Introduction to Human Rights
Locke argued that individuals in the state of nature are born with certain pre-existing natural rights i.e. Right to life, liberty and property. However such a definition is often criticized of defining human rights very narrowly and a need for a broader conceptualization has often been expressed.
In 1993 the Indian govt. passed the protection of human rights act which defined human rights more broadly to include legally recognized rights under domestic laws including fundamental rights but also talks about rights recognized under international conventions which are yet to be domestically recognized or constitutionalized.
Under the PHRA act 1993 and in accordance with the ‘Paris principles’ an organization which a) Could play an advisory role with respect to govt. policies b) Must or could monitor allegations of violation of human rights by the state. c) Must be independent and autonomous with a pluralistic composition. The NHRC was also formed in 1993 under these ideas.
State of Human Rights in India
1] Issues related to women and children: In 2016 3.38 Lack cases of violence against woman were registered out of which 1.1 Lack cases were of violence by husband and relatives. Showing the extent of domestic violence within India.
A major concern is the non criminalization of marital rape in India as recommended by the justice Verma committee in 2012.
In 2016, 1.06 Lack cases of violence against children were reported. In 2016 India brought amendments to labour laws to increase the minimum age for being a worker from 14 to 18 years, however certain loopholes in child labour laws continue to exist with respect to domestic enterprises.
2] Police torture and ill treatment of prisoners: Between Jan to Aug 2017 894 deaths were reported in judicial custody. 74 deaths were reported in police custodies. This points towards the excessive use of force and the poor living conditions for prisoners. Moreover India has yet not ratified the UN convention against torture that it signed in 1997. Thus it is yet to enact a law to criminalize torture.
3] Extra-Judicial killings or fake encounters related allegations have surfaced from time to time in many states.
4] The rights of Indigenous communities: Often state policies or policing authorities have taken actions which violate the rights of indigenous communities. e.g. the completion of the Sardar Sarovar dam in 2017 was reported even as social activists like Medha Patkar of NBA (Narmada Bachao Andolan) argued that 40,000 displaced families, mostly tribal were yet to be provided full compensation.
5] Refugees: Refugees are individuals who face persecution and an immediate threat to their life and property within their own state and thus escape, seeking temporary shelter. Currently India has a relatively open refugee policy which has allowed Tibetans refugees, Chakma refugees or those from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka an entry into India. However there were reports in 2017 and 2018 of the home ministry willing to deport 40,000 Rohingyas citing security concerns.
Moreover India has yet not signed the UN refugee convention of 1951 which would require it to take more legally binding obligations towards refugees.
Functions of NHRC
NHRC has the following responsibilities.
1] To perform a regular inspection of state prisons or institutions where prisoners are confined.
2] The NHRC must give its opinion on any key legislation and its human rights implications.
3] Moreover NHRC needs to engage in human rights education.
4] To review and proactively enquire into any allegations of human rights violations even by taking suo moto recognition of such incidences.
Issues related to NHRC
1] The autonomy of NHRC has been a matter of concern as it is dependent for its administrative and financial requirements upon the law ministry.
2] The commission is not eligible to enquire into any matter after one year from the date of occurrence of the incident. Many activists have argued that this is too small a time period where oppressed individual or groups may be facing an immediate threat to their lives and thus may not be willing to report these violations.
3] The advice of the NHRC is merely recommendatory and not binding. Thus these reports are often subjected to a deliberate neglect by state agencies. It must be made mandatory to submit an ‘action taken report’ by the executive within a year.
4] The overlapping nature of the jurisdiction between NHRC and other agencies can often lead to a situation where victims of human rights violations may find it tough to obtain grievance redressal by approaching any one agency.
NHRC Amendment bill 2018
1] To widen the pool of candidates to be considered for position of NHRC chief individuals from Ex SC judges will considered instead of ex-CJI
2] Similar amendment at state level, where instead of Ex CJHC all Ex HC Judges are eligible to be appointed.
3] Reduce the term of NHRC chief from 5 to 3 like other commissions.
4] NHRC must be made more representative –
5] Individuals with HR affairs experiences should be increased to 3 from 2.
6] NCPCR [National Commission for Protection of Child Rights] must also be made ex-officio member.
7] Commissioner for disabilities must also be made ex-officio member.
Achievements of NHRC.
1] Chakma refugees: In 1998 the NHRC recommended against the deportation of Chakma refugees and argued that it violates their right to life. Ultimately forcing the state to withdraw from considering deportation.
2] TADA and POTA Act: NHRC argued against granting vast policing powers over terror related matters to be covered under TADA and POTA act. NHRCs recommendations became a crucial component in the SC striking down these acts as unconstitutional.
3] 2002 Gujrat riots: It saw NHRC recommending the transfer of cases of riot victims from Gujrat to other states on NHRCs findings about the atmosphere of fear and intimidation that could deny a fair trial to the victims.