Eternal Provisions in the Constitution of Bangladesh: A Constitution Once and for All?

  • Ridwanul HoqueEmail author
Part of the Ius Gentium: Comparative Perspectives on Law and Justice book series (IUSGENT, volume 68)


Many modern constitutions today contain what is called eternity clauses (also known as constitutional entrenchment), which make one or more constitutional provisions unamendable. The Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh (hereafter ‘the Constitution’) originally did not enact any such eternity clause. An eternity clause, however, has been entrenched in 2011 through the 15th amendment to the Constitution. Long before the enactment of the eternity clause, the Supreme Court of Bangladesh in a 1989 famous decision established the basic structure doctrine or the idea of ‘unconstitutional constitutional amendment’, ruling that Parliament lacks authority to amend the Constitution in a way that would destroy its basic structure. By invoking the basic structure doctrine, the Supreme Court has so far struck down 4 out of 16 constitutional amendments with finality. After the Court handed down its annulment decision in May 2011 invalidating the 13th amendment, the Constitution was amended to enact, among others, an extraordinarily wide eternity clause, article 7B. With this, Bangladesh became the second country in South Asia, after Afghanistan, to have constitutional entrenchment.



I gratefully acknowledge Werner Menski’s helpful comments on an earlier draft. I also thank the anonymous reviewer for the most helpful comments that helped me improve the content of this work. I sincerely thank Tashmia Sabera for her superb research assistance and Emraan Azad for bringing to my notice some important materials.


  1. Abdelaal M (2016) Entrenchment illusion: the curious case of Egypt’s constitutional entrenchment clause. Chicago-Kent J Int Comp Law 16(2):1Google Scholar
  2. Ahmed AFS (1994) Bengali nationalism and the emergence of Bangladesh: an introductory outline. International Centre for Bengal StudiesGoogle Scholar
  3. Ahmed R (1996) The Bengal muslims 1871–1906: a quest for identity, 2nd edn. OUPGoogle Scholar
  4. Ahmed K (2015) The supreme court’s power of judicial review in Bangladesh: a critical evaluation. Accessed 17 April 2015Google Scholar
  5. Akhter MY (2001) Electoral corruption in Bangladesh. Ashgate, pp 132–137Google Scholar
  6. Akhter S (2016) Amendments to the constitution of Bangladesh 1973–2011: background, politics and impacts. Unpublished MPhil Thesis, University of Dhaka, Department of Political Science 2016Google Scholar
  7. Alam S (1991) The state-religion amendment to the constitution of Bangladesh: a critique. Verfassung und Recht in Übersee (Law and Politics in Africa, Asia, and Latin America) 24(2):209, 224Google Scholar
  8. Alam MM (2009) Constructing secularism: separating ‘religion’ and ‘state’ under the Indian constitution. Aust J Asian Law 11(1):29Google Scholar
  9. Albert R (2010) Constitutional handcuffs. Arizona State Law J 42:663Google Scholar
  10. Albert R (2013) The expressive function of constitutional amendment rules. McGill Law J 59(2):225Google Scholar
  11. Albert R (2015) The unamendable core of the United States constitution. In: Koltay A (ed) Comparative perspectives on the fundamental freedom of expression. Wolters KluwerGoogle Scholar
  12. Anisuzzaman (1993) Creativity, reality and identity. International Centre for Bengal StudiesGoogle Scholar
  13. Anwar A (2015) The future of secularism. In: Anwar A (ed) Secularism (first published 1973). BDNews24 Publishing LimitedGoogle Scholar
  14. Aziz Khan A (2015) The politics of constitutional amendments in Bangladesh: the case of the non-political caretaker government. Int Rev Law 9:1, 1Google Scholar
  15. Barber NW (2016) Why Entrench? Int J Const Law 14(2):325Google Scholar
  16. Baxter C (1984) Bangladesh: a new nation in an old setting. Westview PressGoogle Scholar
  17. Besselink LFM (2010) National and constitutional identity before and after Lisbon. Utrecht Law Rev 6(3):36, 42–44Google Scholar
  18. Bhambhri CP (2008) Secular state in a hyper-religious society: the role of the judiciary. In: Dua BD, Saxena R, Singh MP (eds) Indian judiciary and politics: the changing landscape. ManoharGoogle Scholar
  19. Bhardwaj SK (2011) Contesting identities in Bangladesh: a study of secular and religious frontiers. Asia Research Centre Working Paper No. 36, 2011, LSE, London. Accessed 3 Jul 2016
  20. Billah SMM (2014) Can “secularism” and “state religion” go together? In: Rahman M, Ullah MR (eds) Human rights and religion. Empowerment through Law of the Common PeopleGoogle Scholar
  21. Choudhury D (1995) Constitutional developments in Bangladesh: stresses and strains. University Press Limited, pp 82–84Google Scholar
  22. Chowdhury SR (1972) The genesis of Bangladesh. Asia Publishing HouseGoogle Scholar
  23. Chowdhury R (2014) The doctrine of basic structure in Bangladesh: from “Calf-path” to Matryoshka Dolls. Bangladesh J Law 14(1 & 2):43Google Scholar
  24. Collett TS (2010) Judicial independence and accountability in an age of unconstitutional constitutional amendments. Loyola Univ Chicago Law J 4(2):327Google Scholar
  25. Colon-Rios JI (2014) Five conceptions of constituent power. LQR 130:306, 312Google Scholar
  26. Colon-Rios JI (2015) Introduction: the forms and limits of constitutional amendments. Int J Const Law 13(3):567Google Scholar
  27. Colón-Ríos JI (2012) Weak constitutionalism: democratic legitimacy and the question of constituent power. RoutledgeGoogle Scholar
  28. Dellinger W (1983) The legitimacy of constitutional change: rethinking the amendment process. Harvard Law Rev 97(2):386Google Scholar
  29. Dickinson J (1987) Cited in Paraas Diwan and Piyushi Diwan, Amending power and constitutional amendments. Deep and Deep PublicationsGoogle Scholar
  30. Dixon R (2011) Constitutional amendment rules: a comparative perspective. In: Ginsburg T, Dixon R (eds) Comparative constitutional law. Edward Elgar PublishingGoogle Scholar
  31. Dixon R (2012) Amending constitutional identity. Cardozo Law Rev 33(5):1847Google Scholar
  32. Dixon R, Landau D (2015) Transnational constitutionalism and a limited doctrine of unconstitutional constitutional amendment. Int J Const Law 13(3):606Google Scholar
  33. Elkins Z, Ginsburg T, Melton J (2009) The endurance of national constitutions. CUPGoogle Scholar
  34. Faraguna P (2016) Taking constitutional identities away from the courts. Brooklyn J Int Law 41(2):491Google Scholar
  35. Fazal T (1999) Religion and language in the formation of nationhood in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Sociol Bull 48(1 and 2):175, 190–191Google Scholar
  36. Feldman S (2001) Exploring theories of patriarchy: a perspective from contemporary Bangladesh. Signs J Women Culture Soc 26(4):1097, 1099Google Scholar
  37. Friedman A (2011) Dead hand constitutionalism: the danger of eternity clauses in new democracies. Mexican Law Rev 4(1):77, 79Google Scholar
  38. Ginsburg T, Melton J (2015) Does the constitutional amendment rule matter at all? Amendment cultures and the challenges of measuring amendment difficulty. Int J Const L 13(3):686Google Scholar
  39. Gözler K (2008) Judicial review of constitutional amendments: a comparative study. Ekin PressGoogle Scholar
  40. Grewe C (2013) Methods of identification of national constitutional identity. In: Arnaiz AS, Llivinia CA (eds) National constitutional identity and European Integration. IntersentiaGoogle Scholar
  41. Halim MA (2014) The fifteenth amendment to the constitution: concerns and perils of constitutionalism in Bangladesh. Counsel Law J 2(1):83Google Scholar
  42. Halim MA (ed) (2015) The constituent assembly debates. CCB FoundationGoogle Scholar
  43. Hamilton A (1999) The Federalist No. 85. In: Rossiter C (ed) The Federalist papers: Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay (first published 1778). MentorGoogle Scholar
  44. Hassan MT (2004) Constitution of Bangladesh, politics and nationality: a philosophical analysis (in Bangla). Chittagong Univ J Law 9:185, 189Google Scholar
  45. Henkin L (1994) Constitutions and the elements of constitutionalism. Occasional Paper Series, Columbia University Center for the Study of Human RightsGoogle Scholar
  46. Hoque R (2005) On Coup d’ Etat, constitutionalism, and the need to break the subtle bondage with alien legal thought: a reply to Omar and Hossain. The Daily Star (Law & Our Rights). Dhaka, 29 October 2005Google Scholar
  47. Hoque R (2011) Judicial activism in Bangladesh: a golden mean approach. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, pp 112–119Google Scholar
  48. Hoque R (2013) Constitutionalism and the judiciary in Bangladesh. In: Khilnani S, Raghavan V, Thiruvengadam AK (eds) Comparative constitutionalism in South Asia. OUP, p 317Google Scholar
  49. Hoque R (2015) Judicialization of politics in Bangladesh: pragmatism, legitimacy and consequences. In: Tushnet M, Khosla M (eds) Unstable constitutionalism: law and politics in South Asia. CUPGoogle Scholar
  50. Hoque R (2016a) Can the court invalidate an original provision of the constitution? Univ Asia Pacific J Law Policy 2:13Google Scholar
  51. Hoque R (2016b) Constitutional challenge to the state religion status of Islam in Bangladesh: back to square one? Int J Const L Blog. Accessed 27 May 2016
  52. Hossain K (2013) Bangladesh: Quest for freedom and justice. University Press Limited, Chapter 9Google Scholar
  53. Huq AF (1973) Constitution-making in Bangladesh. Pacific Affairs 46(1):59Google Scholar
  54. Husain SA (1990) Islamic fundamentalism in Bangladesh: internal variables and external inputs. In: Ahmed R (ed) Religion, nationalism and politics in Bangladesh. South Asian Publishers, p 150Google Scholar
  55. Jackson VC (2013) Unconstitutional constitutional amendments: a window into constitutional theory and transnational constitutionalism. In: Bäuerle M, Dann P, Wallrabenstein A (eds) Demokratie-Perspektiven: Festschrift für Brun-Otto Bryde zum 70. Mohr Siebeck GmbHGoogle Scholar
  56. Jacobsohn GJ (2006) An unconstitutional constitution? A comparative perspective. Int J Const L 4(3):460Google Scholar
  57. Jacobsohn GJ (2011a) The formation of constitutional identities. In: Ginsburg T, Dixon R (eds) Comparative constitutional law. Edward Elgar PublishingGoogle Scholar
  58. Jacobsohn GJ (2011b) Constitutional identity. Harvard University PressGoogle Scholar
  59. Kabeer N (1991) The quest for national identity: women, islam, and the state. Feminist Rev 37:38, 55Google Scholar
  60. Kamal M (1994) Bangladesh constitution: trends and issues. Dhaka University PressGoogle Scholar
  61. Karim L (2015) In search of an identity: the rise of political Islam and Bangladeshi Nationalism. Accessed 6 May 2015
  62. Katz E (1996) On amending constitutions: the legality and legitimacy of constitutional entrenchment. Colum J Law Soc Prob 29:251Google Scholar
  63. Kavanagh A (2003) The idea of a living constitution. Canad J & Law Juris 16:55Google Scholar
  64. Khan S (2011a) Leviathan and the supreme court: an essay on the “basic structure” doctrine. Stamford J Law 2:89Google Scholar
  65. Khan BU (2011b) 15th amendment and some issues. In: The Daily Star (Law & Our Rights), Dhaka, 1 August 2011Google Scholar
  66. Khondker HH (2010) The curious case of secularism in Bangladesh: what is the relevance for the muslim majority democracies? Totalitarian Movements & Polit Religions 11(2):185, 188, 201Google Scholar
  67. Klein C (1978) Is there a need for an amending power theory? Israeli Law Rev 13:202Google Scholar
  68. Klug H (2015) Constitutional amendments. Annual Rev Law Soc Sci 11:95Google Scholar
  69. Krishnaswamy S (2009) Democracy and constitutionalism in India: a study of the basic structure doctrine. OUPGoogle Scholar
  70. Landau D (2013) Abusive constitutionalism. UC Davis Law Rev 47:189Google Scholar
  71. Landau D, Sheppard B (2015) The Honduran constitutional Chamber’s decision erasing presidential term limits: abusive constitutionalism by judiciary? Int J Const Law Blog. Accessed May 2015
  72. Loughlin M (2013) The concept of constituent power. Critical Analysis of Law Workshop, University of Toronto, 15 January 2013, p 18.
  73. Loughlin M, Walker N (eds) (2007) The paradox of constitutionalism: constituent power and constitutional form. OUPGoogle Scholar
  74. Lutz DS (1994) Toward a theory of constitutional amendment. Am Pol Sci Rev 88(2)Google Scholar
  75. Mahmood T (2008) Religion, law, and judiciary in modern India. Brigham Young Univ Law Rev 3:755Google Scholar
  76. Malik S (2002) Laws of Bangladesh. Chowdhury AM, Alam F (eds) Bangladesh: on the threshold of the twenty-first century. Asiatic Society of Bangladesh, p 442Google Scholar
  77. Marti JL (2013) Two different ideas of constitutional identity: Identity of the constitution v. identity of the people. In: Arnaiz AS, Llivinia CA (eds) National constitutional identity and European integration. Intersentia, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  78. Menski WF (2015) Bangladesh in 2015: challenges of the Iccher Ghuri for learning to live together. Univ Asia Pacific J Law Policy 1(1):9, 23Google Scholar
  79. Mohsin A (2004) Religion, politics and security: the case of Bangladesh. In: Limaye SP, Malik M, Wirsing RG (eds) Religious radicalism and security in South Asia. Asia-Pacific Center for Security StudiesGoogle Scholar
  80. Morgan DG (1981) The Indian “essential features” case. ICLQ 30(2):307Google Scholar
  81. Muhith AMA (1992) Bangladesh: emergence of a nation. University Press LimitedGoogle Scholar
  82. Murshid TM (1997) State, nation, identity: the quest for legitimacy in Bangladesh. J South Asian Stud 20(2):1Google Scholar
  83. Omar I, Hossain Z (2005) Coup d’ Etat, constitution and legal continuity. The Daily Star (Law and Our Rights). Dhaka, 17, 28 September 2005Google Scholar
  84. Padhy S (2008) Secularism and justice: a review of Indian Supreme Court judgments. In: Dua BD, Rekha S, and Singh MP (eds) Indian judiciary and politics: the changing landscape. Manohar, New DelhiGoogle Scholar
  85. Polzin M (2016) Constitutional identity, unconstitutional amendments and the idea of constituent power: the development of the doctrine of constitutional identity in German constitutional law. Int J Const Law 14(2):411Google Scholar
  86. Rashiduzzaman M (1994) Islam, muslim identity and nationalism in Bangladesh. J South Asian Middle East Stud 18(1):36, 58–59Google Scholar
  87. Rehnquist WH (2006) The notion of a living constitution (first published 1976). Harvard J Law Public Policy 29(2):401Google Scholar
  88. Riaz A (2010) God willing: the politics of islamism in Bangladesh. In: Riaz A, Christine Fair C (eds) Political islam and governance in Bangladesh (first published 2004). RoutledgeGoogle Scholar
  89. Rizvi M (2015) South Asian constitutional convergence revisited: Pakistan and the basic structure doctrine. Int J Const Law Blog. Accessed 18 Sept 2015
  90. Rory O (1999) Guardian of the constitution: unconstitutional constitutional norms. J Civ Lib 4:48Google Scholar
  91. Rosen J (1991) Was the flag burning amendment unconstitutional? Yale Law J 100(4):1073Google Scholar
  92. Rosenfeld M (2010) Constitutional identity. In: Rosenfeld M, Sajo A (eds) The Oxford handbook of comparative constitutional law. OUPGoogle Scholar
  93. Rosenfeld M (2012) The identity of the constitutional subject: selfhood, citizenship, culture and community. Routledge, LondonCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  94. Roznai Y (2013) Unconstitutional constitutional amendments: the migration and success of a constitutional idea. AJCL 61:657CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  95. Roznai Y (2015) Towards a theory of unamendability. NYU School of Law Public Law Research Paper 515, 24 February 2015Google Scholar
  96. Roznai Y (2016) Unamendability and the genetic code of the constitution. Europ Rev Public Law 28(1):775Google Scholar
  97. Roznai Y (2017) Unconstitutional constitutional amendments: the limits of amendment powers. OUPGoogle Scholar
  98. Sachs A (1990) Protecting human rights in a New South Africa. OUPGoogle Scholar
  99. Samar VJ (2008) Can a constitutional amendment be unconstitutional? Oklahoma City Univ Law Rev 33(3):667Google Scholar
  100. Schwartzberg M (2007) Democracy and legal change. CUPGoogle Scholar
  101. Sisson R, Rose LE (1990) War and secession: Pakistan, India, and the creation of Bangladesh. University of California PressGoogle Scholar
  102. Somek A (2012) Constituent power in national and transnational contexts. Transnational Leg Theor 3:31Google Scholar
  103. Strauss DA (2010) The living constitution. OUPGoogle Scholar
  104. Talukder MJU, Chowdhury MJA (2008) Determining the province of judicial review: a re-evaluation of “basic structure” of the constitution of Bangladesh. Metrop Univ J 2(2):161Google Scholar
  105. Thornhill C (2012) Contemporary constitutionalism and the dialectic of constituent power. Glob Constitutionalism 1:369Google Scholar
  106. Tomuschat C, Currie DP (2010) The basic law for the Federal Republic of Germany. Juris GmbHGoogle Scholar
  107. Toniatti R (2013) Sovereignty lost, constitutional identity regained. In: Arnaiz AS, Llivinia CA (eds) National constitutional identity and European integration. Intersentia, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  108. Tushnet M (2010) How do constitutions constitute constitutional identity? Int J Const Law 8(3):671Google Scholar
  109. Tushnet M (2015) Peasants with pitchforks, and toilers with twitter: constitutional revolutions and the constituent power. Int J Const Law 13(3):639Google Scholar
  110. Weintal S (2011) The challenge of reconciling constitutional eternity clauses with popular sovereignty: toward three-track democracy in Israel as a universal holistic constitutional system and theory. Israel Law Rev 44(3):449Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of DhakaDhakaBangladesh

Personalised recommendations