NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION

 

NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION

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BACKGROUND

 “To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity” –  Nelson Mandela

 

UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS
  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights was proclaimed under UNGA resolution 217A in Paris. It set out, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be universally protected.
  • It states that ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.’
  • It entitles everyone to all the rights and freedoms and prohibits slavery and slave trade in all forms.
  • Other rights recognized under the declaration are the right to nationality, right against arbitrary arrest, detention or exile, the right to seek asylum from prosecution, the right to freedom of movement and residence, etc.
  • The Universal Declaration is not a treaty, so it does not directly create legal obligations for countries. However, it is an expression of the fundamental values which are shared by all members of the International community.
  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights holds the Guinness World Record as the most translated document.
  • The Protection of Human Rights Act of 1993 provides for the creation of the National Human Rights Commission in 1993
  • NHRC is a statutory institution (and not a constitutional).
  • The NHRC act was amended in 2006.
  • The watchdog of human rights in the country – the rights relating to life, liberty, equality and dignity of the individual guaranteed by the Constitution or embodied in the international covenants and enforceable by courts in India.

‘International covenants’ means the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 16, 1966. The Indian government acceded to these two International Covenants on April 10, 1979.

  • It was established in conformity with the Paris Principles, adopted for the promotion and protection of human rights in Paris (October 1991) and endorsed by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 20 December 1993.

 

OBJECTIVE
  • To strengthen the institutional arrangements through which human rights issues could be addressed in their entirety in a more focussed manner;
  • To look into allegations of excesses, independently of the government, in a manner that would underline the government’s commitment to protecting human rights; and
  • To complement and strengthen the efforts that have already been made in this direction.

 

HUMAN RIGHTS
  • As per UN definition, these rights are inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status.
  • Human rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and many more.
  • These are entitled to everyone, without any discrimination.

 

COMPOSITION
  • A MULTI-MEMBER BODY CONSISTING OF a chairperson and five members
Chairperson

And four full time members

–          Chairperson should be retired chief justice of India or a judge of the Supreme Court

–          Members should be serving or retired judges of the Supreme Court

–          a serving or retired chief justice of a high court

–          Three persons (at least one should be a woman) having knowledge or practical experience with respect to human rights

Seven ex-officio members

 

1.       Chairpersons of the National Commission for Minorities,

2.       National Commission for SCs

3.       National Commission for STs

4.       National Commission for Women

5.       National Commission for BCs

6.       National Commission for Protection of Child Rights

7.       Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities.

 

Chairperson and members are appointed by the President on the recommendations of a following six-member committee –
1 Prime Minister as its head
2 Speaker of the Lok Sabha
3 Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha
4 Leaders of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha
5 Leaders of the Opposition in Lok Sabha
6 Central home minister
NOTE – A sitting judge of the Supreme Court or a sitting Chief Justice of a High Court can be appointed only after consultation with the Chief Justice of India.

 

The International Human Rights Day is observed every year on 10th December. The day marks the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in 1948.

  • The theme for 2019 is “Youth Standing up for Human Rights”.
  • The campaign, #StandUp4HumanRights has also been launched by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), to encourage, galvanise, and showcase how youth all over the world stand up for rights.
  • Human rights are at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as in the absence of human dignity, sustainable development cannot be achieved.

 

 

NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION

 

BACKGROUND

“To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity” –  Nelson Mandela

 

UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS
  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights was proclaimed under UNGA resolution 217A in Paris. It set out, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be universally protected.
  • It states that ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.’
  • It entitles everyone to all the rights and freedoms and prohibits slavery and slave trade in all forms.
  • Other rights recognized under the declaration are the right to nationality, right against arbitrary arrest, detention or exile, the right to seek asylum from prosecution, the right to freedom of movement and residence, etc.
  • The Universal Declaration isnot a treaty, so it does not directly create legal obligations for countries. However, it is an expression of the fundamental values which are shared by all members of the International community.
  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights holds the Guinness World Record as the most translated document.
  • The Protection of Human Rights Act of 1993 provides for the creation of the National Human Rights Commission in 1993
  • NHRC is a statutory institution (and not a constitutional).
  • The NHRC act was amended in 2006.
  • The watchdog of human rights in the country – the rights relating to life, liberty, equality and dignity of the individual guaranteed by the Constitution or embodied in the international covenants and enforceable by courts in India.

‘International covenants’ means the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 16, 1966. The Indian government acceded to these two International Covenants on April 10, 1979.

  • It was established in conformity with the Paris Principles, adopted for the promotion and protection of human rights in Paris (October 1991) and endorsed by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 20 December 1993.

 

OBJECTIVE
  • To strengthen the institutional arrangements through which human rights issues could be addressed in their entirety in a more focussed manner;
  • To look into allegations of excesses, independently of the government, in a manner that would underline the government’s commitment to protecting human rights; and
  • To complement and strengthen the efforts that have already been made in this direction.

 

HUMAN RIGHTS
  • As per UN definition these rights are inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status.
  • Human rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and many more.
  • These are entitled to everyone, without any discrimination.

 

COMPOSITION
  • A MULTI-MEMBER BODY CONSISTING OF a chairperson and five members
Chairperson

And four full time members

  •  Chairperson should be a retired chief justice of India or a judge of the Supreme Court
  •  Members should be serving or retired judges of the Supreme Court
  •  a serving or retired chief justice of a high court
  • Three persons (at least one should be a women) having knowledge or practical experience with respect to human rights\
Seven ex-officio members

 

1.       Chairpersons of the National Commission for Minorities,

2.       National Commission for SCs

3.       National Commission for STs

4.       National Commission for Women

5.       National Commission for BCs

6.       National Commission for Protection of Child Rights

7.       Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities.

 

Chairperson and members are appointed by the President on the recommendations of a following six-member committee –
1 Prime Minister as its head
2 Speaker of the Lok Sabha
3 Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha
4 Leaders of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha
5 Leaders of the Opposition in Lok Sabha
6 Central home minister
NOTE – A sitting judge of the Supreme Court or a sitting Chief Justice of a High Court can be appointed only after consultation with the Chief Justice of India.

The International Human Rights Day is observed every year on 10th December. The day marks the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in 1948.

  • The theme for 2019 is “Youth Standing up for Human Rights”.
  • The campaign, #StandUp4HumanRights has also been launched by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), to encourage, galvanise, and showcase how youth all over the world stand up for rights.
  • Human rights are at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as in the absence of human dignity, sustainable development cannot be achieved.

 

TENURE
  • The chairperson and members hold office for a term of five years or until they attain the age of 70 years, whichever is earlier.
  • After their tenure, the chairperson and members are not eligible for further employment under the Central or a state government.

The Human Rights Council

  • The Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body created by the United Nations General Assembly resolution on 15 March 2006.
  • It has replaced the former United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNHCR)
  • It is responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe and for addressing situations of human rights violations and making recommendations on them.
  • It meets at the UN Office at Geneva.
  • The Council is made up of 47 UN Member States which are elected by the UN General Assembly.

 

REMOVALS
  • The President can remove any member for the following reasons –
    • Adjudged an insolvent; or
    • Engages, during his term of office, in any paid employment outside the duties of his office; or
    • Unfit to continue in office by reason of infirmity of mind or body; or
    • Unsound mind and stand so declared by a competent court; or
    • Convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for an offence.
  • In addition to these, the President can also remove the chairperson or any member on the ground of proved misbehaviour or incapacity.

In cases of removal, the President has to refer the matter to the Supreme Court for an inquiry. If the Supreme Court upholds the cause of removal and advises so, then the President can remove the chairperson or a member.

  • The salaries, allowances and other conditions of service of the chairperson or a member are determined by the Central government. But, they cannot be varied to his disadvantage after his appointment – then how could NHRC act as an autonomous and independent institution?

 

FUNCTIONS
  • To inquire into any violation of human rights or negligence in the prevention of such violation by a public servant, either suo-motu or on a petition presented to it or on an order of a court.
  • To intervene in any proceeding involving allegation of violation of human rights pending before a court.
  • To visit jails and detention places to study the living conditions of inmates and make recommendations
  • To review the constitutional and other legal safeguards for the protection of human rights and recommend measures for their effective implementation.
  • To review the factors including acts of terrorism that inhibit the enjoyment of human rights and recommend remedial measures.
  • To study treaties and other international instruments on human rights and make recommendations for their effective implementation.
  • To undertake and promote research in the field of human rights.
  • To spread human rights literacy among the people and promote awareness of the safeguards available for the protection of these rights.
  • To encourage the efforts of NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS (NGOS) working in the field of human rights.
  • To undertake such other functions as it may consider necessary for the promotion of human rights.

 

ROLE OF THE COMMISSION

Functions of the commission are mainly recommendatory and advisory in nature as they are of non-binding nature.

  • No power to punish the violators of human rights, nor to award any relief including monetary relief to the victim.
  • It should be informed about the action taken on its recommendations within one month.
  • The government cannot wash away the recommendations made by the Commission.
  • It enjoys great material authority and no government can ignore its recommendation‘.
  • The commission has limited role, powers and jurisdiction with respect to the violation of human rights by the members of the armed forces (Art. 33)
  • In this sphere, the commission may seek a report from the Central government and make its recommendations.

Under the Act, ‘armed forces’ means the naval, military and air forces and includes any other armed forces of the Union. A.M. Ahmadi Committee set up by the commission recommended that the definition of the ‘armed forces’ should be changed in a way that it includes only navy, army and air force, not paramilitary forces.

  • The Central government should inform the Commission of the action taken on the recommendations within three months.
  • The commission submits its annual or special reports to the Central government (and not to the President) and to the state government concerned.
  • These reports are laid before the respective legislatures, along with a memorandum of action taken on the recommendations of the commission and the reasons for non- acceptance of any of such recommendations.

 

HUMAN RIGHTS (AMENDMENT) ACT, 2006
  • Reducing the number of members of STATE HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION (SHRCs) from five to three
  • Changing the eligibility condition for appointment of member of SHRCs
  • Strengthening the investigative machinery available with Human Rights Commissions
  • Empowering the Commissions to recommend award of compensation, etc. even during the course of enquiry
  • Empowering the NHRC to undertake visits to jails even without intimation to the state governments
  • Strengthening the procedure for recording of evidence of witnesses
  • Clarifying that the Chairpersons of NHRC and SHRCs are distinct from the Members of the respective Commission
  • Enabling the NHRC to transfer complaints received by it to the concerned SHRC
  • Enabling the Chairperson and members of the NHRC to address their resignations in writing to the President and the Chairperson and members of the SHRCs to the Governor of the state concerned
  • Clarifying that the absence of any member in the Selection Committee for selection of the Chairperson and member of the NHRC or the SHRCs will not vitiate the decisions taken by such Committees
  • Providing that the Chairperson of the NCSC and the Chairperson of the NCST shall be deemed to be members of the NHRC

 

LIMITATIONS
  • NHRC does not have any mechanism of investigation. In majority cases, it asks the concerned Central and State Governments to investigate the cases of the violation of Human Rights
  • It has been termed as ‘India’s teasing illusion’ by Soli Sorabji (former Attorney-General of India) due to its incapacity to render any practical relief to the aggrieved party.
  • NHRC can only make recommendations, without the power to enforce decisions.
  • Many times NHRC is viewed as post-retirement destinations for judges and bureaucrats with political affiliation moreover, inadequacy of funds also hamper it’s working.
  • A large number of grievances go unaddressed because NHRC cannot investigate the complaint registered after one year of incident.

A.M. Ahmadi Committee set up by the Commission recommended that the Commission should be empowered to inquire into any matter after the expiry of one year, if there is sufficient reason for not filing the complaint within the said period.

  • Government often outright rejects recommendations of NHRC or there is partial compliance to these recommendations.
  • SHRCs cannot call for information from the national government, which means that they are implicitly denied the power to investigate armed forces under national control.
  • NHRC powers related to violations of human rights by the armed forces have been largely restricted.

 

WAY FORWARD
  • There is a need for complete revamping of NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION to make it more effective and truly a watchdog of human right violations in the country.
  • NHRC efficacy can be enhanced by the government if commission decisions are made enforceable.
  • There is a need to change the composition of the commission by including members from civil society and activists.
  • NHRC needs to develop an independent cadre of staff with appropriate experience.
  • To improve and strengthen the human rights situation in India, state and non-state actors need to work in tandem.

 

PROTECTION OF HUMAN RIGHTS (AMENDMENT) ACT, 2019
  • The Act provides for a National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), State Human Rights Commissions (SHRC), as well as Human Rights Courts.
  • Under the NHRC Act, the chairperson of the NHRC is a person who has been a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  The Bill amends this to provide that a person who has been Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, or a Judge of the Supreme Court will be the chairperson of the NHRC.
  • The NHRC Act provides for two persons having knowledge of human rights to be appointed as members of the NHRC. The Bill amends this to allow three members to be appointed, of which at least one will be a woman.
  • Under the NHRC Act, chairpersons of various commissions such as the NCSC, NCST, and National Commission for Women are members of the NHRC.  The Bill provides for including the chairpersons of the National Commission for Backward Classes, the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights, and the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities as members of NHRC.
  • Chairperson of NHRC???? Under the NHRC Act, the chairperson of a SHRC is a person who has been a Chief Justice of a High Court.  The Bill amends this to provide that a person who has been Chief Justice or Judge of a High Court will be chairperson of SHRC.
  • Term of office???? The Act states that the chairperson and members of the NHRC and SHRC will hold office for five years or till the age of seventy years, whichever is earlier.  The Bill reduces the term of office to three years or till the age of seventy years, whichever is earlier.  Further, the Act allows for the reappointment of members of the NHRC and SHRCs for a period of five years.  The Bill removes the five-year limit for reappointment.
  • Powers of Secretary-General???? The Act provides for a Secretary-General of the NHRC and a Secretary of a SHRC, who exercise powers as may be delegated to them.  The Bill amends this and allows the Secretary-General and Secretary to exercise all administrative and financial powers (except judicial functions), subject to the respective chairperson’s control.
  • Union Territories ???? The Bill provides that the central government may confer on a SHRC human rights function being discharged by Union Territories.  Functions relating to human rights in the case of Delhi will be dealt with by the NHRC.

 

PARIS PRINCIPLES
  • UN Paris Principles provide the international benchmarks against which National Human Rights Institutions can be accredited under five heads:
    1. Monitor any situation of violation of human rights which it decides to take up.
    2. Able to advise the Government on specific violations, on issues related to legislation and general compliance and implementation with international human rights instruments.
    3. Be able to relate to regional and international organizations.
    4. Have a mandate to educate and inform in the field of human rights.
    5. Some institutions should be given a quasi-judicial competence
GLOBAL ALLIANCE OF NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS INSTITUTION (GANHRI)

 Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institution (GANHRI) was formerly known as the International Coordinating Committee (ICC) of National Human Rights Institutions. It was established in the year 1993.

GANHRI promotes the role of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRI’s) worldwide, providing a forum for its members to interact and exchange, as well as facilitating their engagement with international organisations.

This article briefly explains the 4 main functions of GANHRI, the 3 levels of accreditation involved in GANHRI and couple of important points on Paris Principles.

 

FUNCTIONS
  1. It facilitates and supports the engagement of National Human Rights Institutions with the United Nations Rights Councils and Treaty and Treaty Bodies.
  2. It encourages cooperation and information sharing among National Human Rights Institutions.
  3. Helps in capacity building in collaboration with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCR).
  4. Undertakes accreditation of National Human Rights Institutions in accordance with Paris Principles and promotes the role of NHRI’s within the United Nations Organisation, with States and the other international agencies.

 

GANHRI LEVELS OF ACCREDITATION
  1. “A” Voting members – They are the members that comply fully with Paris Principle and can participate as the voting member in international and regional work and meetings of national institutions.
  2. “B” Observer members: These members do not comply with the Paris Principles and have not submitted the required documents.
  3. “C” Non-members: They do not comply with Paris Principles and have no rights or privileges with International Coordinating Committee.

 

ACCREDITATION ISSUES WITH NHRC
  • Every 5 years the NHRC has to undergo accreditation by an agency affiliated to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHCR).
  • The Commission’s compliance to the Paris Principles is ascertained in this process.
  • Better the grade, higher the benefits; if India gets an A-status, the NHRC has some privileges.
  • It can play a pivotal role in the decision-making processes of the UNHRC and other important international bodies.
  • Recently, the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI), a UN body based in Geneva, re-accredited India’s apex rights watchdog with the‘A’ status, a perfect score
  • NHRC statisticsclaim that cases are resolved within months and compensation is granted in 90 per cent of them.
  • As per the data there is disposal of more than 17 lakh casespayment of more than Rs 1 billion to victims of human rights violations, carrying out over 750 spot enquiries of human rights violations, apart from conducting over 200 conferences to spread awarenessof human rights across the country.
  • Interventionsin the 2007 Nandigram violence in West Bengal and Salwa Judum-related incidents in Chhattisgarh
  • The NHRC also states that its role has been significant in combating encounter killings and custodial deaths. 

 

REFORMS NEEDED
  • The government must take steps to ensure greater transparency in the selection process.
  • The much-needed diversification could be realised through the inclusion of civil society members.
  • Academicians with proven track record in the improvement of human rights can also be roped in.
  • The NHRC could certainly benefit from the grass roots level experience and widespread community outreach.
  • Also, the NHRC urgently requires officers of its own to carry out independent investigations. The government should provide resources for this.
  • Section 18 of the Human Rights Act also obligates the concerned governmentto “forward its comments on the report, including the action taken or proposed to be taken, to the Commission”, within a period of one month. This is the only obligation upon the government.
  • Powers of a civil court: The Supreme Court has held that “opinions” rendered by the Foreigners Tribunals, were binding. The same logic applies on NHRC too.
  • Legal meaning is a function of context: For example, the Supreme Court has held that the overriding imperative of maintaining judicial independence mandates that “consultation” with the Chief Justice for judicial appointments be read as “concurrence” of the Chief Justice. Recently, while interpreting the Land Acquisition Act, the apex court held that the word “and” in a provision had to be construed as “or”.
  • Critical amendments to ‘Protection of Human Rights Act’ needed: NHRC and SHRC must be invested with the power to impose penalties, resist political interference in investigations and be independent of partisan law enforcement bodies
    • The Act should be amended to give power to the  Commission to enforce its decisions. 
    • An amendment to the act is needed to change the criteria from CJI to former SC judge for its chairpersonand to mandatorily include women members in the five-member commission.
  • Annual reports for calendar years should be put online as soon as possible and no later than March of the succeeding year.
    • The hard copy of the report should also be published at the same time.
  • It is particularly critical tofind out whether poor people and groups who are socially vulnerable to abuse are being protected by the institution.
  • Although the NHRC organises consultations with NGOs, it needs to be far more proactive and independent in its collaboration with civil society.
  • The chairperson and members hold office for a term of five years or until they attain the age of 70 years, whichever is earlier.
  • After their tenure, the chairperson and members are not eligible for further employment under the Central or a state government.

The Human Rights Council

  • The Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body created by the United Nations General Assembly resolution on 15 March 2006.
  • It has replaced the former United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNHCR)
  • It is responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe and for addressing situations of human rights violations and making recommendations on them.
  • It meets at the UN Office at Geneva.
  • The Council is made up of 47 UN Member States which are elected by the UN General Assembly.

 

REMOVALS
  • The President can remove any member for the following reasons –
    • Adjudged an insolvent; or
    • Engages, during his term of office, in any paid employment outside the duties of his office; or
    • Unfit to continue in office by reason of infirmity of mind or body; or
    • Unsound mind and stand so declared by a competent court; or
    • Convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for an offence.
  • In addition to these, the President can also remove the chairperson or any member on the ground of proved misbehaviour or incapacity.

In cases of removal, the President has to refer the matter to the Supreme Court for an inquiry. If the Supreme Court upholds the cause of removal and advises so, then the President can remove the chairperson or a member.

  • The salaries, allowances and other conditions of service of the chairperson or a member are determined by the Central government. But, they cannot be varied to his disadvantage after his appointment – then how could NHRC act as an autonomous and independent institution?

 

FUNCTIONS
  • To inquire into any violation of human rights or negligence in the prevention of such violation by a public servant, either suo-motu or on a petition presented to it or on an order of a court.
  • To intervene in any proceeding involving allegation of violation of human rights pending before a court.
  • To visit jails and detention places to study the living conditions of inmates and make recommendations
  • To review the constitutional and other legal safeguards for the protection of human rights and recommend measures for their effective implementation.
  • To review the factors including acts of terrorism that inhibit the enjoyment of human rights and recommend remedial measures.
  • To study treaties and other international instruments on human rights and make recommendations for their effective implementation.
  • To undertake and promote research in the field of human rights.
  • To spread human rights literacy among the people and promote awareness of the safeguards available for the protection of these rights.
  • To encourage the efforts of NGOs working in the field of human rights.
  • To undertake such other functions as it may consider necessary for the promotion of human rights.

 

ROLE OF THE COMMISSION

Functions of the commission are mainly recommendatory and advisory in nature as they are of non-binding nature.

  • No power to punish the violators of human rights, nor to award any relief including monetary relief to the victim.
  • It should be informed about the action taken on its recommendations within one month.
  • The government cannot wash away the recommendations made by the Commission.
  • It enjoys great material authority and no government can ignore its recommendation‘.
  • The commission has limited role, powers and jurisdiction with respect to the violation of human rights by the members of the armed forces (Art. 33)
  • In this sphere, the commission may seek a report from the Central government and make its recommendations.

Under the Act, ‘armed forces’ means the naval, military and air forces and includes any other armed forces of the Union. A.M. Ahmadi Committee set up by the commission recommended that the definition of the ‘armed forces’ should be changed in a way that it includes only navy, army and air force, not paramilitary forces.

 

  • The Central government should inform the Commission of the action taken on the recommendations within three months.
  • The commission submits its annual or special reports to the Central government (and not to the President) and to the state government concerned.
  • These reports are laid before the respective legislatures, along with a memorandum of action taken on the recommendations of the commission and the reasons for non- acceptance of any of such recommendations.

 

HUMAN RIGHTS (AMENDMENT) ACT, 2006
  • Reducing the number of members of State Human Rights Commissions (SHRCs) from five to three
  • Changing the eligibility condition for appointment of member of SHRCs
  • Strengthening the investigative machinery available with Human Rights Commissions
  • Empowering the Commissions to recommend award of compensation, etc. even during the course of enquiry
  • Empowering the NHRC to undertake visits to jails even without intimation to the state governments
  • Strengthening the procedure for recording of evidence of witnesses
  • Clarifying that the Chairpersons of NHRC and SHRCs are distinct from the Members of the respective Commission
  • Enabling the NHRC to transfer complaints received by it to the concerned SHRC
  • Enabling the Chairperson and members of the NHRC to address their resignations in writing to the President and the Chairperson and members of the SHRCs to the Governor of the state concerned
  • Clarifying that the absence of any member in the Selection Committee for selection of the Chairperson and member of the NHRC or the SHRCs will not vitiate the decisions taken by such Committees
  • Providing that the Chairperson of the NCSC and the Chairperson of the NCST shall be deemed to be members of the NHRC

 

LIMITATIONS
  • NHRC does not have any mechanism of investigation. In majority cases, it asks the concerned Central and State Governments to investigate the cases of the violation of Human Rights
  • It has been termed as ‘India’s teasing illusion’ by Soli Sorabji (former Attorney-General of India) due to its incapacity to render any practical relief to the aggrieved party.
  • NHRC can only make recommendations, without the power to enforce decisions.
  • Many times NHRC is viewed as post-retirement destinations for judges and bureaucrats with political affiliation moreover, inadequacy of funds also hamper it’s working.
  • A large number of grievances go unaddressed because NHRC cannot investigate the complaint registered after one year of incident.

 

A.M. Ahmadi Committee set up by the Commission recommended that the Commission should be empowered to inquire into any matter after the expiry of one year, if there is sufficient reason for not filing the complaint within the said period.

 

  • Government often outright rejects recommendations of NHRC or there is partial compliance to these recommendations.
  • SHRCs cannot call for information from the national government, which means that they are implicitly denied the power to investigate armed forces under national control.
  • NHRC powers related to violations of human rights by the armed forces have been largely restricted.

 

WAY FORWARD
  • There is a need for complete revamping of NHRC to make it more effective and truly a watchdog of human right violations in the country.
  • NHRC efficacy can be enhanced by the government if commission decisions are made enforceable.
  • There is a need to change the composition of the commission by including members from civil society and activists.
  • NHRC needs to develop an independent cadre of staff with appropriate experience.
  • To improve and strengthen the human rights situation in India, state and non-state actors need to work in tandem.

 

PROTECTION OF HUMAN RIGHTS (AMENDMENT) ACT, 2019
  • The Act provides for a National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), State Human Rights Commissions (SHRC), as well as Human Rights Courts.
  • Under the NHRC Act, the chairperson of the NHRC is a person who has been a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  The Bill amends this to provide that a person who has been Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, or a Judge of the Supreme Court will be the chairperson of the NHRC.
  • The NHRC Act provides for two persons having knowledge of human rights to be appointed as members of the NHRC. The Bill amends this to allow three members to be appointed, of which at least one will be a woman.
  • Under the NHRC Act, chairpersons of various commissions such as the NCSC, NCST, and National Commission for Women are members of the NHRC.  The Bill provides for including the chairpersons of the National Commission for Backward Classes, the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights, and the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities as members of NHRC.
  • Chairperson of NHRC???? Under the NHRC Act, the chairperson of a SHRC is a person who has been a Chief Justice of a High Court.  The Bill amends this to provide that a person who has been Chief Justice or Judge of a HIGH COURT will be chairperson of SHRC.
  • Term of office- The Act states that the chairperson and members of the NHRC and SHRC will hold office for five years or till the age of seventy years, whichever is earlier.  The Bill reduces the term of office to three years or till the age of seventy years, whichever is earlier.  Further, the Act allows for the reappointment of members of the NHRC and SHRCs for a period of five years.  The Bill removes the five-year limit for reappointment.
  • Powers of Secretary-General- The Act provides for a Secretary-General of the NHRC and a Secretary of a SHRC, who exercise powers as may be delegated to them.  The Bill amends this and allows the Secretary-General and Secretary to exercise all administrative and financial powers (except judicial functions), subject to the respective chairperson’s control.
  • Union Territories- The Bill provides that the central government may confer on a SHRC human rights function being discharged by Union Territories.  Functions relating to human rights in the case of Delhi will be dealt with by the NHRC.

 

PARIS PRINCIPLES
  • UN Paris Principles provide the international benchmarks against which National Human Rights Institutions can be accredited under five heads:
    1. Monitor any situation of violation of human rights which it decides to take up.
    2. Able to advise the Government on specific violations, on issues related to legislation and general compliance and implementation with international human rights instruments.
    3. Be able to relate to regional and international organizations.
    4. Have a mandate to educate and inform in the field of human rights.
    5. Some institutions should be given a quasi-judicial competence

 

GLOBAL ALLIANCE OF NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS INSTITUTION (GANHRI)

Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institution (GANHRI) was formerly known as the International Coordinating Committee (ICC) of National Human Rights Institutions. It was established in the year 1993.

GANHRI promotes the role of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRI’s) worldwide, providing a forum for its members to interact and exchange, as well as facilitating their engagement with international organisations.

This article briefly explains the 4 main functions of GANHRI, the 3 levels of accreditation involved in GANHRI and couple of important points on Paris Principles.

 

FUNCTIONS
  1. It facilitates and supports the engagement of National Human Rights Institutions with the United Nations Rights Councils and Treaty and Treaty Bodies.
  2. It encourages cooperation and information sharing among National Human Rights Institutions.
  3. Helps in capacity building in collaboration with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCR).
  4. Undertakes accreditation of National Human Rights Institutions in accordance with Paris Principles and promotes the role of NHRI’s within the United Nations Organisation, with States and the other international agencies.
GANHRI LEVELS OF ACCREDITATION
  1. “A” Voting members – They are the members that comply fully with Paris Principle and can participate as the voting member in international and regional work and meetings of national institutions.
  2. “B” Observer members: These members do not comply with the Paris Principles and have not submitted the required documents.
  3. “C” Non-members: They do not comply with Paris Principles and have no rights or privileges with International Coordinating Committee.

 

ACCREDITATION ISSUES WITH NHRC
  • Every 5 years the NHRC has to undergo accreditation by an agency affiliated to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHCR).
  • The Commission’s compliance to the Paris Principles is ascertained in this process.
  • Better the grade, higher the benefits; if India gets an A-status, the NHRC has some privileges.
  • It can play a pivotal role in the decision-making processes of the UNHRC and other important international bodies.
  • Recently, the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI), a UN body based in Geneva, re-accredited India’s apex rights watchdog with the‘A’ status, a perfect score
  • NHRC statisticsclaim that cases are resolved within months and compensation is granted in 90 per cent of them.
  • As per the data there is disposal of more than 17 lakh casespayment of more than Rs 1 billion to victims of human rights violations, carrying out over 750 spot enquiries of human rights violations, apart from conducting over 200 conferences to spread awarenessof human rights across the country.
  • Interventionsin the 2007 Nandigram violence in West Bengal and Salwa Judum-related incidents in Chhattisgarh
  • The NHRC also states that its role has been significant in combating encounter killings and custodial deaths. 

 

 

REFORMS NEEDED
  • The government must take steps to ensure greater transparency in the selection process.
  • The much-needed diversification could be realised through the inclusion of civil society members.
  • Academicians with proven track record in the improvement of human rights can also be roped in.
  • The NHRC could certainly benefit from the grass roots level experience and widespread community outreach.
  • Also, the NHRC urgently requires officers of its own to carry out independent investigations. The government should provide resources for this.
  • Section 18 of the Human Rights Act also obligates the concerned governmentto “forward its comments on the report, including the action taken or proposed to be taken, to the Commission”, within a period of one month. This is the only obligation upon the government.
  • Powers of a civil court: The Supreme Court has held that “opinions” rendered by the Foreigners Tribunals, were binding. The same logic applies on NHRC too.
  • Legal meaning is a function of context: For example, the Supreme Court has held that the overriding imperative of maintaining judicial independence mandates that “consultation” with the Chief Justice for judicial appointments be read as “concurrence” of the Chief Justice. Recently, while interpreting the Land Acquisition Act, the apex court held that the word “and” in a provision had to be construed as “or”.
  • Critical amendments to ‘Protection of Human Rights Act’ needed: NHRC and SHRC must be invested with the power to impose penalties, resist political interference in investigations and be independent of partisan law enforcement bodies
    • The Act should be amended to give power to the  Commission to enforce its decisions. 
    • An amendment to the act is needed to change the criteria from CJI to former SUPREME COURT judge for its chairpersonand to mandatorily include women members in the five-member commission.
  • Annual reports for calendar years should be put online as soon as possible and no later than March of the succeeding year.
    • The hard copy of the report should also be published at the same time.
  • It is particularly critical tofind out whether poor people and groups who are socially vulnerable to abuse are being protected by the institution.
  • Although the NHRC organises consultations with NGOs, it needs to be far more proactive and independent in its collaboration with civil society.
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