Public Service and Human Rights

Dr. Akhter Hussain

6th March, 2020 10:45:26 printer

Public Service and Human Rights


Modern states need to deliver a wide variety of services to its citizens. These range from justice, safety and security to other services, such as health care, education including administrative services like issuance of licenses and permissions etc. However, public service could be defined as services which are provided by the government to people living within its jurisdiction, either directly through the public sector or by financing private provision of services. These services are considered to be essential to modern life that for obvious reasons their provisioning needs to be guaranteed. Most of these services are associated with fundamental human rights. Here it may be mentioned that these services are generally provided by the central and local governments. However, jurisdictions of the service provisioning between the central and local governments vary from country to country. In the case of developing countries, where deconcentrated system of administration is in practice most of the public services are delivered by the agencies of the central government. The jurisdictions of the local government units in this regard are limited or they provided fewer services to the people.   

However, when access to public services is considered it has been observed that this has an intimate relationship with fundamental human rights. Or in other words, access to public services offered by the state or the government has profound bearings on human rights that are particularly applicable for all citizens of the country. According to the United Nations Organization (UNO) ‘human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status. Human rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and many more. Everyone is entitled to these rights, without discrimination.’ The Universal Declaration of Human Rights(UDHR) was adopted on 10th December, 1948, by the General Assembly of the United Nations. This was for the first time the world agreed on a comprehensive statement of inalienable human rights. The UDHRs consist of 30 rights and freedoms for all mankind. Till now, these rights continue to form the basis for all international laws on human rights. The UDHR declares that human rights are universal – to be enjoyed by all people, no matter who they are or where they live. It includes civil and political rights, like the right to life, liberty, free speech and privacy. It also includes economic, social and cultural rights, like the right to social security, health and education.

The Constitution of Bangladesh framed and adopted in 1972 incorporated the fundamental rights of its citizens. These rights are specified in part III of the Constitution. These rights include equality before law; against discrimination on grounds of religion; equality of opportunity in public employment; protection of law; life and personal liberty; safeguards as to arrest and detention; against forced labour; protection in respect of trial and punishment; freedom of movement; freedom of assembly; freedom of association; freedom of thought and conscience, and of speech; freedom of profession or occupation; freedom of religion; possessing property; protection of home and correspondence. Here it needs to be mentioned that these fundamental rights guaranteed in the Constitution are enforceable through the court of law. In this regard, the jurisdiction of the High Court Division of the Supreme Court to enforce the fundamental rights is defined in Article 102 of Part Vl of the Bangladesh Constitution.

In Bangladesh, access to public services, fundamental human rights and the fundamental Principles of State Policy that are mentioned in the Part II of Bangladesh Constitution are intricately related with one another. These principles include, nation¬alism, democracy, socialism and secularism; promotion of local government institutions; participation of women in national life; principles of state, co-operative and private ownership; emancipation of peasants and workers from all forms of exploitation; provision of basic necessities of life; rural development and agricultural revolution; free and compulsory primary education; free education of girls up to grade eight in all rural areas; promotion of family planning mother and child health care and reduction of fertility; Improvement of public health and reductions of mortality and morbidity; ensuring equality of opportunity. However, these Principles are not enforceable by the court of law. It has been envisaged that these principles will guide the state in framing laws, policies, programs and projects for the benefits of the country and its citizens.  

In the context of the above, public services are at the core of democratic societies founded on human rights and the rule of law. Public services try to ensure equitable redistribution of wealth and in the delivery of various services also endeavours to ensure that people are treated with equal respect, provided equal protection, and live free of discrimination without regard to age, gender, religion, national identity, race or ethnicity, disability and sexual orientation. In this sense, public governance is of absolute importance. In a broad sense, governance could be defined ‘as the exercise of authority or power to manage a country’s economic, political and administrative affairs.’ However, only governance is not enough to ensure upholding of human rights while delivering public services. What is needed is good governance.

In the present context, good governance encompasses full respect of human rights, the rule of law, effective participation, multi-actor partnerships, political pluralism, transparent and accountable processes and institutions, an efficient and effective public sector, legitimacy, access to knowledge, information and education, political empowerment of people, equity, sustainability, and attitudes and values that foster responsibility, solidarity and tolerance. The UN Human RightsAgency identified the key attributes of good governance that include transparency, responsibility; accountability; participation and responsiveness to the needs of the people. Keeping the above under consideration, it can be inferred that without good governance public service delivery by upholding human rights is extremely difficult if not impossible. Pertinent reasons in this context are good governance and human rights are mutually reinforcing; human rights principles provide a set of values to guide the work of governments and other political and social actors; they also provide a set of performance standards against which these actors can be held accountable and without good governance, human rights cannot be respected and protected in a sustainable manner. The protection of human rights relies on a conducive and enabling environment. This includes appropriate legal frameworks and institutions as well as political, managerial and administrative processes responsible for responding to the rights and needs of the people.

In delivering public services to the people and ensuring their access to those, good governance helps in protecting human rights. It also improves the state’s capacity to fulfill its responsibility to provide public services that are essential for the protection of a large number of fundamental human rights. For this purpose, the strategies could be adopted to improve public service delivery by increasing citizen participation and partnership with them and increasing or improving effectiveness and efficiency in service delivery by doing the right things in the right manner.

(The different sources of information are acknowledged with gratitude).

The writer is a Professor, Department of Public Administration, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh.