The false pride of the National Human Rights Commission of India

Indians take pride in several issues ranging from democracy to unity in diversity. Most of this “pride speech” is often by India’s middle class and neo-rich that are sometimes completely disconnected from reality. The government and its various agencies often reflect similar pride.

The government of India has spared no venue to boast about itself whenever and wherever it has had a chance. This attitude was reflected in the interventions and representations made by the Indian government’s delegation during the fifth session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. Quite surprisingly, the interventions made by the representative of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of India, in the same session were also similar in tone.

The NHRC made oral interventions during the session, much of it praising itself and claiming that it was successful in promoting, protecting and fulfilling human rights and human values in India. The oral interventions made by its representative was evident that it was serving more as a backbench supporter of the government than a independent agency monitoring human rights in India. It appeared to be the victim of its own false pride.

The NHRC’s intervention at the council was also to show off its pride as an effective, authoritative and independent agency committed to rooting out human rights violations in India. However, to date, its work and that of its state subsidiaries proves contrary to this claim. The NHRC and its state bodies lack precisely two elements–independence and authority.

The government at its convenience and pleasure makes appointments to the NHRC and state human rights commissions. In most state human rights commissions, the appointment of the chairperson is at the whims and fancies of the particular state government. For example, despite legally challenging the appointment of the chairperson of the Kerala State Human Rights Commission on allegations of nepotism and corrupt practices, the person continues to serve the commission.

Regarding effective redress for victims, the human rights commissions at both the national and state level are not considered as replacements for the courts. The role of the commission at all levels, among other duties, is to recommend to the government actions required by the government in cases involving human rights violations. The question is whether the government adheres to these recommendations.

The representation made by the NHRC of India to the U.N. Human Rights Council was as if the government follows all its recommendations. A well-worded statement was made to the council to indicate that the government adheres to the recommendations of the commission and that the commission does have some influence upon the government and its actions and polices pertaining to human rights. Both statements are wrong and highly exaggerated.

The state human rights commissions, as well as the NHRC in India, do not have enough resources for effectively investigating a case brought to its notice. Instead, the commissions usually refer cases to the respective state police to investigate. The commissions function in a make-believe world when the complaint is against the police and expect it to be effectively investigated by the same police department.

The NHRC also made a false claim to the council by saying that “100,000,000 Indian rupees [US$2.47 million] had been recommended and also distributed to the victims or next of kin.” Though the recommendations were true, it lacked compliance. Hundreds of victims have not received any compensation awarded by the commission leaving one to wonder where all the money went. The recommendations of the commission seemingly end in a black hole within the government; they are just not implemented.

If the government fails to comply with the recommendations of the commission, the aggrieved party, which includes the commission, can approach the court where one has to wait decades for the verdict. Consequently, why is a person not able to go straight to the court instead of approaching the commission to save time?

If the commission enjoyed a privileged position with the government of India, as claimed at the U.N. Human Rights Council, why has the government not fulfilled the commission’s request for more resources for investigating cases? If the government had provided the commission with the necessary physical and human resources to function effectively, the victims would have had a better chance for redress from the commission.

What was evident during the U.N. Human Rights Council session was a failed attempt of the NHRC of India to show itself as a body respected by the government and its functionaries, though no one believes that the NHRC as an agency is well respected and fully supported by the Indian government.

Forums like the United Nations with their limited opportunities must be utilized by agencies like the NHRC to present facts, not fiction. This is required because one of the roles of agencies like the NHRC is to provide redress to victims and to make recommendations to the government. However, when agencies like the NHRC reduce themselves to blind supporter’s of the government due to their false pride and acts of self-deceit, what is suppressed is the possibility for victims to make their voice’s heard, and, in the process, human rights suffers.

(Bijo Francis is a human rights lawyer currently working with the Asian Legal Resource Center in Hong Kong. He is responsible for the South Asia desk at the center. Mr. Francis has practiced law for more than a decade and holds an advanced master’s degree in human rights law.)

By BIJO FRANCIS, UPIASIA , HONG KONG, Jun. 19,2007

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