Loss of ‘A’ status for NHRC: What its means for human rights in India

New Delhi: In its recent session, the Global Alliance for National Human Rights Institutions (‘GANHRI’) has decided to defer the re-accreditation decision concerning the human rights commissions of India and seven other countries.

The report given by GANHRI cites a variety of reasons for each country, based on the Principles Relating to the Status of National Institutions (“Paris Principles”), which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in Resolution 48/134 on December 20, 1993.

Twenty-four years on, these principles form one of the means by which the Office for the High Commissioner of Human Rights (“OHCHR”) ensures that States meet their human rights obligations effectively.

National human rights bodies as conceived by the UNGA and the OHCHR, are intended to be “bridges between the Government and civil societies”

GANHRI’s report reveals several structural-compositional issues with NHRC.

The report states that not enough has been done to ensure “pluralism” in the Commission’s members. This means that more representation from minority communities and from women is needed. The selection process embodied in Section 4 of the NHRC’s Governing Law (Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993), was also an issue brought up.

The process of selection of the Chairperson and Members (being left to the hands of the Prime Minister, Speaker of Lok Sabha, Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, Leader of Opposition of Rajya Sabha, Deputy Chairperson of Rajya Sabha, and Minister of Home Affairs), comes across as mere political appointments.

There is also issue with the seconding of members of the civil service as “officers and other staff” as mandated by Section 11 of the same Act. Issues were then raised on the lack of clarity and certainty where selection criteria are concerned.

Sl. No. Between Period 01/12/2015-30/11/2016

(data from the NHRC)

1. 2nd Most no. of. Cases registered on Human Rights Violations were police related (30,549 cases)

2.Jail related human rights cases registered (2544 cases)

3. Assam and Meghalaya – NHRC has registered cases upon being intimated of human rights violations where defence encounters caused the violations

India has its international obligations based on which the independent functioning of the NHRC has come under scrutiny. The rationale for having such a body is to have an entity that can advocate and speak out against Government excesses, neglect or violations. The concept of human rights itself, is seen with respect to State authorities. It is now moving to non-state actors having obligations to protect human rights.

The automatic tendency, is to react to this issue by negating the NHRC’s work. It is however important to note that despite questionable practices founded in the governing law of the NHRC regarding composition and structuring, the NHRC has been a vocal force, calling out the Government on many instances. Between January and February alone, the NHRC has been involved in the several actions where the Government is concerned, as seen here.

The level of Governmental interaction in the structure and composition of the NHRC, is worrisome, especially from a jurisprudential perspective. An examination of any branch of law in India, will reveal the presence of rule of law, which requires transparency and accountability, both of which can be ensured by different ways. There is a link between composition-structure and impartiality and fairness. The NHRC itself has asked for more power where enforcement is concerned. In its time, the NHRC has effectively called out the Government, but it must do more to strengthen that fact.

With growing awareness of human rights the NHRC’s role is bound to increase. This will necessitate reform and inclusion of experts, NGOs and affected members of society’s participation. Deferring to the wisdom of the Government or its agencies, may not work indefinitely. In a country as diverse, having Governmental perspectives has some value, but at what cost? Losing ‘A’ Status is a wakeup call. Protecting Human rights in India is at risk. This is because of the clear link between structure and functioning. If protecting human rights is truly the mandate of the NHRC, then it should be allowed the independence it deserves and fairness in composing it, with checks and balances enforceable through the judiciary.

The NHRC must be a body free from the rife of the nepotistic tendencies of the political system of a given country. Being a quasi-judicial body, ensuring rule of law principles becomes even more important. An amendment of the Act is necessary to encourage participation of minority communities, women and “civil societies”. Governmental decision to have a hand in the functioning of the NHRC will be detrimental to human rights protection, as well as the reputation of the NHRC. (ANI)