The expansion of the term “Right to Life”

Economic Social and Cultural Rights

– Md. Nahid Hosen

The Constitution of each country is the protector of fundamental human rights of its citizens. The govt. has legal and constitutional obligation to ensure such rights. Then the question comes to what extent the right to life should be protected? The constitution is the supreme law of our country. It protects the right of the citizen and the state has emerged to establish and maintain an ordered society wherein life and liberty of the individuals would be secured and the citizen would survive with dignity and honor.

Articles 31 and 32 of the constitution of Bangladesh have given guarantee of protection of ‘Right to Life’. Besides, article 3 of The Universal Declaration of Human Right ( UDHR), 1948 provides that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person. According to art.6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), ”every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of this right”. ‘The right to life’ within the meaning of Art.31 denotes something more than mere animal’s existence. It includes right to livelihood because no one can live without a means of living. This was the previous notion about the term ‘right to life’. But the constitutional jurisprudence regards the meaning of the ‘right to life’ has been changed in Bangladesh in the recent times. The present belief is that right to life means right to live consistently with human dignity and decency .The term ‘Right to life’ has two meanings one is classical meaning and another is modern or progressive meaning. In the light of classical meaning, the ‘right to life’ means right to survive but the modern meaning has expanded the term as right to survive with human dignity and decency. It also includes right to security of live, right to health, right to housing and security against natural disaster. In the case of Francis C. Mullin v. Administrator Union territory of Delhi, the Indian Supreme Court observed “the question which arises in whether the right to life is limited only to protection of limb or faculty or does it go further and embrace something more. We think that the right to life includes right to lives with human dignity and all that goes along with it viz, the bare necessities of life such as adequate nutrition, clothing and shelter and facilities for reading , writing and expressing oneself in divers form, freely moving about the mixing of commingling with below human beings.” Kerala High Court observed- “A wide meaning should be given to the expression ‘life’ to enable a man not to sustain life but to enjoy it in a full measure.” The expansion of the ‘right to life’ has been developed through the recent cases delivered by the Supreme Court of Bangladesh.

Let’s see some landmark judgment about the expanding meaning of ‘right of life’. In the famous case Ain O Salish Kendra Vs Bangladesh, 1999 BLD 488, it was declared that when rootless people have been taken shelter in slums (basti) and somehow making a livelihood, their wholesale eviction without any scheme of their rehabilitation has been found to offend the right to life (art.31 & 32).

In the other very recent milestone case Advocate Zulhasuddin V Bangladesh, 2010 BLD 1 the High Court Division held that ‘The imposition of VAT on receipts of medical and dental treatment, pathological laboratory and diagnostics centre & fees of specialists doctor is ultra vires of right to life’.

In the another landmark case of Prof. Nurul Islam V State, 2000, 52 DLR 413 in 1999 the British American Tobacco Co. invited ‘The voyage of Discovery’ for the advertisement of their product Gold Leaf cigarette. Professor Nurul Islam, the president of ADHUNIK ( Amra Dhumpan Nibaron Kari) filed a writ petition under Art. 102 of the constitution to prevent this programme, because it could attract the new generation and this could involve more in smoking. After considering the harmful effect of tobacco in human health the Honorable Justice Mohammad Fazlul Karim and Justice Md. Abdul Wahhab Miah delivered the judgment that ‘the advertisement of Cigarette violates the Art. 18 (right to public health) ultimately clear violation of ‘right to life’ provided under Art. 31, and 32 of the Constitution of Bangladesh’. Besides, constitutional perspectives about the environmental rights as well as the right to life were discussed elaborately in the renowned case of Mohiuddin Farooque Vs. Govt. WP no. 891 of 1994 (well known as Industrial Pollution Case). The Court referring paragraph 3 of the preamble of the Constitution states that the preamble glorified the pledge of the nation to establish a society where the rule of law, fundamental human right, living with dignity will be secured for all the citizens. Art. 32 runs as ‘No person shall be deprived of life or personal liberty, save in accordance with law.’ This declaration in the Constitution is not mere empty words. The expression life enshrined in art 32 includes everything which is necessary to make it meaningful and a living worth life. The Honorable High Court Division further mention that article 31 & 32 of our Constitution encompass within its ambit the projection and preservation of environment, ecological balance free from pollution of air and water, sanitation without which life can hardly be enjoyed. Any act or omission contrary thereto will be violation of the said right to life.

Now our Constitution has followed the modern or progressive meaning of right to life. The provision of right to life has included in part (III) of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. The part (III) enumerates the Fundamental Right. According to the language of the constitution the fundamental rights ( art.8 to art 47) enshrined in part (III) is enforceable by the judiciary. Though fundamental principal of state policy is not judicially enforceable, it has been given enforceability in many cases by referring the term right to life in art. 31 and 32. Indeed, the right to life is a universally recognized right for all human beings. This right governs all the existing human rights.

The writer is a student of Law, University of Dhaka.

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