What is it about?

The covid-19 outbreak has brought forth the existing cracks and crevices in the governance of Bangladesh. At such a time, the National Human Rights Commission of Bangladesh (NHRCB), as the only State institution mandated to protect and promote human rights exclusively and impartially, is tasked with a crucial role to ensure respect for human rights. This article assesses the activities undertaken by the NHRCB during the pandemic and finds that the NHRCB evinced only a limited role in monitoring the violation of rights and provided formulaic recommendations to the government. It did not observe the implementation of their recommendations and has performed rather formalistically. While the country has experienced a deteriorating human rights situation, the NHRCB has failed to flex its muscles when compared to other national human rights institutions in South Asia. This article argues that the national human rights institutions (NHRIs) in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, embedded in a similar context and armed with almost identical mandates, have demonstrated a novel and strenuous effort intending to adapt to and fulfil their functions during the unprecedented crisis. The NHRCB may benefit by learning from these NHRIs as well as taking lessons from its own past activities. Previously, it did not eschew politically sensitive issues and earmarked a strong leadership even with limited institutional capacities. The NHRCB has however responded to the changing dynamics and challenges posed by the covid-19 pandemic with silence. It needs to become more vibrant to enhance, regionally and internationally, the country’s image in upholding human rights norms and standards.

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Why is it important?

At challenging times such as the pandemic, human rights are restricted, neglected, and even violated. The national human rights institutions (NHRI) occupy an ideal position to adjudge the differences between ‘lawful human rights restrictions and human rights violations’. When democracy and civic space are at bay, these institutions are ideally placed to denounce ill-founded or poorly justified government decisions and to recommend inclusivity and civic participation in decision-making. As the only national agencies tasked exclusively with the protection and promotion of human rights, the NHRIs invite a certain degree of popular expectation. Hence, it is cardinal to evaluate the role of the National Human Rights Commission of Bangladesh (NHRCB) during the pandemic.


The NHRCB has limitations in its founding law, but more can be done by pro-active leadership and activism instead of relying on the mandate only. Such cases can be seen in other countries where, with similar mandate to that of NHRCB, the NHRIs have performed impressively in many cases.

Raihan Rahman

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Human Rights During the Pandemic and the National Human Rights Commission of Bangladesh, Asia Pacific Journal on Human Rights and the Law, November 2022, Brill, DOI: 10.1163/15718158-23030002.
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