Important Institutions: NHRC

What is NHRC?

  • According to the Protection of Human Rights Act 1993, later amended in 2006, the NHRC of India is an independent statutory organization founded on October 12, 1993.
  • On October 12, 2018, NHRC—a nonprofit organization with a headquarters in New Delhi—celebrated its Silver Jubilee (25 years).
  • It serves as the country's watchdog for human rights, guaranteed by the Indian Constitution or enshrined in international covenants and upheld by Indian courts. These rights relate to life, liberty, equality, and the individual's dignity.
  • It was created in accordance with the Paris Principles, which the United Nations General Assembly ratified on December 20, 1993, and adopted in Paris in October 1991 to promote and protect human rights.

What do human rights entail?

  • According to the UN definition, these rights are inherent to everyone regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status.
  • Human rights cover a wide range of freedoms, such as the right to work and receive an education, the freedom from slavery and torture, and the right to freedom of speech.
  • Without exception, everyone has a right to these.

What was the catalyst that created the NHRC?

  • On December 10, 1948, in Paris, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
    • The declaration, which outlines the first-ever universal protection of fundamental human rights, is a turning point in the history of human rights.
  • Every year on December 10, the anniversary of the UDHR, Human Rights Day is observed. The 70th anniversary of the declaration was observed on April 25, 2018, on Human Rights Day.
  • A UN meeting in Paris in 1991 produced a comprehensive set of principles known as the Paris Principles after it became clear how important it was to strengthen national human rights institutions over time.
    • National human rights institutions were established and run based on these principles.
  • In order to increase accountability and strengthen the country's human rights, India passed the Protection of Human Rights Act in 1993 in accordance with these principles.
  • This act also permitted the creation of state human rights commissions.

What does Human Rights Council stand for?

  • On March 15, 2006, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution establishing the Human Rights Council as an intergovernmental body.
  • The previous United Nations Commission on Human Rights has been replaced by it.
  • Its duties include addressing human rights violations and making recommendations on them. It also strengthens the promotion and protection of human rights across the globe.
  • It can talk about all relevant, year-round human rights issues and circumstances. The UN Office in Geneva is where it meets.
  • The UN General Assembly chooses forty-seven nations that are members of the UN to make up the Council.

What Constitutes the NHRC?

  • Key Members: A chairperson, five full-time Members, and seven deemed Members make up this multi-member body.
    • A former Supreme Court judge or the Chief Justice of India may hold the position of chairman.
  • Appointment: A six-member committee, headed by the Prime Minister, composed of the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, the Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, leaders of the Opposition in both Houses of Parliament, and the Union Home Minister, recommends the chairman and members to the President.
  • Tenure: Until they turn 70 years old, whichever comes first, the chairman and members serve terms of three years.
    • In some situations, the President can remove the chairman or any member from their positions.
  • Removal: Only charges of proven misbehaviour or incapacity supported by a Supreme Court Judge's investigation may be used to remove them.
  • Divisions: In addition, the Commission has five specialized divisions, including the Administration Division, the Law Division, the Investigation Division, the Policy Research & Programmes Division, and the Training Division.

What exactly does the State Human Rights Commission do?

  • In consultation with the Chief Minister, State Home Minister, Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, and Leader of the Opposition in the State Legislative Assembly, the Governor appoints the chairman and members of the State Commission.
  • Until they turn 70 years old, whichever occurs first, the chairperson and members serve terms of three years.
  • Although the governor appoints the chairperson and other commission members, only the President can remove them.

What are the NHRC's main responsibilities and roles?

  • Its proceedings have a judicial quality and all the authority of a civil court.
    • Either on its initiative or in response to a petition, the NHRC looks into complaints of human rights violations.
    • It has the authority to get involved in any court case involving a claim of human rights abuse.
  • To look into complaints of human rights violations, it is authorized to use the services of any officer or investigation agency of the federal or state governments.
  • The Commission is permitted to investigate a matter within a year of it occurring, meaning that it is not permitted to do so after a year has passed since the alleged date of the alleged human rights violation.
  • The Commission's duties are primarily advisory.
  • It lacks the authority to compensate victims for their suffering or punish those violating human rights.
  • Regarding the infringement of human rights by members of the armed forces, it has a limited role, authority, and jurisdiction. When private parties violate human rights, it is powerless to take action.
  • It is permitted to go to any prison or other institution under the control of the State Government to observe the inmates' living situations and offer recommendations.
  • It has the power to evaluate the safeguards established by the constitution or any other law for the protection of human rights and to suggest the necessary corrective actions.
  • The NHRC conducts and supports human rights-related research.
  • Through publications, media, seminars, and other means, NHRC works to increase human rights literacy among various societal groups and raises awareness of the protections available for these rights.
  • Annual reports of the Commission:
    • The Central Government and the relevant State Governments must receive an annual report from the Commission.
    • The Central Government and the State Government, as the case may be, shall cause the annual reports of the Commission to be laid before each House of Parliament or the State Legislature, respectively, as the case may be, along with a memorandum of action taken or proposed to be taken on the recommendations of the Commission and the reasons for non-acceptance of the recommendations, if any.

What are the NHRC's Restrictions?

  • The NHRC lacks a mechanism for conducting investigations. Most of the time, it requests that the concerned Central and State Governments look into cases of human rights violations.
  • Due to its inability to provide the harmed party with any substantial relief, Soli Sorabjee, a former attorney general of India, referred to it as "India's teasing illusion."
  • The NHRC lacks the authority to impose decisions; it can only make recommendations.
  • Judges and bureaucrats with political affiliations frequently view the NHRC as a place to retire, and a lack of funding also hampers its operations.
  • Many complaints go unresolved because the NHRC cannot investigate complaints filed more than a year after the incident.
  • The government frequently outright rejects or only partially implements the recommendations of the NHRC.
  • The inability of state human rights commissions to request information from the federal government obviate their ability to look into armed forces subject to federal control.
  • The National Human Rights Commission's authority to investigate alleged human rights abuses by the armed forces is primarily constrained.

What changes are possible to increase the effectiveness of the NHRC?

  • To be more effective and a true watchdog of human rights abuses in the nation, the NHRC needs a complete makeover.
  • If commission decisions are enforceable, the government can increase the effectiveness of the NHRC.
  • The composition of the Commission needs to be altered to include activists and members of civil society.
  • The NHRC must build an independent staff cadre with the necessary qualifications.
  • The government can increase regulation transparency by amending many of India's outdated and antiquated laws.
  • State and non-state actors must cooperate if the human rights situation in India is to be improved and strengthened.