, sad but true lots of marriages are forced upon on the young teens especially girls in the village areas[24].

III.      Article 11, 12 and 13 subsequently tells about standard of living, health and education. Standard of living, health and education must be ensured by the government so that the citizens with even a bare minimum income can still get a decent standard of living, education and healthcare. However, these basic necessities are not fulfilled by the government up to the standard the covenant in implying[25].

Role of Information as a Human Rights Issue in Bangladesh

The right to information is a human right and “on October 21, 2008, the Caretaker Government of Bangladesh issued in the Bangladesh Gazette the Right to Information Ordinance (No. 50 of 2008), based on the Indian Right to Information Act, 2005” [26]. Basically the ordinance is about forming a new commission for information in Bangladesh. This right is almost like an international norm as it is implemented in many countries of the world. This right is new in Bangladesh and it is yet to be seen how much it will be a success. This law is like this for example a person wants to buy a land and went into an agreement however after a few days the land the sold land was confiscated by the government. Therefore it is the right of that person to know why his land was confiscated. Even under some circumstances information is not released about some matter in the newspaper, that information if not classified can be inquired in the commission for information.  It is particularly important because right to know is a basic right for any ordinary citizen (with exception of state secrets). It is part of international human rights and now it is initiated in Bangladesh as a concept yet to be proved in its effectiveness[27].

4. Conclusion

Although a several Covenants and Bills passed in the United Nations however, Bangladesh is still quite far from the standard of Human Rights achieving that is required. Illiteracy, unstable political condition and socio-economic problems are one of the biggest obstacles for Bangladesh to ensure proper human rights are observed. Although, perception on Human Rights varies from person to person, country to country, however the fact remains which is adhering to the International Covenants. Bangladesh like many countries cannot fully domestically apply those rights in the covenants, which is a unfortunate incident for the citizens of this country. Partial implementation of those laws is not enough to protect the Human Rights in Bangladesh. Efforts are being made through seminars and talk shows but implementation is still one of the most elusive thing that we are facing now.


1. Nickel, James (2009). “Human Rights”. In Zalta, Edward N.. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

2. Feldman, David. Civil Liberties & Human Rights in England and Wales. Oxford  University Press. pp. l12-114

3. Joseph Schacht. An Introduction to Islamic Law. Oxford University Press: 1983, p. 165

4. Abortion Laws of the World. Annual Review of Population Law. Retrieved July 14, 2006. Archived August 27, 2006 at the Wayback Machine.

5. Glendon, Mary Ann (July 2004). “The Rule of Law in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights”. Northwestern University Journal of International Human Rights 2 (5).

6. Louis Henkin, The International Bill of Rights: The Universal Declaration and the Covenants, in International Enforcement of Human Rights 6–9, Bernhardt and Jolowicz, eds, (1987))

7. Jakob Cornides, Human Rights Pitted Against Man, The International Journal of Human Rights 12.1 (2008): 107-134

8. Fletcher, George P. (January 1 2002). “War and the Constitution”The American Prospect 13 (1).

9. “Mandate of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights”. http://www.achpr.org/english/_info/mandate_en.html. Retrieved 2010-11-02.

10. “Inter-American Court on Human Rights homepage”. Inter-American Court on Human Rights.. Retrieved 2008-01-03.

11. “Human Rights Watch Asia”. Retrieved 2010-11-03.

12. Historical Background to the European Court of Human Rights”. European Court of Human Rights. Archived from the original on October 28, 2010.

13. Amnesty International Report on Bangladesh (2004).

14. Bangladesh Human Rights Networks – banglarights.net

15. Bangladesh to probe extrajudicial killings by law enforcers : South Asia News Onlypunjab.com- Onlypunjab.com Latest News

16. Sieghart, Paul (1983). The International Law of Human Rights. Oxford University Press. p. 25.

17. Black, Allinda; Hopkins, June, eds (2003). “Covenant on Civil and Political Rights”

18. Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: Questions and Answers”. Amnesty International. pp. 6.

style=”text-align: justify;” size=”1″ />

[1] Nickel, James (2009). “Human Rights”… The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

[2] Houghton Mifflin Company (2006)

[3] Feldman, David. Civil Liberties & Human Rights in England and Wales

[4] Joseph Schacht. An Introduction to Islamic Law..

[5] Abortion Laws of the World. Annual Review of Population Law

[6] Glendon, Mary Ann (July 2004). “The Rule of Law in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights”.

[7] Louis Henkin, Introduction, The International Bill of Rights 9–10 (1981).

[8] Fletcher, George P. (January 1 2002). “War and the Constitution”. The American Prospect 13 (1).

[9] “Mandate of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights”. Retrieved 2010-11-02.

[10] “Inter-American Court on Human Rights homepage”. Inter-American Court on Human Rights.. Retrieved 2008-01-03.

11.”Human Rights Watch Asia”. Retrieved 2010-11-03.

[12] Julia de Blaauw, Human Rights at a Crossroad? Towards an Institutionalised regional human rights framework in the Pacific.

[13] Historical Background to the European Court of Human Rights”. European Court of Human Rights.

[14] Amnesty International (2004).

[15] “Holud Himu Kalo RAB” by Humayun Ahmed

[16] Bangladesh to probe extrajudicial killings by law enforcers : South Asia News Onlypunjab.com- Onlypunjab.com Latest News

[17] BANGLADESH: Brutal torture of police in Bangladesh retrieved 2010-08-05

[18] ICCPR, Article 6-8

[19] ICCPR, Article 14-16

[20] ICCPR, Article 24

[21] ICCPR, Article 25

[22] ICCPR, Article 12, 13, 17 – 24

[23] ICESCR. Article 9

[24] ICESCR, Article 10

[25] ICESCR, Article 11,12, 13.

[26] Right to Information Ordinance (No. 50 of 2008)

[27] Seminar on Role of Information Commission: Right to Information. Guest Speaker Ambassador Muhammad Zamir. Held in North South University