Staff Correspondent, NewAge, October 13, 2008
The next general elections, slated for December 18, cannot be held under the state of emergency as such a situation is not conducive to a congenial voting atmosphere owing to curtailment of some fundamental rights of the people, said Odhikar on Sunday.
Despite repeated assurances by the military-controlled interim government, the human rights body felt that doubts still persist about the holding of elections since the state of emergency has lost its justification, legal and otherwise, and continues to pose a serious threat to basic human rights.
Odhikar demanded immediate lifting of emergency in its monitoring report on the state of human rights in the 21 months under the state of emergency.
‘The Parliament that will be elected through free and fair elections should not extend blanket immunity to this government,’ said Odhikar.
Reiterating its criticism of the current state of emergency, the human rights watchdog said that emergency has suspended basic human rights enshrined in the Constitution and has essentially encroached on the space that the people need to make choices through election.
‘Odhikar strongly believes that the state of emergency should be lifted in its entirety and in the whole territory of Bangladesh in order to create a climate conducive to free and fair elections,’ said the report.
‘Odhikar also maintains that human rights are indivisible and it is neither possible nor permissible to restore some rights while others are still being denied. Human rights should be upheld and respected under all circumstances. Therefore, attempts to hold a general election under the emergency cannot offer a congenial atmosphere for a credible polls and transition to an elected government,’ said the rights body.
Stressing the need for the formation of a government through electoral democracy, Odhikar said that a free, fair and participatory popular election was the only legitimate way to fulfil this goal.
‘Odhikar believes that only through a widely participatory, credible general election can the nation make a transition to representative governance from the current extra-constitutional administration,’ said the watchdog.
It demanded that nothing should be done by the government to jeopardise the holding of the general elections on the set date.
‘Odhikar feels it is time to think about the post-election situation too, and this gives rise to the question of the ratification by the next elected Parliament of the deeds of the present regime that, instead of acting as a caretaker government, exceeded its constitutional authority and acted as a regular government.’ said the human rights body.
It said that the question of ratification or legalisation of the activities of the government would arise soon after the election is held.
‘In this general election the electorate will vote for an elected government, but not necessarily to ratify or otherwise legitimise the actions and measures of the current government,’ Odhikar maintained.
The rights watchdog said that there has not been any improvement in the safeguarding of the people’s basic rights and the formation of the National Human Rights Commission would not make any difference to this end as it will be manned by persons chosen by the incumbents and will be political appointees and bureaucrats.
‘It is highly paradoxical that the government has proceeded to establish the National Human Rights Commission while keeping all basic rights suspended and denied!’ quipped Odhikar.
The report also stated that the Right to Information Ordinance, approved by the interim Cabinet, would not ensure the people’s right to know.