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The Constitution of Bangladesh (Bengali: বাংলাদেশের সংবিধান Bangladesher Shongbidhan) is the supreme law of Bangladesh. It proclaims Bangladesh as a secular democratic republic, declares the fundamental rights and freedoms of Bangladeshi citizens, spells out the fundamental principles of state policy, and establishes the structure and functions of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the republic. Passed by the Constituent Assembly of Bangladesh on November 4, 1972, it came into effect from December 16, 1972, on the first anniversary of Bangladesh's victory over Pakistan in the Liberation War. The constitution proclaims Bangladeshi nationalism, socialism (social and economic justice), democracy and secularism as the national ideals of the republic. When adopted in 1972, it was one of the most liberal constitutions of the time.
The preamble to the Constitution of Bangladesh is the introductory statement that sets out the guiding purpose and principles of the document. The Preamble includes secularism, nationalism, socialism and democracy.
We, the people of Bangladesh, having proclaimed our Independence on the 26th day of March, 1971 and through a historic struggle for national liberation, established the independent, sovereign People's Republic of Bangladesh;
Pledging that the high ideals of nationalism, socialism, democracy and secularity, which inspired our heroic people to dedicate themselves to, and our brave martyrs to sacrifice their lives in the struggle for national liberation, shall be fundamental principles of the Constitution;
Further pledging that it shall be a fundamental aim of the State to realise through the democratic process, a socialist society free from exploitation, a society in which the rule of law, fundamental human rights and freedoms, equality and justice, political, economic and social, will be secured for all citizens;
Affirming that it is our sacred duty to safeguard, protect and defend this Constitution and to maintain its supremacy as the embodiment of the will of the people of Bangladesh so that we may prosper in freedom and may make our full contribution towards international peace and co-operation in keeping with the progressive aspirations of mankind;
In our Constituent Assembly, this eighteenth day of Kartick, 1379 B.S corresponding to the fourth day of November, 1972 A.D., do hereby adopt, enact and give to ourselves this Constitution.
Organs of the state
As per the constitution of the republic it comprises three basic organs:
- Legislative Branch
- Executive Branch
- Judicial Branch
The constitution of Bangladesh is divided into 11 parts, which are further subdivided into 153 articles. In addition, there are 7 schedules.
Part I: The Republic
This section defines the nature of the country, its state religion and other national issues. According to it, Peoples Republic of Bangladesh is a unitary republic consisting of the territories of the former East Pakistan and also included territories (some enclaves exchanged with India). The state religion is Islam, but all other religions can be practised in peace and harmony. The state language is Bengali and the national anthem is the first ten line of the song Amar Sonar Bangla. The national flag is a red circle on a green background. The national emblem is the national flower Shapla (nympoea-nouchali) resting on water, having on each side and ear of paddy and being surmounted by three connected leaves of jute with two stars on each side of the leaves. This section also mandates that the portrait of prime minister must be displayed in all government, semi-government and autonomous offices. The capital of the country is Dhaka. The citizens are to be known as Bangladeshis.
Finally Part I asserts that all powers belong to the people and the constitution, being the supreme law of the country, will supersede any other laws and regulations.
Part II: Fundamental principles of state policy
This part describes the fundamental principles. The original 1972 constitution had 4 basic principles: Secularity, Nationalism, Democracy and Socialism (meaning economic and social justice for all). However, later amendments replaced Secularity with "Absolute trust and faith in the Almighty Allah shall be the basis of all actions."
Part II's article 9, 10, and 11 declares the rights of the people. Article 9 provides guidelines for quotas for the underrepresented communities, women, and peasants. Article 10 states the equal rights of women. Article 11 states that Bangladesh would be a democracy, with guaranteed human rights. Article 13, 14, 15, and 16 deal with principal of ownership, emancipation of workers and peasants, provision of basic necessities, and rural development. Article 17 states that the basic education will be free and compulsory for all children until the age of 18. The remaining articles (18-25) provide various guarantees for public health and morality, equality of opportunity, work as a right and duty, duties of citizens and of public servants, separation of Judiciary from the executive, national culture, national monuments, and promotion of international peace, security and solidarity, respectively.
As of 2011[update] the Constitution of the People's Republic of Bangladesh has been amended 15 times.
Summary of amendments: First Amendment: The Constitution (First Amendment) Act 1973 was passed on 15 July 1973. It amended Article 47 of the Constitution by inserting an additional clause which allowed prosecution and punishment of any person accused of 'genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes and other crimes under international law'. A new Article 47A was also inserted, making certain fundamental rights inapplicabile in those cases.
Second Amendment:The Constitution (Second Amendment) Act 1973 was passed on 22 September 1973. This act: amended Articles 26, 63, 72 and 142 of the Constitution; replaced Article 33; and inserted a new part (Part IXA). Provision was made through this amendment for the suspension of certain fundamental rights of citizens during an emergency.
Third Amendment: The Constitution (Third Amendment) Act 1974 was enacted on 28 November 1974. This amendment altered Article 2 of the Constitution to give effect to an agreement between Bangladesh and India for the exchange of certain enclaves, and the fixing of boundary lines between the two countries.
Fourth Amendment: The Constitution (Fourth Amendment) Act 1975 was passed on 25 January 1975. Major changes were brought into the Constitution by this amendment:
- a presidential form of government was introduced in place of the parliamentary system;
- a one-party system was introduced in place of a multiparty system;
- the powers of the Jatiya Sangsad were curtailed;
- the term of the first Jatiya Sangsad was extended;
- the judiciary lost much of its independence; and
- the Supreme Court was deprived of its jurisdiction over the protection and enforcement of fundamental rights.
- amended articles 11, 66, 67, 72, 74, 76, 80, 88, 95, 98, 109, 116, 117, 119, 122, 123, 141A, 147 and 148 of the Constitution;
- replaced Articles 44, 70, 102, 115 and 124;
- repealed Part III of the Constitution;
- altered the Third and Fourth Schedules;
- inserted a new part (Part VIA); and
- inserted new articles 73A and 116A.
Fifth Amendment: The Fifth Amendment Act was passed by the Jatiya Sangsad on 6 April 1979. This Act amended the Fourth Schedule to the Constitution by inserting a new paragraph 18. The effect of the amendment was that all amendments or repeals made in the Constitution from 15 August 1975 to 9 April 1979 (inclusive) by any proclamation or Proclamation Order of the Martial Law Authorities were deemed to have been validly made, and could not be called into question before any court or tribunal or other authority. (See also the Seventh Amendment.)
Sixth Amendment: The Sixth Amendment Act was enacted by the Jatiya Sangsad; it amended Articles 51 and 66 of the Constitution.
Seventh Amendment: The Seventh Amendment Act was passed on 11 November 1986. It amended Article 96 of the Constitution; it also amended the Fourth Schedule to the Constitution by inserting a new paragraph 19, which amongst other things provided that all proclamations, proclamation orders, Chief Martial Law Administrator's Orders, Martial Law Regulations, Martial Law Orders, Martial Law Instructions, ordinances and other laws made from 24 March 1982 to 11 November 1986 (inclusive) had been validly made, and could not be called into question before any court or tribunal or other authority. (See also the Fifth Amendment.)
Eighth Amendment: The Eighth Amendment Act was passed on 7 June 1988. It amended Articles 2, 3, 5, 30, and 100 of the Constitution. This Amendment:
- declared Islam as the state religion;
- decentralised the judiciary by setting up six permanent benches of the High Court Division outside Dhaka;
- substituted the spelling 'Bengali' with 'Bangla', and 'Dacca' with 'Dhaka', in Article 5 of the Constitution;
- amended Article 30 of the Constitution by prohibiting the acceptance of any title, honours, award, or decoration from any foreign state by any citizen of Bangladesh without the prior approval of the president.
The amendment of Article 100 was subsequently declared invalid by the Supreme Court, as it altered the basic structure of the constitution.
Ninth Amendment: The Constitution (Ninth Amendment) Act 1989 was passed in July 1989. This amendment provided for the direct election of the Vice-President; it restricted a person in holding the office of the President for two consecutive terms of five years each; and it provided that a Vice-President might be appointed in case of a vacancy in the office of President, but that such an appointment must be approved by the Jatiya Sangsad.
Tenth Amendment:The Tenth Amendment Act was enacted on 12 June 1990. Amongst other things, it amended Article 65 of the Constitution, providing for the reservation of thirty seats in the Jatiya Sangsad exclusively for women members. The reservation was to last for 10 years, with the members holding the reserved seats to be elected by the members of the Sangsad.
Eleventh Amendment:The Eleventh Amendment Act was passed on 6 August 1991. It amended the Fourth Schedule to the Constitution by adding a new paragraph 21, validating the appointment and oath as Vice President of Shahabuddin Ahmed (Chief Justice of Bangladesh), and the resignation tendered to him on 6 December 1990 by the then President Hussain M Ershad. This Act ratified, confirmed and validated all powers exercised, all laws and ordinances promulgated, all orders made and acts and things done, and actions and proceedings taken by the Vice President as acting President from 6 December 1990 to 9 October 1991 (when Abdur Rahman Biswas became President following his election). The Act also confirmed and made possible the return of Vice President Shahabuddin Ahmed to his previous office as Chief Justice of Bangladesh.
Twelfth Amendment: The Twelfth Amendment Act, passed on 6 August 1991 and approved by referendum in September, brought about a fundamental change to Bangladesh's constitutional arrangements. It amended Articles 48, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 70, 72, 109, 119, 124, 141A, and 142 of the Constitution with the following results:
- the parliamentary form of government was re-introduced;
- the President became the constitutional head of the state;
- the Prime Minister became the head of the executive;
- the Cabinet headed by the Prime Minister became responsible to the Jatiya Sangsad;
- the position of Vice President was abolished;
- the office of President now became elected by the members of the Jatiya Sangsad.
Through the amendment of Article 59 this amendment also ensured the participation of the people's representatives in local government bodies, thus stabilising the base of democracy in the country.
Thirteenth Amendment: The Constitution (Thirteenth Amendment) Act 1996 was passed on 26 March 1996. It provided for a non-party caretaker government which, acting as an interim government, would give all possible aid and assistance to the Election Commission for holding the general election of members of the Jatiya Sangsad peacefully, fairly and impartially. The non-party caretaker government, comprising the Chief Adviser and not more than 10 other advisers, would be collectively responsible to the president and would stand dissolved on the date on which the Prime Minister entered upon his office after the constitution of the new Sangsad.
Fourteenth Amendment: The Constitution (Fourteenth Amendment) Act, 2004 was passed on 16 May 2004. This amendment amended several articles of the Constitution:
- a new Article 4A was inserted, for the preservation and display of the portraits of the President and the Prime Minister;
- clause (3) of Article 65 was amended regarding the seats reserved exclusively for women members in the Parliament;
- Articles 96 (1), 129, and 139 were amended to raise the retirement age of the Judges of the Supreme Court, the Auditor General, and the Chairman and other members of the Public Service Commission (PSC); and
- Article 148 was amended, to provide for the administration of the oath to newly elected members of Parliament by the Chief Election Commissioner.
Fifth Amendment repealed
Secularism in Bangladesh as prescribed in the constitution was never allowed to be practised after Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's Awami League government. From November 1975 to 1977, when Bangladesh was under martial law, President and Chief Martial Law Administrator Lieutenant General Ziaur Rahman passed a presidential decree that removed the principle of secularism from the preamble of the constitution and set in "absolute trust and faith in the Almighty Allah". The decree was later legitimized by the second parliament of Bangladesh.
In February, 2010, the Bangladesh Supreme Court observed that parliament does not possess any authority to suspend the constitution and proclaim martial law and, hence, it cannot legitimize actions of martial law regimes. The judgment paved the way for restoring the original four fundamental principles declared in the preamble of the constitution, including secularity.
The Supreme Court followed with a July 2010 ruling scrapping provisions which allowed political parties with a manifesto based on faith doctrine to flourish after 1979. As part of a series of rulings following from the February Supreme Court ruling, on 4 October 2010 the High Court ruled that Bangladesh is a secular state.
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Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs. 2011. Retrieved July 23, 2014.
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