First Draft of The Report on National Human Rights Commission of India

The South Asian Human Rights Documentation Centre (SAHRDC) has prepared this report to be submitted to the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI) to be considered for the purpose of accreditation of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of India that is due in November, 2017. The purpose of the report is to bring to the attention of GANHRI the failures of NHRC and its working.

NHRC was assessed by the Sub-Committee on Accreditation (SCA) of the GANHRI in November 2016 and the report of the same published in January 2017. The SCA decided to defer NHRC’s application for accreditation to its second session in November 2017. The SCA in its January 2017 report, stated specific recommendations to NHRC and Government of India concerning composition and pluralism, selection and appointment of members, appointment of senior staff (secondment from government), political representation, engagement with civil society, annual reports and complaints handling.

India is ostensibly the biggest democracy of the world but the national human rights institution of this democracy is a just a titular body with no real autonomy or power. Coming under the purview of the Ministry of Human Rights, this apex institution is for all purposes just another wing of the government cloaked as a quasi-judicial body. The Commission, since its establishment has intervened using the powers given to it under the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 (hereinafter referred to as “PHRA”) and succeeded in convincing the government to act on rare occasions and they have become rarer in recent past. The Supreme Court also recognised the NHRC as a toothless tiger.

In the past five years, there is almost no data available on the NHRC’s website of any case in which it either acted in the capacity of amicus curaie to ensure justice or took up suo motu cognizance and follow the case through. In most cases, reports are asked to be submitted, compensation is recommended based on prima facie evidence and there are no independent investigations or action taken against perpetrators. NHRC has not conducted studies or published reports on well known cases of human rights violations and has made no significant contributions when these cases have come for hearing in the Supreme Court or High Courts. Keeping its distance from all controversial subjects, the institution has failed to achieve its mandate of being a protector of human rights in the country.

From subjects like the method of appointments and the autonomy of the institution to the recent human rights cases and the role of NHRC in them, the report will be a comprehensive evaluation of whether the institution has managed to achieve the goal that was it was established for. The report will also evaluate the working of NHRC in consonance with the Paris Principles and the rules of accreditation and point out where they are being flouted.

The first segment of the report shall deal with the problems of administrative and financial autonomy highlighted in the AiNNI reports of 2011 and 2016 on Paris Principles and NHRC and whether the problems highlighted in the report are still significant today. This section will also take a look at the PHRA and the amendments required in the Act to bring it in consonance with the Paris Principles, especially the part related to “Composition and guarantees of independence and pluralism”.

The second segment will evaluate the major human rights violations in India in the past five years, as reported in the World Reports by Human Rights Watch, cases petitioned by Human Rights Defenders Alert – India (HRDA), the reports by the US State Department and various other articles and the role of NHRC in them. The report would emphasise on cases related to rights of minorities (religious, caste and tribal), extra-judicial killings and use of Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, death penalty, women’s rights, child rights, LGBTQ rights, custodial deaths/torture and human rights defenders.

The report will conclude with a brief note about the state human rights commissions (SHRCs) and other relevant issues that came up during the research and compilation of the report.

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