- The draft law to be placed before the parliament soon
- Main objective to ensure rights for ethnic minorities, physically-challenged, transgenders and destitute people
- Key loopholes are: system of filing complaints to non-judicial committees, having no assigned court and punishment provision
- Initial draft proposed punishments, but scrapped in the final one
- Three-level committee and an "anti-discrimination monitoring cell" proposed
The draft anti-discrimination law, which the government is enacting to ensure the rights of ethnic minorities, physically challenged, transgenders and destitute people in society, has been criticised by legal analysts and academics, as it contains no provision for punishment against the defined discriminations or "offences".
They also fear that the proposed act would fail to ensure impartiality due to other loopholes – provisions of filing complaints in phases to non-judicial committees and having no assigned court to settle the issues.
"If the law is passed, we believe it would be an incomplete act," said Dr Mizanur Rahman, former chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
The proposed law defined some discriminations, but it did not frame specific measures, including punishments, to eradicate those from society. As a result, the objective of the law would not be fulfilled, he opined.
Rahman, also a former professor of Dhaka University Law Faculty, told The Business Standard that the Law Commission and the NHRC made the initial draft for the law almost four years ago. "There, we proposed six months to two years jail or Tk10,000 to Tk2,00,000 fine for discriminations. However, the final draft scrapped the punishment."
"It is obvious the defined discriminations are offences. So, it needs to include specific punishments," said Dr Shahdeen Malik, a widely popular constitutional expert.
He tells TBS that the draft law suggests a victim file complaints to different proposed committees to have the issue resolved. In case of failure to get justice with the alternative resolution system, the victim would be able to go to court. "This is very time-consuming. Rather, the law should suggest going to a court directly."
The concerned officials (who framed the draft) did not realise how much "suffering" the victims would face during the proposed settlement period, he added.
According to the law ministry, the draft law would be placed before the parliament in the ongoing parliamentary session or the next. The cabinet has already approved the draft in principle.
The draft defined prohibiting or limiting the people's existence in public places with excuses of their religions, races, families, ethnic groups, languages, ages, genders, birthplaces and professions; depriving them of getting services from different offices: and barring them from produce, sell and marketing products or services as discriminations.
Besides, sending physically challenged or third gender children to special organisations or individuals for rearing purposes, or forcing them to leave families would also be considered discrimination.
The other discriminations are: interrupting the mentioned people in attending different social, religious and political programmes; neglecting them for valid jobs or businesses; and forcing them to join invalid businesses.
The draft proposed three-level committees – in districts, divisions, and national-level – to receive complaints from victims. If anyone believes he is a victim of such discrimination, he can file a complaint initially with the district-level committee. The committee would settle the issue within 30 days. In case of failure, the victims have to submit the complaint with the divisional committee and have to wait another 30 days.
If the issue is not settled, he can go to the national committee which can take up to 45 days. After three and a half months, the victims would be allowed to go to court if a complaint is unresolved.
"However, the draft law did not mention which court the victims can go to, which is a big weak point," said Kazi Reazul Hoque, former chairman of the NHRC. He urged the lawmakers to revisit the draft and make an effective law.
The draft law also has a provision to form an "anti-discrimination monitoring cell" under the law ministry to oversee the overall situation.
Bangladesh National Women Lawyers' Association President Salma Ali said the National Human Rights Commission should be assigned in this regard, rather than forming a new cell as the issues were under the Commission's jurisdiction.
"The government did not talk to stakeholders, particularly who are working with such issues, before framing the draft, which is why there is so much of gap," he told TBS.
All the experts called lawmakers for addressing the issues when the bill of the draft law is placed before the parliament.
When contacted, Law Minister Anisul Huq said they would include the suggested measures in detail in the appendix of the law after passing the bill.