Shahanur Islam

2010 Asia JusticeMakers Fellow, Bangladesh

shahanur_profileGrowing up and working for human rights in Bangladesh, Shahanur noticed that people often become victims of their own ignorance and lack of resources vis-à-vis the criminal justice system.

Shahanur holds a Masters in Laws (LL.M) with a focus on human rights law, and has about ten years experience working in the fields of human rights, peace advocacy, criminal justice and good governance.  His experiences gave him technical and managerial skills covering a wide range of development areas, including designing and implementing projects related to human rights, criminal justice, peace and good governance; providing legal support and counseling to victims of violence (focusing on ethnic and religious minority women and children); initiating and carrying out projects to strengthen local government; networking with different NGO’s; facilitating trainings, seminars, and workshops on human rights issues as a trainer and moderator; and lobbying at both the national and international levels. Shahanur also has experience providing direct legal support to the Bangladesh Court for Criminal Justice, and is currently the Executive Director of the Bangladesh Institute of Human Rights (BIHR).

The Problem

Bangladesh’s legal system is fraught with problems, making justice essentially inaccessible to most of its citizens. The government has been accused of committing human rights violations.  Ethnic and religious minorities are particularly vulnerable, and are often targets for violence and domestic problems, not only by average citizens but also by law enforcement officials. When someone of an ethnic or religious minority reports a crime, it is common for the police to refuse to file the complaint or investigate. Shahanur offers three fundamental reasons for the denial of legal rights: it takes too long for cases to be tried in court, people cannot afford to pursue their cases, and the legal system is too complex for the average citizen to understand.

The Innovation

Shahanur’s project aims to confront each of these problems by providing support for torture victims and by teaching professionals and the general public about human rights.  The goal is primarily to raise awareness among citizens, law enforcement officials, and those involved in the judicial process.  Shahanur’s project is twofold.  First, he wants to create a center or network to provide a form of legal redress for people, particularly women and children, who have been tortured.  His team would seek out torture victims and help them go after the perpetrators.  The team would do this by raising “urgent action appeals” to the proper authorities and to human rights organizations around the world.  It would also provide some economic support to facilitate the victim’s legal recourse.  Secondly, Shahanur wants to offer human rights training to lawyers, law enforcement, civil society and judges, focused on the rights of detainees, women and children, and ethnic and religious minorities.  A few selected professionals would then educate the general public in their respective communities.