India No More An Ace Protector Of Human Rights

India No More An Ace Protector Of Human Rights
Although India successfully conducted the G-20 Working Group meeting on tourism in Srinagar, Kashmir, between May 22 and 24, 2023, despite a walkout of Turkiye, Saudi Arabia and China, its official National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has been denied the ‘A’ status reaccreditation by the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI) for a year.

Representing more than 110 national human rights institutions, the GANHRI, previously known as the International Coordination Committee of national institutions, is affiliated with the United Nations and aims to promote and protect human rights.

Despite issues of caste polarisation, upper caste appeasement, and civil society protests over government atrocities, India has always boasted of credible institutions, like independent judiciary, media, powerful human rights commissions at centre as well as states to defend its human rights record at world forums. However, for the first time, India has been unable to deflect embarrassment – that GANHRI has deferred the ‘A’ status reaccreditation of India.

The GANHRI’s sub-committee on accreditation (SCA) consists of a national human rights institutions member from each region. Currently it is headed by Palestine, which is considered India’s close friend. The committee meets to renew the acceleration of member countries laid down by Paris Principles of UN concerning National Human Rights Institutions.

Raising concerns over serious human right violations in India, and the inability of its NHRC to adhere to Paris Principle, GANHRI has deferred India’s reaccreditation.

The NHRC, along with nine other sister commissions and 160 such official human rights organisations spread across the country, could not avoid this global embarrassment. A report prepared by the All India Network of NGOs and Individuals was submitted to the SCA. It highlights serious concerns over marginalisation of minorities, especially Muslims and Christians for following a ‘foreign faith’ in the Hindu majority country. The report states: “Perpetrators of violence including Hindu right-wing vigilante groups have proliferated in the last several years. These groups receive tacit, and sometimes overt, support from state actors at various levels, as well as from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the principal Hindu nationalist organisation, which has a long-standing affiliation with the BJP.”

The report also points out an increase in mob lynching, targeting Muslim men suspicious of cow slaughter, infer-faith marriage, consumption of beef and hate speech against religious minorities, especially in the backdrop of protests against the implementation of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act of 2019. The government had pushed new laws and policies governing citizenship which disproportionately affected the Muslim minority.

In December 2019, the parliament of India passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. The law fast-tracks citizenship to India for Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians who have escaped religious persecution in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. But it excludes Muslims, including persecuted Muslim communities. The CAA 2019 was met with widespread protest and legal challenges as being discriminatory on the basis of religion. It also contravenes domestic and international law.

“Instead of taking actions against violation of any kind, NHRC plays the role of a post office, where it receives complaints from the aggrieved and passes it on to the state police to take necessary action, even if the state machinery is being challenged by the aggrieved. Such is the irony of the commission these days,” explains Henri Tiphagne of NGO People’s Watch.

Besides being a spectator to the numerous cases of human right violations, despite repeated recommendation by the SCA, the NHRC has failed to adhere to the Paris Principles. The Paris Principles compels member countries to have an investigation agency free from government or state control. A police officer of the rank of director general of police or above be made available to the NHRC, to ensure effective performance of the commission. But, “In India the accused is made to investigate his own case,” adds Tiphagne.

Even the process of selection and appointment of chairperson and other members has remained completely non-transparent. Despite recommendation by the SCA on the involvement of police in investigation and no interference from the government, none of them have been implemented by NHRC and India. The Indian commission for years now has been lacking the pluralistic composition and lacks representation of women members and minorities.

It has been more than a month since GANHRI deferred the ‘A’ status reaccreditation, but the NHRC website continues to show the ‘A’ status granted to India in 2008. The SCA had made recommendations against reaccreditation of NHRC in 2011, when India, through its diplomatic manoeuvring, had managed to save the position. According to sources, the ministry of home affairs in India had then assured the SAC that it would implement the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 and bring the required changes in the NHRC.

While the government of India and the civil society are at loggerheads in this global crisis, where one is trying to cover up the embarrassment and the other is trying to strengthen the human rights body, the fear expressed by the Indian civil society and human right activists three decades ago has come true. In 1990s, when India was facing criticism for human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab and north-eastern states, the then government set up the NHRC. In fact the then home minister in PV Narasimha Rao’s government, Shankarrao Chavan, had said during a parliamentary debate that the NHRC was to act as a buffer against any kind of international scrutiny and was not going to affect the law and order machinery of the government.

“The whole design of setting up the NHRC is faulty. Instead of making it an autonomous body, the ministry of home affairs took it under its wings, where appointments, funding and investigations were managed from resources provided by the government,” says Ravi Nair, Executive Director of South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre.

The writer is a journalist based in India.