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Nothing 'Right' about India's Human Rights Commission

Cedric Prakash Cedric Prakash
08 Apr 2024

The accreditation review of the National Human Rights Commission of India (NHRCI) is scheduled to take place in the last week of March 2024 and in the last week of April 2024. This year, the Sub-Committee on Accreditation (SCA) of the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI) will consider the reports about the NHRCI received from civil society (both national and international), the NHRCI and other stakeholders, including UN Special Procedures on 26 March and will have a separate sitting in the week from 29 April to 3 May, when they will conduct their actual internal review. In March 2023, NHRCI's accreditation was deferred by one year. The SCA is chaired by New Zealand and consists of representatives from Honduras, Greece, and South Africa.

First in October 2022 and again in October 2023, the All India Network of NGOs and Individuals Working with National and State Human Rights Institutions (AiNNI) submitted detailed civil society reports to GANHRI. These reports unequivocally stated and with irrefutable evidence that the NHRCI had failed to uphold its mandate to protect and promote human rights in India. There is absolutely nothing 'right' with India's Human Rights Commission, and to say that volumes can be written of this pathetic state of affairs is undoubtedly an understatement! Several global and national indicators provide fool-proof data to substantiate this!

The prestigious Swedish V-Dem (Varieties of Democracy) Report 2024 finds India in the bottom 40-50% of the 179 countries reviewed. It has been one of the top ten autocratisers in recent times. India dropped to an electoral autocracy in 2018 and remains there. India's autocratisation process is well documented, including gradual but substantial deterioration of freedom of expression, compromising the independence of the media, crackdowns on social media, harassment of journalists critical of the government, as well as attacks on civil society and intimidation of the opposition.

The ruling anti-pluralist, Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the helm, has, for example, used laws on sedition, defamation, and counterterrorism to silence critics. The government has undermined the Constitution's commitment to secularism by amending the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) in 2019. The Modi-led government also continues to suppress the freedom of religion rights. Intimidation of political opponents and people protesting government policies and silencing of dissent in academia. All this is clearly a blatant violation of human rights!

A study by the 'World Inequality Lab' (mid-March 2024) found that the wealth concentrated in the wealthiest 1% of India's population is at its highest in six decades, and the percentage share of income exceeds that of countries including Brazil and the United States. The study highlighted that by the end of 2023, India's wealthiest citizens owned 40.1% of the country's wealth, the highest since 1961, and their share of total income was 22.6%, the most since 1922. The gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen with the growing impoverishment of vulnerable sections of society!

On 20 March, the UN's 'International Happiness Day,' the World Happiness Report was published by the UN's Sustainable Development Solutions Network. The Report considers six variables: GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on, freedom to make life choices, generosity, and freedom from corruption. India was ranked a pathetic 126th out of 143 countries surveyed.

Corruption has become the new normal: India has undoubtedly had the most corrupt government since independence! The unprecedented Electoral Bonds (EB) scam rocked the nation. It is regarded by some as 'the world's biggest scam'! Fortunately, the orders of the Supreme Court have necessitated the opening of the pandora's box, revealing how corrupt the ruling party is. With demonetisation in 2016, the ruling regime amassed massive wealth. The 'PM Cares Fund', shrouded in secrecy, has accumulated vast sums of money.

There is the rise of majoritarianism, best indicated in the unbridled power of a fascist ideology termed 'Hindutva'. Religious intolerance is mainstreamed. The demonisation and discrimination of minorities (Muslims, Christians and Sikhs) happen with frightening regularity with hate speeches and targeted violence. A recent report by an independent private agency detailed 601 attacks on Christian personnel/institutions in 2023. Violence on the Kuki tribal population (mainly Christian), which began on 3 May 2023, still continues with the apparent approval from the BJP Government both in Manipur State and at the Centre. On 16 March, a group of International Students in the University Hostel in Ahmedabad, whilst praying their namaaz, were brutally attacked by 'Hindutva' elements. The anti-conversion laws in BJP-ruled States clearly undermine Constitutional Article 25, the freedom to preach, practice and propagate one's religion.

The World Press Freedom Index 2023 ranked India 161 out of 180 countries. Human rights defenders, dissenters and all those who stand up for truth and justice are harassed, incarcerated and even killed. The renowned Delhi University Professor G. N. Sai Baba was falsely implicated in a case, languished in jail for ten years and was finally acquitted on 5 March! There are still several Human Rights Defenders languishing in prison, among them those incarcerated in the Bhima-Koregaon conspiracy case.

Opposition leaders like Arvind Kejriwal, Hemant Soren, Rahul Gandhi, and Mahua Moitra have false cases foisted on them and even jailed! There are draconian, prejudiced policies (all designed to decimate the Constitution), which include the Citizenship Amendment Act (the rules of which have just come into force), the National Education Policy, the anti-farmer (pro-corporate) farm laws, the four labour codes, the Forest Conservation Amendment Act. Constitutional bodies like the Election Commission, the Enforcement Directorate, the Central Bureau of Investigation, the NIA, the Income Tax, the police and even sections of the judiciary are compromised. The Environment Performance Index 2022, by the World Economic Forum, ranks India last among 180 countries. The UN's Human Development Report 2023-24 ranked India 134 out of 193 countries.

The tragedy is that despite all this being in the public domain and from impartial, impeccable sources, the NHRCI has yet to find it appropriate to take cognisance of any of the above and to come out with statements, order investigations, and publish their own independent findings! On the contrary, it has, over the years, clearly been a mouthpiece of the ruling regime and has not dared to take on the government when it has promoted or acquiesced with human rights violations. Not only on the above but on several other counts, the NHRCI has failed to comply with the Paris Principles and address the deteriorating human rights situation in India.

In a very detailed open letter entitled 'Review of the Accreditation Status of the National Human Rights Commission of India' (dated 26 March 2024) and addressed to the Chairperson of the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI), nine of the world's best known human rights organisations including Amnesty International stated, "The cumulative picture that emerges reflects the NHRCI's and the Indian government's clear lack of political will to act and the apparent reluctance to effectively respond to and address the deteriorating human rights violations in the country and to uphold transparency and accountability. The failure to create a truly independent NHRCI stands to perpetuate impunity and hinder any effort to ensure that the Indian authorities respect and uphold human rights. Therefore, taking into consideration the clear defiance of the SCA's recommendations in 2006, 2011, 2016, 2017 and most recently in 2023 by the NHRCI, we strongly urge your office to evaluate the NHRCI's rating carefully during the upcoming accreditation process".

It goes without saying that the NHRCI since it belongs to the people of India and is accountable primarily to the people of India – must make immediate, concerted and conscientious efforts to change for the better by responding impartially and pro-actively to the growing human rights violations in the country! Whether the NHRCI will have the audacity, objectivity and honesty to do so is anyone's guess!

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