South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

Jafar Ahmed Chowdhury in the first of a two-part article on good governance
Law and order is the most visible element of good governance. A society where there is rule of law and people enjoy safety and security of life, liberty and property is sure to witness speedy socio-economic development. People should feel free to move, take initiatives and go for enterprising activities in a society where there is a good law and order situation. The reverse is the case, where the law and order situation is bad. Still worse is the situation where political terrorism is added to the normal law and order situation. In recent times, many news items focused killings and brutality that have political linkages. Moreover, there are reports of disappearances, extra-judicial killings, hijacking of trucks and covered vans, extortions and murders in broad daylight. Amid these, it is reported that about 7,173 cases were withdrawn by the government over the last five years on consideration that these cases were filed for political harassment during the previous government.
Security and safely of the citizenry are crucial for maintaining peace and sustaining economic progress in society. The state and its institutions are the guarantors of human rights, safety and security of citizens and non-citizens. There are judiciary, the Human Rights Commission and the law-enforcement agencies. Apartment from appointment, training and conduct of judicial officers and the recently introduced Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), further measures are required by the legal community for offering pro-poor services to the impoverished and vulnerable people of the country. NGOs (non-governmental organisations) can play an effective role in facilitating access to the judicial system by the poor, women and vulnerable and in building awareness among them.
A human rights approach to development is perceived as essential for poverty reduction because the approach addresses multiple rights denials that increase poverty of various kinds. Exclusion, discrimination and unequal power relations lead to inequities in distribution of wealth in society. A large section of population who is not able to enjoy human rights is mainly poor, uneducated people, women and indigenous people. Many of them do not know their rights and entitlements in terms of services from the state. Many people are unwilling to exercise those as they perceive that the system is complicated, corrupt, intimidating and costly.
The National Human Rights Commission is supposed to work like a national human rights watchdog and ensure that violators of human rights are brought to justice. Unfortunately the Commission has not been working effectively. The fact is that denial of human rights might lead to inefficient resource allocation, corruption, patronage, nepotism and criminality. People also suffer in many ways. Misuse of Section 54 of the code of criminal procedure (CrPC) and Section 86 of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police Ordinance, lengthy pre-trial detention, backlog of criminal cases and lack of enforcement and oversight of many existing laws and regulations can be cited as examples where people suffer. The extra-judicial killings remain a fundamental violation of human rights. The state and its institutions and the human rights organisations can play an enabling role in this regard.
The law-enforcement agencies remain crucial for maintaining peace in society and thereby creating a congenial environment for poverty reduction and economic development. A bad law and order situation dampens the economic environment and may seriously harm economic development. Police is the last hope for immediate security and safety of the citizens. Unfortunately, the police, originating from the colonial past, have been historically used as an oppressive state organ by the successive governments. In recent times, too, the police were found to use coercive measures in preventing meetings, demonstrations and human chains of the opposition parties. Although Part III (Articles 26-47) of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh guarantees fundamental rights of the citizens, the political misuse of police causes violation of these fundamental rights. In recent times, large-scale filing of thousands of cases accusing thousands of people throughout the country, most of whom are unknown, amply demonstrates how the police are apparently used as an oppressive state organ.
Over time, a negative image has been created about the police as a custodian of people’s safety. Allegations are many that include corruption, arbitrary exercise of power, refusal to record cases, improper investigation, covering up of wrongdoings of other police personnel, political contact and etc. A deep insight suggests that there are systemic flaws in hiring, training, posting and disciplining the police. There are some laws and regulations that give the police too much discretion. The elite force, the Rapid Action Battalion, created under the Police Act, is not immune from public accusation of doing excesses. Another allegation is that of unequal treatment of people. If so, it denies the poor the access to criminal justice and encourages the powerful to perpetuate injustice and hinder the process of law.
In spite of many flaws in the existing system, an accountable, transparent and efficient police is not only essential for safety and security but also for economic growth. The police officials themselves demand reforms in the department. A commission for police reforms has been a crying demand from both the police and the civil society. It will review the existing laws and regulations and the management structure of the police service, its relations with other departments like administration, magistracy and judiciary, their privileges and entitlements and etc. Considering pros and cons, the proposed Commission would suggest reforms that after due discussion and debate in and outside parliament will take the shape of laws. Consideration should be given to ensure that the recruitment, transfer and promotion take place on the basis of a well-defined set of principles and competence. Introduction of a citizens’ charter and the procedures for its implementation are necessary. About public complaints, statutory institutions can be introduced like the Independent Police Complaints Authority in the UK or the Public Safety Commission system in Japan.
The people can complain against the police to these bodies which are mandated to redress the grievances. Of all reforms, the dire necessity lies in the introduction of an effective system that the police should not be politically misused. They should be allowed to work independently and neutrally, free from political interference. All these measures will lead to an enabling environment for safety and security of citizens and socio-economic development as well.
The writer is an economist and columnist. [email protected]