Tuesday, 17 May, 2022

Law, Freedom and Democracy

  • Dr. A. K. Abdul Momen
  • 21st January, 2022 05:40:58 PM
  • Print news

“Justice is the sum of all moral duty” — William Godwin.

While speaking to a reputed international think tank the other day, I thought about the many journeys we make as individuals and as nations. Life is, after all, a strange journey. In fact, the way I see it – life is a medley of many journeys. Tears and laughter; happiness and sorrow; victory and defeat; life and death; everything keeps repeating and often it becomes difficult to make sense out of it all.

The very foundation of human history and indeed the human spirit is that of hope. It is with the glimmer of hope that we survive the gory glooms of darkness. Covid-19 has cost us a lot. It has cost us in lives. It has cost us in jobs. It has cost us in income. It has cost us in wealth. It is forcing us to change many of our established norms and ways of life. It has probably affected the value sets which define our collective and individual morality too, especially the part where human mortality is an issue at stake. It is taking away many of our freedoms of choice.

There is no denying that probably we are living in some of the most challenging times ever. It is now widely accepted that the Covid-19 pandemic has a multifaceted impact on the nexus of human security and development. Such an impact can be understood from the perspective of an individual as well as the perspective of society as a whole, influencing socioeconomic, political and cultural behaviour.

What is at stake is the norms of codifying this behavioural matrix of the human being and of the human societies. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has boldly upheld the rule of law and stayed on course in spite of the many challenges and the many threats that she and her party faced from quarters which espoused the ideals of darkness. Bangladesh, under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, has lent all its might towards strengthening the institution and the institutional narrative of history as it evolved through time. Laws and legal education are pivots of this whole exercise.

To combat the unimaginable devastation caused by the pandemic, states have adopted innovative legal actions ranging from restricting citizen’s fundamental rights without invoking emergency provisions of the constitution to incorporating new legal concepts. Examples of constrictions include, amongst others, freedom of movement, freedom of fear, freedom of choice, privacy rights, and so forth. Restrictive measures include, amongst others, lockdown, social distancing, personal hygiene, wearing masks, curtailed public transport access, no visit to restaurants without vaccination and so on. For the first time in human history, freedom is subject to actual enforcement control. For the citizen, it is no more a luxury not to be aware of the laws already in place and being worked out. Simultaneously, both the state organs and the academia have legal and moral obligations so that legal education evolves to reflect the changing structures and functions of law in milieu of the society and this is closely related to the development of the individual’s agency, franchise and autonomy in the context and in reference to the overwhelming authority of the state across any part of the Westphalian world.

We are passing through a flux vortex of time. The nature and contour of identity mixes available to the human society is also breathtaking. We are watching with open eyes how the world around us is taking a new shape with each passing day. Each day is bringing with it a new set of challenges previously unimagined. In fact, the world of the dreams and the world of the realities are much different from the many possibilities and the many frontiers of imagination. It is time that we recognise the contributions made by Bangladesh in the international legal domain too.

The facts of 1971 genocide have been argued and found to be correct in the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT). The formation, the delivery and the narrative epistemology of the ICT in Bangladesh has paved the way for further introspection in the international legal and humanitarian legal perspectives and have resulted in the recent convictions of an IS operative for crimes committed against the Yazidis in Syria. This is one of our many contributions as a state party to the covenants of human rights and humanitarian laws existing in the world.

Additionally, also important is to understand the nature and typology of laws and legal epistemology arising out of the changes in the climate – because of adverse changes in the climate – and also the emergence of new vertices in the technological prowess available to some parts of the human society – thereby giving disproportionate mechanical advantage to certain segments of the global population and technology divide. The proliferation of technological development, infrastructural leapfrogging, and instant-news reaching our homes have turned us more complex (as a society) rather than flexible and humane. With the ever increasing growth in technological innovation, it is worrisome that humanitarian consideration too might become an equal causality. Present day newspapers, especially their front pages, are more into sensational and violent items – with much less emphasis on a well-researched human story. Joseph Pulitzer once said, “There is not a crime which does not live in secrecy. Get these things out in the open, describe them, ridicule them in the press, and sooner or later, public opinion will sweep them away – and humanity will continue to exist.” We need to codify the wisdom of the jurisprudence and the judgments made and delivered so that the indignity of crimes is checked at its roots. 

The legal architecture of Bangladesh has contributed immensely to the dense and layered evolution of the nation’s quest to find its identity in the space of human autonomy, collective agency and individual franchise. We started with scorched earth but a solid foundation in the form of a constitution. Our founding fathers had the audacity to hope!

Our imagination wonders what it looked like back then! But then again – what would it look like in the days ahead? Darkness has started to recede. I look forward to seeing a new sunrise with glorious new laws and rules fit for the new world slowly taking birth.

The writer is the Foreign Minister, People’s Republic of Bangladesh