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Giving Human Rights Commission more teeth
Context: Human Rights commission in India.
The Madras High Court is to decide on whether the recommendations made by Human rights commission are binding upon the state (or Central) governments, or whether the government is entitled to reject or take no action upon them.
This raises the questions on functioning of the human rights commissions in India. In this article, we will explain the below:
- What are human rights?
- What India did to protect Human rights?
- What is the composition and functions of National Human Rights Commission in India?
- Why National Human rights commission is called as Toothless Tiger?
- Way Forward
What are human rights?
According to UN “Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status”.
- Human rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and many more. Everyone is entitled to these rights, without discrimination.
- International human rights law lays down the obligations of Governments to act in certain ways or to refrain from certain acts, in order to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms of individuals or groups.
What India did to protect Human rights?
In 1993, the Indian Parliament enacted the Protection of Human Rights Act with purpose of establishing an institutional framework that could effectively protect, promote and fulfil the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. To this end, the Act created a National Human Rights Commission, and also, Human Rights Commissions at the levels of the various States.
- NHRC acts as a watchdog of human rights in the country.
- The National and State Human Rights Commissions are called as “fourth branch institutions” because the complexity of governance and administration in the modern world has necessitated the existence of a set of independent bodies, which are charged with performing vital functions of oversight.
What is the composition and functions of National Human Rights Commission in India?
Govt has passed The Protection of Human Rights (Amendment) Act, 2019. It had made changes in the original Act.
- It consists of a Chairman and five other members.
- Chairman can be a person who has been Chief Justice of Supreme Court or a judge of Supreme Court. Members should be either sitting or retired judges of the Supreme Court or a serving or retired Chief Justice of a High Court and three persons (out of which at least one should be a women) having knowledge or practical experience with respect to human rights.
- The commission has seven ex officio members – the chairpersons of National Commission for Scheduled Caste, National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, National Commission for Minorities, National Commission for Women, National Commission for Backward Classes, the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights, and the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities.
- The chairman and members are appointed on the recommendation of a 6 member committee consisting of Prime Minister, Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, leaders of opposition in both the houses of parliament and Union Home Minister.
- Term: Term of the chairman and members is 3 years or 70 years whichever is earlier. After retirement they are not eligible for further reappointment.
- Removal: President has to refer the matter to Supreme Court and if after enquiry Supreme Court holds it right then they can be removed by the President.
Functions of the commission:
- HRC can investigate any complaints related to violation of Human Rights either suo moto or after receiving a petition.
- HRC can interfere in any judicial process that involves any allegation of violation of Human Rights.
- It can visit any prison/institute under the control of the state governments to observe the living conditions of inmates. It can further make recommendations based on its observations to the authorities.
- HRC can review the provisions of the Constitution that safeguard Human Rights and can suggest necessary restorative measures.
- Human Rights awareness and literacy through different media is promoted by HRC in various sectors of the society.
- HRC has the power to recommend suitable steps that can prevent violation of Human Rights to both Central as well as State Governments.
- The President of India gets an annual report from NHRC which is laid before both the Houses of the Parliament.
Why National Human rights commission is called as Toothless Tiger?
Earlier National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) chairman Justice H L Dattu recently said the rights watchdog needed some teeth to enforce its orders on remedial measures in cases relating to violations. He said NHRC is a toothless tiger.
In the two-and-a-half decades of their existence, the functioning of the Human Rights Commissions has come under scrutiny and criticism.
- HRC’s recommendations are not binding on government.
- It plays an advisory role, with the government left free to disobey or even disregard their findings.
- It has no power to punish the violators of human rights, or to award any relief including monetary relief to the victim.
- It faces criticism of the politicization of autonomous bodies, and selectiveness.
- The HRC has limited jurisdiction over cases related to armed forces (AFSPA).
- Its jurisdiction does not extend to Jammu and Kashmir.
- It cannot consider Cases that are older than one year.
- Commission’s recommendations should be binding upon the state as it plays a crucial role in achieving state accountability in a democracy committed to a ‘culture of justification’.
- Its decisions should be immediately made enforceable by the government to enhance its efficiency.
Bring out the need for complete revamp of NHRC to make it more effective and a watchdog of human right violations in the country while discussing the challenges involved.