Constitutional Law


Case Study (2012): Joypurhat Bar Association Pledges No Discrimination against Dalits and Adibashis


On 4 October 2012, the Jatiya Adibashi Porishod, after holding a rally and submitting a memorandum to the local DC’s office, had lunch at a local restaurant attached to the Joypurhat Bar Association building. Advocate Md. Yunusur Rahman (Yunus), a member of the Bar Association reportedly informed the manager that, Abu Nasim Md. Shamimul Isalm (Shamim), the secretary of the Joypurhat Bar Association asked him to remove the plates and glasses used by the Porishod members on the ground of their being ‘untouchables’. Advocate Babul Robi Das, a leader of the Porishod, and a local lawyer, said that he and 26 others were then compelled to replace the glasses they had used.


Advocate Robi Das then submitted applications seeking redress to the Deputy Commissioner of Joypurhat District, the President of the Joypyurhat Bar Association, the Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the Bangladesh Bar Council. The NHRC issued a show cause notice to the Secretary of Joypurhat Lawyers’  Association. The Bar Council also scheduled a hearing and called Advocate Robi Das to attend and give evidence. In the meantime, in November 2009 the Joypurhat Bar Association, assured Advocate Babul Rabidash that it would ensure an equal status, dignity, and rights of all speheres of citizens in Joypurhat Districts. To this effect, The Joypurhat bar Association adopted a resolution pledging not to discriminate against Dalits or Adibashis or any dwellers of Joypurhat District.



Case Study (2013): Discrimination Against a Woman with Disabilities in Employment


Farzana lost her sight when she was at her secondary level of education. She overcame all hurdles associated with lack of equipment and inaccessibility at educational institutions and was awarded with her M.A degree from the University of Dhaka in history in 2011. Soon after, she started to apply for several positions in various private and State owned banks and accordingly took part in exams. At one point, she submitted her resume after fulfilling all requirements for the post of “Officer Cash” in Agrani Bank on 1st April 2013. The authority however rejected her application on April 24 without showing any specific reason of disqualification and published admit cards online in favor of others.

The Chairman of Agrani Bank said that visually impaired person is incompetent for that post. Farzana was determined to stand against the discrimination against her on the basis of disability. Being aggrieved by the arbitrary decision of the Agrani Bank Authority, on 2 May 2013, the day before other candidates were to take the appointment test, Farzana approached BLAST. BLAST dealt with her issue the entire day and after hours of advocacy with Agrani bank, Farzana could collect the admit card. The National Human Rights Commission of Bangladesh with the request of BLAST also helped her.

Finally, Farzana could appear in the qualifying tests and upon her passing the exam was appointed in the position she applied for. Now she is working in the Bank successfully and the success story with Farzana have encouraged many other banks to recruit persons with visual impairments. Not only was Farzana’s constitutional right to employment upheld, but also through the legal assistance of BLAST she was able to fight for her right to non-discrimination.


Case Study (2014): The Right to Information Applied to Establish Citizenship for Urdu Speakers in Bangladesh


In the aftermath of the 1971 Liberation War, the Urdu speaking minority community in Bangladesh faced widespread violence and discrimination. While agreements between Pakistan, Bangladesh and India resulted in some 178,069 members of this community being “repatriated” from Bangladesh to Pakistan between 1973 and 1993, the “repatriation” efforts were eventually abandoned.[1] Hundreds of thousands of people left behind had neither Bangladeshi nor Pakistani citizenship, nor were they classified as refugees—they were de facto stateless. Today close to 300,000 residents live in camps that were meant to be temporary housing solutions without the legal documents to help them access the public services they are entitled to.


According to both the Citizenship Act 1951 and the Bangladesh Citizenship Order 1972, Urdu speakers in Bangladesh may be recognised as citizens. However, those living in the camps had not been formally recognized as such. After a long legal battle fought by Urdu speakers, in 2008, the High Court of Bangladesh declared that Urdu speakers who resided in the territories now comprising Bangladesh, both before and after the Liberation War, were entitled to be recognised as citizens of Bangladesh, so long as they affirmed their loyalty to the country.


However, when several Urdu speakers residing in the Mirpur and Mohammadpur applied for passports they ended up in waiting for seven months. During phone inquiries, certain officials from the Divisional Passport and Visa Office claimed that the Ministry of Home Affairs “had been instructed not to issue any passports to ‘stranded Pakistanis’ or Rohingyas”. However they produced no documentation to evidence this claim. The Council for Minorities, a human rights organization that has been assisting camp residents with acquiring legal identity documents, sought assistance from BLAST to pursue these claims through the legal process.


In April of 2014, BLAST served a legal notice upon the concerned authorities seeking the issuance of passports, but received no response. The Council then strategized further with RIB and BLAST and consulted with various paralegals from the camps, well–known historians and activists documenting the Liberation War, as well as human rights lawyers and activists from BLAST and Nagorik Uddyog. As advised during the meeting, Advocate Khalid Hussain, the Council’s Director, then made an application under section 8(1) of the Right to Information Act 2009 (“RTI”) for copy of the decision of Ministry of Home Affairs and its guidelines in connection with the issuance of passports to Urdu speaking people as well as a copy of the decision by which passports were issued to applicants of the Urdu speaking community residing at camps in Mymensingh, Khulna, and Syedpur.


When he received no response within the requisite 40-day period, he appealed to the Information Commission, which fixed a hearing for January of 2015. Once the Ministry of Home Affairs was notified of this hearing, it sent a letter to Hussain confirming that there was no reason not to issue passports to Urdu speaking people. An Officer from the Information Commission also communicated this at the hearing and this statement was publicized so to prevent any misinformation in the future. Since the official disclosure of this information, the Council of Minorities and its paralegals have opened more than 1600 cases and assisted over 1525 clients to receive documentation, with 96% of all closed files having been resolved successfully.[2] In these last few years large strides have been made to legally recognize the Urdu speaking community in Bangladesh thanks to the efforts of many activists and lawyers of not only BLAST and the Council for Minorities, but also of other parties.



[1] United Nations High Commission on Refugees, Note on the nationality status of the Urdu-speaking community in Bangladesh, UNHCR, December 2009 (available at: https://www.ecoi.net/file_upload/1226_1261574665_4b2b90c32.pdf)

[2] Namati: Innovations in Legal Empowerment. “Evaluating the Impact of Citizenship-Focused Paralegals in Bangladesh.” Concept Note, 2015.


Case Study (2015): PIL on Gang Rape of Garo Woman

(Writ Petition No.: 5541/2015)

According to news reports, a 21 year old woman from the Garo Community was gang-raped by 5 men in a running microbus in Dhaka City on Thursday 21 May 2015. She was sent for a medical examination to the Dhaka Medical College Hospital only on 23 May 2015. Protests by women’s rights, Adivasi rights and human rights organisations have continued demanding urgent action. Several reports have focused attention on the delay in recording of the FIR and the delay in sending her for medical examination.

5 rights organisations, Naripokkho, Bangladesh Mahila Parishad, Jatiyo Adivasi Parishad, BLAST and ASK, filed a Public Interest Litigation for violation of fundamental rights of the victim.  The respondents are the Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, the Inspector General of Police, the Dhaka Metropolitan Police Commissioner, the Officers in Charge of Uttara, Khilkhet, Gulshan and Vatara police stations, and the Duty Officer of Vatara Police Station. Ayesha Khanam, President of Bangladesh Mahila Parishad, commented.

The petitioners argued that the police delay in responding to the complainant amounted to a breach of her fundamental rights to equality, non discrimination and equal protection under the law with respect to obtaining a prompt and effective remedy against violence. They noted the importance of ensuring a prompt and non-discriminatory response to recording of complaints and medical evidence collection, in the context of serious under reporting of incidents of violence against women and girls by victims. They cited provisions of the Nari o Shishu Nirjaton Domon Ain 2000 (amended 2003) regarding the holding of medical examinations, and the rights to equality before the law, non-discrimination on grounds of race, religion, sex, caste and place of birth, and equal protection of the law under Articles 27, 28 and 31 of the Constitution, as well as the state’s obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women to which Bangladesh is a party.

On 25.05.2015 a Division Bench, comprising Justice Farah Mahbub and Justice Kazi Mohammad Ezarul Haque Akondo issued a Rule Nisi upon concerned authorities to explain the delay by the police in recording an FIR by a 22 year old Garo woman worker regarding allegations of her gang-rape on a moving microbus, as well as the delay in sending hereto the Victim Support Centre and for medical examination. The Court also asked the authorities to explain why they should not compensate the victim and take disciplinary action against the police officers responsible for such delay. The Court directed the authorities to issue a circular to all police stations to ensure that they respond to victims promptly and without any discrimination based on race, religion, gender, caste or place of birth, and to submit a report identifying those responsible.

The case is currently pending for hearing.

 

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