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HC blasts NHRC for failing domestic help Khadija

  • Published at 10:29 pm June 24th, 2020
High Court-HC-court
File photo of the High Court Dhaka Tribune

The High Court observed that the NHRC had been 'sleeping with eyes wide open'

The High Court has observed that the National Human Rights Commission has shown negligence and dereliction of duty in failing to ensure justice for victims of human rights abuse, especially in the case of the brutal torture of domestic help Khadija.

The bench of Justice Sheikh Hassan Arif and Justice Razik-Al-Jalil made the comment while passing some directives in its 31-page full verdict of a writ petition released last Thursday.

In 2013, Khadija, 12, a domestic help, was subjected to torture in Dhaka’s Mirpur. The incident, which was reported in a national daily, was attached to a letter and sent to the National Human Rights Commission on behalf of the Children's Charity Bangladesh (CCB) Foundation.

The High Court directed the NHRC to complete the hearing within 60 days of the verdict and decide on preventive measures, compensation and recommendations.

On November 11, 2019, the High Court pronounced a short verdict after concluding a hearing of a writ petition filed by CCB Foundation seeking necessary orders on the NHRC.

The court observed that the NHRC had been “sleeping with eyes wide open.” It said no excuse could justify such negligence and abdication of responsibility and the delay by the commission in discharging this particular case.

The court said that it needed no other evidence to reach a conclusion about the inactivity, negligence and abdication of duty on the part of the commission. The orders passed by the commission in this particular case were enough to show the state of the commission.

The court said it did not have any other option but to hold the commission, its chairman and members accountable as they had in fact abused their powers.

The sheer negligence, inactivity and non application of mind by the commission in Khadija's case had ultimately caused frustration. “It may not be possible now to move in the reverse direction, as, in the meantime, six years have elapsed,” the court observed.

Loss of interest

The victim or her father had lost interest in the case, or they might have been manipulated or managed by the violators of human rights. They might have also lost their faith in the legal system, the court observed.

It appeared that the victim of human rights violation in this particular case would never get justice, or the victim would never want to get justice, because of the failure of the commission itself, the High Court further observed.

Referring to Article 18 of the NHRC Act, 2009, the court also observed the article had restricted the commission’s powers regarding enquiry and investigation to be conducted on allegations of violations of human rights committed by disciplined forces and their members.

It appeared that this provision had in fact made the commission a toothless tiger to some extent while the law enforcement agencies in Bangladesh, in particular RAB and police, were allegedly the main violators of human rights of citizens (see different reports in print and electronic media about fake encounters and forced disappearances). This provision has given them protection from any enquiry or investigation by the commission as regards such alleged violations on their part, the verdict added.

The court also directed the NHRC to finalize its draft rules and publish a notification gazette immediately after discussing the draft with human rights activists and NGOs by formally inviting them.

A brief history

On January 9, 2019, the High Court issued a ruling asking the authorities concerned to explain as to why the failure of the NHRC to provide appropriate remedy for incidents of human rights violations should not be declared illegal.

Following a writ petition filed by Supreme Court lawyer Abdul Halim, the bench of Justice Sheikh Hassan Arif and Justice Razik-Al-Jalil asked seven people, including the home secretary, to respond to the ruling within four weeks.

Halim said the court had also directed the home secretary to submit a report explaining why no actions were taken about the torture of domestic help Khadija on December 9, 2013.

Children Charity Bangladesh Foundation sent a letter to the NHRC asking it to take necessary legal steps against the torture on Khadija.

During investigation, the NHRC found that the domestic help was tortured after being confined to her employer's house and she was made to starve. However, police concealed all the information and did not record any case in this regard.

Later in 2014, the National Human Rights Commission sent a letter to the home secretary asking that action be taken in this regard after investigating the allegations brought against the police.

Although the commission wrote 18 letters till 2018, no action has been taken till date, Halim said, adding that although the NHRC could identify cases of human rights violations, it could not provide any remedy to this end.

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