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By Ali Mashraf

Faculty of Law, ASA University Bangladesh hosted the second lecture of the Law Lecture series on Thursday, March 23, 2017. Renowned columnist and critic, Professor Salimullah Khan, was the Speaker at the event and delivered his lecture on ‘Universal Human Rights & National Sovereignty’. The event was chaired by Professor A K M Helal uz Zaman, Vice Chancellor (In-charge), ASA University Bangladesh.

The inaugural speech of the lecture was delivered by Mr. Sheikh Hafizur Rahman Karzon, Advisor, Department of Law, ASAUB. In his introductory speech, he pointed out the dire situation of human rights in our country as well as all over the world. Mr. Karzon said that the state and its forces were entrusted to safeguard human rights of its citizens but sadly, state sponsored terrorism by governments and its forces has been on the rise for quite a long time which grossly violated human rights.

He further stressed on the fact that the idea of human rights in Bangladesh is not a borrowed concept from the west; rather we can find the concept entrenched in our own culture in the songs of Lalon and the poems of Kazi Nazrul Islam. He concluded saying that the day’s lecture would be a great learning experience for all the students.

Professor Salimullah Khan then delivered his lecture for the event. He mentioned that the lecture would mostly emphasize on two components of the title, ‘universal’ and ‘national sovereignty’. He primarily discussed about the two world wars and their implications on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

While exploring the historical background of December 10 as the Human Rights Day, Professor Khan recalled the efforts of former US President, Fraklin D. Roosevelt and his ‘Four Freedoms’ speech of 1941.The four freedoms- freedom of speech; freedom of religion; freedom from fear and freedom from want, later paved the way for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

Professor Khan also cited the struggles of Hannah Arendt, the German-born Jewish political theorist for the rights of the Jews that ultimately gave rise to the idea of ‘universal’ human rights and extended the subject of human rights from citizens to stateless persons. He criticized the provision of human rights as ‘inalienable rights except in specific situations…’ saying that this led to state forces getting away with indiscriminate violation of human rights in many countries.

Moving on to the concept of ‘national sovereignty’, he remarked that the rise of upper class rulers in the 21st century has led to the point that national sovereignty does not lie solely in the hands of a country anymore. Citing the instances of numerous US invasion all over the world, Professor Khan expressed his concern over the fact that the international community and human rights organizations arbitrarily decided on which issues they would raise their voices on and which issues they would remain indifferent to.

While answering questions from the audience, Professor Khan criticized the current trend in the law schools of the country where students no longer get to think extensively on pressing issues. He left a question to the audience on what today’s students would do in the face of this changing concept of sovereignty and concluded by quoting the former Secretary General of UN, Kofi Annan-

“For if Human Rights are to have any meaning at all, none of us can remain indifferent when anyone’s rights are violated.”

Following his speech, Professor A K M Helal uz Zaman, Vice Chancellor (In-charge), ASAUB addressed the audience. He said that the day’s speech would help students to critically think and analyze various issues of human rights. Professor Helal also thanked Professor Salimullah Khan for his lecture and expressed his desire to see him in future law lectures of ASAUB.

In his concluding speech, Professor Md. Saiful Alam, Dean (In-charge), Faculty of Law, ASAUB said that violation of human rights meant the violation of the rights of the common people. He urged law students to work for ensuring the rights of the common people to safeguard the universal human rights and thanked Professor Salimullah Khan for his thought-provoking lecture.

The lecture helped students understand the evolution of human rights and grasp the concepts of national sovereignty and universality. Moreover, Professor Salimullah Khan’s speech was captivating and kept the audience engaged throughout the lecture.

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The writer is a regular contributor at The FutureLaw Initiative and a student of Department of Law, University of Dhaka

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