National Human Rights Commission remains in category B since 2011

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has remained listed in category B by the respective UN agency since 2011 as the commission could meet the necessary criteria for improving its standard or condition.

In the meantime, Nepal, a member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), has been upgraded to category A, while another SAARC member Afghanistan has also received category A recognition until Taliban took power.

A national human rights commission that can work independently and without the government’s interference, as well as free from financial influence is classified as category A, while a national human rights body that cannot meet these criteria of category A is enlisted as category B, and they try to improve their standard. The standard of a national human rights commission which is enlisted as category C is very dissatisfying.

Rights activists said the NHRC has a huge role to play in establishing equality and justice, but the commission could not properly perform its duty at all. Had they done so, global recognition would have come. The role of commission in protecting the overall human rights in the country is not effective; as a result, the commission is not being upgraded to category A.

Globally, national human rights bodies are categorised in A, B and C based on their structure and activities. Previously, the International Coordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions (ICC) of the United Nations did the categorisation, now the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI) does so.

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) began its journey in 2009 and was listed as category B agency two years later.

Amid such circumstances, Sunday, 10 December marks the International Human Rights Day. The theme of the Day is “Freedom, Equality and Justice for All”.

Why Bangladesh is in such a dire state?

Faruq Faisel, the executive director of rights organisation Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), told Prothom Alo when a national rights commission of a country obtains category A recognition, it means that the country has an independent and neutral human rights commissions, and a rights commission having category A recognition can play a strong role on taking decision at various international organisations including the UN. They can address the UN human rights council directly, but currently, Bangladesh can only submit reports, he added.

Faruq Faisel said, “Our National Human Rights Commission is obedient to the government. They did not do anything such that their standard will improve.”

Sources at the NHRC said then ICC mentioned several limitations of the commission for listing the NHRC in category B. First of all, high officials of the commission including its secretary are appointed by the government. Holding decision-making positions by the government-appointed people is a weakness. Secondly, the commission does not have financial independence and its own secretariat, it works under the law ministry. Thirdly, appointment of the commissioners solely depends on the government, and there is no representation of civil society.

The NHRC appealed to the meeting of the ICC’s sub-committee in Geneva in March 2015 to upgrade their category, but the UN agency kept it unchanged.

At that time, former law professor of Dhaka University Mizanur Rahman was the chairman of NHRC. According to him, the ICC sub-committee cited that previous criteria has not been met yet, and advised to remove barriers to investigating into the allegation of human rights violations by the law enforcement agencies.

As per the National Human Rights Commission Act, the commission can not investigate allegations against law enforcement agencies. Yet, law enforcement agencies faced a myriad of allegations on extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances in the country.

Mizanur Rahman told Prothom Alo on Thursday, “It is necessary to amend the law regarding recruitment and financial authority to build an independent commission. They need to have the authority to investigate the allegations against law enforcement agencies. When I was the chairman, I was regularly vocal about it, but I receive no cooperation from the law ministry,”

Government officials are increasingly dominating the NHRC. Incumbent chairman Kamal Uddin Ahmed and full-time member Selim Reza are former secretaries. Civil society had no participation in the appointment. On top of that, the NHRC Act is yet to be amended regarding the investigation into the allegations against law enforcement agencies.

Law minister Anisul Huq, however, said, “As per our traditional laws, the commission does not have the jurisdiction to conduct these investigations against law enforcement agencies. In these cases, we have different and sufficiently transparent laws. Not only our country, many other countries also have such laws, and we have to believe this.”

The law ministry thinks having the authority to investigate allegations against law enforcement agencies is not a barrier to upgrading to category A.

The law minister said, “We made some necessary reforms and we are ahead in obtaining category A.”

Prothom Alo tried to reach chairman Kamal Uddin Ahmed and full-time member Selim Reza to learn whether the NHRC appealed to the GANHRI to upgrade to category A. They could not be reached over mobile phone. They did not reply to SMS either.

Regarding this, rights activist Sultana Kamal told Prothom Alo, “The listing of the NHRC in category B for such a long time reflects the dire state of our human rights situation. Even the commission and the government are not sincere in improving the standard of the commission, and they think that let the agency run as it is.”

*This report appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Hasanul Banna