Major embarrassment for India: UN rights body puts NHRC accreditation on hold

Until its re-accreditation, NHRC will not be able to represent India either in the UN’s Human Rights Council or the UN General Assembly.

In a major embarrassment to India, an organisation affiliated to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has recommended that the re-accreditation of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), be kept on hold till November 2017 by the OHCHR, according to a report published by Scroll.

The recommendation has been made by the OHCHR affiliate, Global Alliance for National Human Right’s Institutions (GANHRI). This means that until re-accreditation, NHRC will not be able to represent India either in the UN’s Human Rights Council or the UN General Assembly.

The report effectively damns the way the NHRC has been conceived under the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, its selection and appointment process all of which make the rights body critically dependent on the government of the day and vulnerable to political pressure.
As highlighted by Scroll:

  • Only 92 of the NHRC’s staff—a mere 20%—are women, the report notes, and that since 2004, there hasn’t been a single woman on the governing body.
  • The legislative requirement of having an ex-CJI (Chief Justice of India) as chairperson and choosing members of the senior judiciary severely restricts the potential pool of candidates who can be appointed, especially women.
  • The report questions why top cops and serving or retired police personnel should be accommodated in the investigating wing of the commission. This question becomes crucial because the NHRC is tasked with investigating human rights violations by the government and its agencies, including the police.

Citizens’ rights groups within India have for long been pointing to these very lacunae that the NHRC suffers from.

Devika Prasad, coordinator of the Police Reforms Programme of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), has been quoted by Scroll as saying that given the paramount mandate of the NHRC—to protect citizens from rights violations by the State—having an investigative unit stacked with, and headed by a police officer, is incompatible with the very idea of natural justice. “For a start, the NHRC could do with having a unit which has policemen in it, but also comprises other competent personnel having diverse experiences and the requisite skill-sets”, she suggests.

The report of the GANHRI’s sub-committee on accreditation (SCA) expresses serious reservations about a senior civil servant being the NHRC’s Secretary General (the present incumbent is Satyanarayan Mohanty, an IAS officer), and also asks why the Chairperson of the National Commission for Schedule Castes and Tribes—an elected MP—has voting powers in the commission.

While noting that the NHRC does need to work with the government in many cases, the SCA report categorically states that the commission needs to be completely independent and insulated from government and political influence.

The SCA report has also severely criticised the mammoth backlog of over 40,000 cases pending before the NHRC. Henry Tiphagne, General Secretary of All India Network of NGOs and Individuals working with National Human Rights Institutions (AiNNI) has rightly pointed out that in all the 24 years of its existence, the NHRC has not had a member of civil society in its topmost echelons, and it is time for the government to rise to the occasion and intervene in order to form a truly independent commission which recognises and practises diversity.

After maintaining a studied silence for some days, former chief justice of the Supreme Court and the present NHRC chief, HL Dattu while talking to the Hindu sought to play down the implications of the severe castigation of NHRC as part of a “regular process which happens every five years”.

Asked to comment on the SCA’s castigation of NHRC for “political appointments”, “police officers being part of its investigation unit” and “lack of pluralism in its staff “,  he said: This (India’s Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993), was framed in such a way. And anyway, six eminent people – including PM, Speaker, Rajya Sabha deputy chairperson, leaders of Opposition in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, and minister in-charge of human rights ministry – are part of the committee selecting the chairperson and members of NHRC. We have to give due credit to their wisdom”.



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