Context: The All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) has alleged that farmers were attacked and their sources were destroyed during the post-poll violence in Tripura. Leaders of the AIKS demanded urgent intervention of the National Human Rights Commission to control the violence.
Introduction about NHRC
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of India was established in 1993. The statute under which it is established is the Protection of Human Rights Act (PHRA).
It is in conformity with the Paris Principles, adopted at the first international workshop on national institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights held in Paris in 1991, and endorsed by the General Assembly of the United Nations.
The NHRC is an embodiment of India’s concern for the promotion and protection of human rights.
The Protection of Human Rights Act (PHRA), 1993 defines Human Rights as 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.
Sub Committee on Accreditation (SCA)
The National Human Rights Commission, India has retained its ‘A’ status of accreditation with the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions, GANHRI.
The accreditation is given after a rigorous process of review of the NHRI by the GANHRI through its Sub Committee on Accreditation (SCA).
The United Nations’ Paris Principles provide the international benchmarks against which national human rights institutions (NHRIs) can be accredited.
The Paris Principles set out six main criteria that NHRIs require to meet. These are: Mandate and competence, Autonomy from Government, Independence guaranteed by a Statute or Constitution, Pluralism, Adequate resources; and adequate powers of investigation.
The NHRC has the following key functions:
- To bridge the gap between responsibilities of the State and the rights of individuals
- To intervene in any judicial proceeding involving allegations of violation of Human Rights pending before a Court
- To protect Human Rights and recommend measures for their effective implementation
- To monitor and evaluate the factors, including acts of terrorism that curtail the enjoyment of Human Rights and recommend appropriate remedial measures
- To study treaties and other international instruments
- To enquire into complaints of violation of Human Rights
- To conduct research in the field of Human Rights
- To spread Human Rights literacy and awareness
- To encourage the efforts of Non-Governmental Organisations and Human Rights Defenders
- Assessment of developments in areas like IT, sports, business etc. impinging on Human Rights protection
- To perform any such functions as it may consider necessary for the promotion of Human Rights as provided in the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993
Type of complaints not entertained by the Commission
Ordinarily, complaints of the following nature are not entertained by the Commission:
a) In regard to events which happened more than one year before the making of the complaints;
b) With regard to matters which are sub-judice;
c) Which are vague, anonymous or pseudonymous;
d) Which are of frivolous nature;
e) Which pertain to service matters.
The NHRC consists of: The chairperson and five members (excluding the ex-officio members)
- A Chairperson, who has been a Chief Justice of India or a Judge of the Supreme Court.
- One member who is, or has been, a Judge of the Supreme Court of India and one member who is, or has been, the Chief Justice of a High Court.
- Three Members, out of which at least one shall be a woman to be appointed from amongst persons having knowledge of, or practical experience in, matters relating to human rights.
- In addition, the Chairpersons of National Commissions viz., National Commission for Scheduled Castes, National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, National Commission for Women , National Commission for Minorities, National Commission for Backward Classes, National Commission for Protection of Child Rights; and the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities serve as ex officio members.
The sitting Judge of the Supreme Court or sitting Chief Justice of any High Court can be appointed only after the consultation with the Chief Justice of India.
The Chairperson and members of the NHRC are appointed by the President of India, on the recommendation of a committee consisting of:
- The Prime Minister (Chairperson)
- The Home Minister
- The Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha
- The Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha
- The Speaker of the Lok Sabha
- The Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha
- Human right commissions can (including State Human Right Commissions) only make recommendations, without the power to enforce decisions. This lack of authority to ensure compliance has unfortunate consequences.
- The Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 requires that three of the five members of a human rights commission must be former judges but does not specify whether these judges should have a proven record of human rights activism or expertise or qualifications in the area.
- Under the Act, human rights commissions cannot investigate an event if the complaint was made more than one year after the incident. Therefore, a large number of genuine grievances go unaddressed.
- State human rights commissions cannot call for information from the national government, which means that they are implicitly denied the power to investigate armed forces under national control.
- Most human rights commissions are functioning with less than the prescribed Members. This limits the capacity of commissions to deal promptly with complaints, especially as all are facing successive increases in the number of complaints.
- Scarcity of resources – or rather, resources not being used for human rights related functions – is another big problem. Large chunks of the budget of commissions go in office expenses and in maintaining their members, leaving disproportionately small amounts for other crucial areas such as research and rights awareness programmes.
- As human rights commissions primarily draw their staff from government departments – either on deputation or reemployment after retirement – the internal atmosphere is usually just like any other government office.
Strict hierarchies are maintained, which often makes it difficult for complainants to obtain documents or information about the status of their case.
The presence of security guards, armies of peons and office attendants creates barriers for ordinary people to personally meet officials in regard to their complaint.
Suggestion for reforms
- The effectiveness of human rights commissions will be greatly enhanced if their decisions are immediately made enforceable by the government.
This will save considerable time and energy as commissions will no longer need to either send reminders to government departments to implement the recommendations or alternatively to approach High Courts through a cumbersome judicial process to make the government take action.
- Commissions must also have clear and well-defined powers to proceed against government departments furnishing false reports. This will assist in preventing the many instances where the departmental version of events is more often than not a white-wash, particularly in those cases where the police has been accused of violations.
- As non-judicial member positions are increasingly being filled by ex-bureaucrats, credence is given to the contention that commissions are more an extension of the government, rather than independent agencies exercising oversight.
- If commissions are to play a meaningful role in society, they must include civil society human rights activists as members.
- Complaints regarding police excesses and misbehaviour take up most of the time of human rights commissions. It is perhaps time to think about an alternative agency, dedicated solely to civilian oversight of the police.
Here we can learn from international experience: the UK, for instance, has an Independent Police Complaints Commission; South Africa has an Independent Complaints Directorate; and Brazil has Police Ombudsmen offices is some provinces to deal exclusively with police complaints.
End note: Reform initiatives can only bear fruit when ordinary citizens take an active interest in good governance and human rights.