I study human rights to improve the legal system in my country


Fahima Hossain

I first studied human rights while in the University of Dhaka in 1998. At first only learned about the very basic provisions of human rights. But later, when I started working as an advocate of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh, I realised that I need more detailed understanding of this subject. Most of the rights of Universal Declaration of Human Rights are incorporated in the constitution of Bangladesh. The provisions of the constitution are enforced in the High Court Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh through the Writ[1] jurisdiction.

Under the Writ jurisdiction of our constitution a human rights lawyer can challenge discrimination and defend the rights and freedoms of people and organisations. However, after some years of working I came to an understanding that there is a vacuum in our legal system and the concept of human rights is still in its infancy in Bangladesh. Except the provisions incorporated in our constitution, the judges of Bangladesh are reluctant to refer international treaties and conventions. That is related to the insufficient knowledge of international law and maybe also the lack of willingness to know, because even if international instruments are ratified by the state, they cannot be enforced unless incorporated in the local legislation.

However, mere incorporation of human rights norms will not suffice. In order to properly implement those norms, enrich and develop our legal practice and culture, expertise and understanding is needed. Judges and other legal professionals play a crucial role here. In Bangladesh there are sometimes problems also with jus cogens norms and customary international law – norms and principles which are universally accepted and binding on all countries with or without ratification or a written document. There are no effective legal remedies for violations of such norms, if they are not incorporated into national legislation. Although the government of Bangladesh has ratified some international treaties, amendments of the constitution or other legal acts are needed to properly implement them.

I decided to study human rights to go in-depth with the questions of the legal system of Bangladesh and its compliance or non-compliance with international law. Thus, in my work as an advocate of the court I want to increase my capability to look at the cases through the lenses of human rights and, where possible, use human rights as an alternative route of argument in the courtroom or negotiations. I hope my practice and expertise will help to develop legal system and the work of the courts in Bangladesh out of its infancy in applying human rights and other international law.

[1] A written command or formal order issued by a court, by which one is summoned or required to do or refrain from doing something

Edited by Mariann Rikka

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