Civil Society Dialogue with National Human Rights Commission, Bangladesh

Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) was one of the forefront organizations who had advocated for the establishment of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in Bangladesh.  After the establishment of the Commission, it continues doing advocacy with Government of Bangladesh (GoB) based on its national and international commitments for ensuring effectiveness and independence of the Commission. ASK is also a member of Asian NGOs Network on the National Institutions (ANNI) that aims to strengthen the role of NGOs in monitoring the independence and effectiveness of NHRIs as well as to develop common strategies among NGOs in promoting cooperation with NHRIs.

As a part of these advocacy initiatives, every year ASK has been organizing a civil society dialogue with National Human Rights Commission, Bangladesh (NHRC,B). This year, ASK organized the dialogue on 20 November at the Daily Star Centre, Dhaka. Human rights defenders of 16 districts, representatives from different human rights and development organizations, students, development partners, representatives of international organizations and UN agencies and NHRC,B attended the dialogue.

ASK shared a report titled, ‘National Human Rights Commission, Bangladesh, Existing Challenges and Expectation of Civil Society’ in the dialogue. Apart from the experiences of human rights defenders, the report contains information from newspaper reports, articles on the Commission, and ANNI reports of previous years. It mainly aimed at addressing the adherence of Commission to its jurisdiction, and identifying the subsisting challenges, as well as voicing the civil society and human rights defenders’ expectation from the Commission.

Kazi Reazul Haque, Chairperson, National Human Rights Commission, Bangladesh, was the Chief Guest of the dialogue and Sheepa Hafiza, Executive Director, ASK, moderated the event.

Abu Ahmed Faijul Kabir, Coordinator, Advocacy and Networking, ASK, shared the objectives of the dialogue. He said, “the dialogue is to create a platform where human rights defenders both from local and national level can share their working experiences, concerns as well as their expectations from the NHRC”. Tamanna Hoq Riti, Assistant Coordinator, Media and International Advocacy, ASK, shared the findings and recommendations of the report with the audience.  She said, “the civil society does not impractically expect the Commission to act on each and every violation of human right, rather aspires involvement on specific issues which deliver a strong message to the society by holding the government accountable that paves the way for establishing human rights in the society.”

Following her presentation, several human rights defenders raised their concern regarding the extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances toward the Commission. They demanded the Commission to take a more dominating and strong role in ensuring proper investigation and fair trial for evading such incidents in future.

Kazi Reazul Haque, in response to their queries, admitted that there are few flaws to the existing National Human Rights Commission Act 2009 which should be amended without any delay. As part of their limitations provided under the law, he mentioned, “we can only seek report on extrajudicial killings from the home ministry but are not able to investigate those,”

He applauded the human rights organizations and acknowledged that it is a national pride that we have a very vibrant civil society. He aspired that, “we want to step forward with all of you together.”

In the closing speech, Sheepa Hafiza, Executive Director, ASK, mentioned how the National Human Rights Commission is a shelter and haven for the human rights organizations and  defenders and how a more effective Commission would fortify these defenders and organizations.