Human rights activists urged the government to amend the proposed anti-discrimination law which aims to ensure the rights of ethnic minorities, the physically challenged, transgenders and the destitute. They sought a revision of several provisions to ensure rapid claim settlements, allow victims to go to court directly, and effectively establish equal rights.
They made the call on a webinar organised by the Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF), in which several lawmakers, civil society people, and representatives of marginalised groups took part.
"The bill has recently been placed in parliament and sent to the standing committee for scrutiny. Now the committee should identify loopholes and fix them in consultation with rights activists. Otherwise, the bill will fall flat," said Shaheen Anam, MJF executive director.
She said many of the provisions of the bill were incomplete and many seemed ineffective, which should be addressed first. "The long procedure of claim settlement is frustrating indeed."
If anyone believes they are a victim of discrimination, they can file a complaint initially with the district-level committee to be formed, according to the proposed law.
According to the proposed law as it stands now, the committee would settle the issue within 30 days and if that fails, the victim would submit the complaint to the divisional committee and would have to wait another 30 days.
If the issue is not settled, they can go to the national committee which can take up to another 45 days. After three and a half months, the victim will be allowed to go to court if the complaint remains unsettled, the bill says.
"The lengthy process runs completely counter to the main objective of the law. There is no alternative to allowing victims to go directly to court, and a final verdict must come within three months," said Zakir Hossain, executive director of Nagorik Uddyog.
He also suggested forming a separate commission or empowering the National Human Rights Commission to deal with matters related to the law.
Parliamentary Standing Committee on Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Chairman, Md Shahiduzzaman Sarker, its Member, Barrister Shameem Haider Patwary, eminent economist Debapriya Bhattacharya, human rights campaigner, Barrister Sara Hossain, and former member of the Human Rights Commission, Meghna Guhathakurta, spoke at the event.
"We will discuss all the issues with stakeholders including human rights activists who have been working on the law for long, before returning the bill to parliament," said Shahiduzzaman Sarker.
"We will try our best to improve the law," he added.