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Facilitating welfare and human rights in Bangladesh

The collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh more than a year ago led to 1,129 deaths[1] and drew international attention to the extreme poverty of the garment industry. In its 2014 election manifesto, the Bangladeshi Government declared a “war against poverty,” with a commitment to introduce private pension schemes by 2018.

In a letter to the Centre for Asia-Pacific Pro Bono (CAPPB), the Manikganj District Bar Association highlighted an “urgent need for legal training and education in these new and unknown areas of law.” Australia was a natural choice as a provider for this training with the similarity of the legal systems in both countries. To fulfil the request, the CAPPB supported two pro bono providers, solicitor Dr Md Shamim Alam and academic lawyer Dr Geoffrey Nicoll, as they traveled to Dhaka to deliver a seminar and information session on Australian pension/trust funds, their investment and their regulation to the Bar members.

During the visit, Dr Alam and Dr Nicoll also gave seminars and held informative meetings with the Dean and her colleagues at Dhaka University’s Faculty of Law as well as the Vice Chancellor and Law Dean at Jahangirnagar University.

The seminars have assisted in the process of educating practising lawyers and academics in Bangladesh on the legal issues involved in pension funds.

While in Bangladesh, the two providers also met the Prime Minister’s Principal Secretary, the Australian High Commissioner, the Law Minister, other relevant ministers and executive directors within Government to discuss the implications of introducing a private fund and the need for effective legal and regulatory regimes to support the fund.

Two districts of Bangladesh – Manikganj and Barishal – will see pilot programs of the pension fund in September 2014, providing a template for a national system. According to Dr Alam and Dr Nicoll, the time is right to introduce private pension funds in Bangladesh with its young population and growing middle-class.

In a related field, a seminar entitled “Australia and Bangladesh: Sharing experiences in protection of human rights” was held in Dhaka on Monday 2 June 2014 – another CAPPB-facilitated project. The seminar, which sought to enhance the knowledge and understanding of the importance of human right protections, was attended by up to 200 participants, who engaged in much discussion. The event also generated extensive local media coverage thanks the attendance of high level Government officials.

The program was coordinated and delivered by Mr Dan O’Gorman SC and the Hon. Murray Kellam AO QC and included eminent speakers such as His Excellency Greg Wilcock, High Commissioner of Australia to Bangladesh, Professor Dr Mizanur Rahman, Chair, National Human Rights Commission of Bangladesh, Ms Sara Hossain, Honorary Director, Bangladesh Legal Aid & Services Trust, Ms Tania Amir, Advocate, Supreme Court of Bangladesh, Mr Hagar Russ, Child Rights Governance Director, Save the Children, Dr Faustina Pereira, Director, Human Rights and Legal Services, BRAC and His Excellency Anisul Huq, Minister of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs.

The CAPPB wishes to extend its gratitude to the valuable time and important work provided by Dr Alam, Dr Nicoll, Mr O’Gorman SC and the Hon. Murray Kellam AO QC in delivering these projects.