July 2005

ICT and Human Rights Promotion in Bangladesh

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The whole world is heartrending to establish human rights, peace and happiness, fighting against the degradation of human values. Majority access to basic information and people's participation are the precondition for human rights development and millennium targets. ICT has potentiality to serve as a democratising force. It provides public access to information, builds a virtual space for community gathering and grassroots development for repression, propaganda and enforces authoritarian control, particularly for the marginalised community. ICT, specially Internet, used in collaboration with human rights activism, creates virtual alternative tunnels for the free flow of uncensored information within and out of country. Global information systems, Internet as well as ICTs have opened up the golden gate for human rights promotion in Bangladesh. 

It is proved that only one responsible website can change the situation dramatically by encouraging, awakening and making people sensitive to participation for protecting the violence and human rights abuses. It gives continuous objective education and awareness both to the defenders and offenders. Such type of effective and popular portal or website has not yet been launched in Bangladesh. The society is still very reluctant in development of human rights and power of people's participation. Maximum people have no clear concept or interest about the rights, reality and participation although Bangladesh has two great examples of participation and success; one is language movement in 1952 and another is liberation war in 1971.

Because of excessive focus on personal matters and benefits; the extreme individualism, selfishness, corruption, dogmatism, violence (both visible and invisible) are increasing dangerously in Bangladesh. People are becoming separated to separate, divided to divide. This is the time to inform and educate the people about rights and power of participation by grasping the new media opportunities. ICTs, particularly the Internet and multimedia, can play most important role for promotion of human rights.

The history of Internet in Bangladesh is young, only 10 years old. In April 1994, from Netherlands, off-line e-mail system was started and in June 1996, first ISP was set up in Bangladesh. With low bandwidth and high price limitations also, Internet and mobile telecommunication are gaining popularity since 2000. But the access is limited up to certain level in urban areas only. Majority of the rural people don't have access or involvement with this powerful media. Because of illiteracy, poverty and lack of awareness, villagers cannot even read newspapers. They totally depend on the centralised radio, television or verbally transmitted news and information which are mostly contaminated by the heralds.

The positive sign is that the national policy on ICT declaration and unprecedented youth participation in ICT fields have created great opportunity for social change by making community based ICT initiatives a reality.

Challenges and opportunity
According to national ICT policy, 'Bangladesh is committed to provide the Internet facility which will be extended to all the district headquarters and subsequently to its adjacent area up to 'upzila' (sub-district) levels. Internet will be provided to the educational institutions and libraries. To ensure public access to information, cyber kiosks will be set up in all post offices, union complex and 'upzila' complex.

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