UNDP report should be an eye-opener

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report on human security in Bangladesh and its conclusion that the country's criminal justice system is "anti-poor" having a "more harmful effect on the poor and disadvantaged" have struck a responsive chord in us. We are also basically in agreement with UNDP Resident Representative Jorgen Lissner's remark that it is "not the crisis of any political party but the crisis of a nation". However, we would like to add that although the crisis is not of the political parties, they have actually given rise to it by their action or inaction.

Since the country's independence successive governments have only talked of equitable justice system never actually trying to reach out to the poor with the benefit of law. What's worse, they have resorted to abuse and misuse of law to further their political interest and invariably the poor and the disadvantaged section of the society has paid the price. Repressive laws were enacted such as the Special Powers Act and the Public Safety Act on the plea of enhancing citizens' security but employed only to harass political opponents and innocent people. As avoidable and motivated lawsuits piled up and put pressure on the judicial system, the delay in dispensation of justice became generally endemic. All of this not only made the justice system largely irrelevant but also put it beyond the affordability range of the majority. Courtesy imprudence of leading political parties, the laws 'dealing with human security' turned out to be "hostile to the poor and the disadvantaged sections of the society".

Therefore, it is not merely the legal and judicial systems but attitudes of the political parties that need changing, too. Yes, there are laws that should be amended or repealed, but the attitudinal questions arose when we did not allow the better part of the corpus of laws to function and made matters even worse by delaying law reform that would have alleviated the plight of the poor. Unless the judiciary is separated from the executive, the legal system, which at the lower end of judiciary touches majority of the people horizontally, will continue to elude the poor and the disadvantaged.

Source: Editorial, The Daily Star, 17. 09.02)

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