ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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A Protector Only in Name

The National Human Rights Commission continues to disappoint by its ineffective protection of democratic rights.

When the police rained blows on followers of Baba Ramdev gathered at New Delhi’s Ramlila grounds on 4 June, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) swung into action and sent a notice to the administration. The NHRC’s mandate requires it to follow up on violations of human rights; in this instance it did. But for every such response, there are hundreds of violations taking place all over the country that the NHRC either ignores or does not get around to addressing. It is at times like this that legitimate questions are raised about the efficacy of the NHRC which was established in 1993. Does this commission, established after the passage of the Protection of Human Rights Act (PHRA) in 1992 actually serve the purpose for which it was instituted? Are there flaws in its basic structure that must first be rectified before one can expect it to play any kind of decisive role in ensuring the protection of human rights? Can a quasi-judicial body that is funded by the government and has to report to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) ever be independent enough to investigate violations of human rights by institutions of the State?

Many of these questions have surfaced in the face of India’s attempt to renew the NHRC’s accreditation to the International Coordinating Committee (ICC) of National Human Rights Institutions in Geneva. It faces the prospect of losing its “A” status and being downgraded to a “B” status that will deny it voting rights and any governance post in the ICC. The ICC assesses whether national bodies are fulfilling their roles as outlined in the “Paris Principles” formulated at the first workshop of National Institutions for Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in Paris in 1991. These principles laid out the broad remit of national human rights institutions which include monitoring violations of human rights, advising the government or parliament on specific violations, looking at laws as they relate to human rights, examining compliance with international human rights instruments, and educating and informing the general public about human rights. The Paris Principles also require that national human rights institutions be given quasi-judicial independence. India has already defaulted on the agreement it signed at the UN Conference on Human Rights in Vienna in 1993 to draw up a national human rights action plan. Such a plan is nowhere in sight.

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