India’s clout ensures UN status for NHRC

July 20, 2011

Manoj Mitta, TNN | Jul 20, 2011, 01.44am IST

NEW DELHI: The NHRC’s announcement that it has managed to retain its A status in the UN system has turned out to be a selective disclosure.

For, the NHRC suppressed the fact that the accreditation recommended last month had been accompanied by stringent conditions echoing the concerns raised by civil society. It was also silent on the appeal it filed this month against the unfavorable remarks made by the accreditation panel in Geneva.

The five-page letter from the office of the UN high commissioner for human rights, accessed by TOI, faulted the law and functioning of the NHRC on several counts for violating the mandated standards called the Paris Principles. Even if the A status permitting it to participate in UN activities is confirmed shortly, it will not be so much due to the merits of the NHRC’s plea as due to India’s growing diplomatic clout.

The issues raised by the accreditation panel are:

The lack of pluralism in its composition: The accreditation panel disapproved the dominance of the judiciary in the composition of the NHRC. “The requirement for the appointment of the chair to be a former chief justice of the Supreme Court severely restricts the potential pool of candidates. Similarly, the requirement that the majority of members are recruited from the senior judiciary further restricts diversity and plurality.”

The UN panel rejected the suggestion that such restrictions were justified because of the quasi judicial functions performed by the NHRC. Pointing out that this is “but one of the 10 functions” enumerated in the NHRC law, the panel said that the compromise in diversity “limits the capacity of the NHRC to fulfill effectively all its mandated activities”.

Though the principle of diversity is sought to be achieved by inducting “deemed members” from the commissions relating to minorities, women and scheduled castes and tribes, the accreditation panel said that “they are not adequately involved in discussions on the focus, priorities and core business of the NHRC’s non-judicial functions”.

The secretary general and director general of investigations lack independence: The accreditation panel expressed serious reservations about the stipulation that the two key posts in the NHRC — secretary general and director general of investigations — would have to be filled by those who come on deputation from within the government. It said that the NHRC should seek an amendment to remove the requirement that those two officials be “seconded” from the government and to provide for an open, merit-based selection process.

Little engagement with human rights defenders: The UN panel questioned the NHRC’s claim to have complied with the Paris Principles requirement of engaging with civil society and human rights defenders. It said that the expert groups constituted by the NHRC were “not functioning effectively as a means of engagement and cooperation” with civil society.

The mechanism to handle complaints against human rights violations lacks credibility: According to a UN special rapporteur who visited India in January, the main grievance of human rights defenders was that the complaints given to the NHRC were entrusted to the police, which in most cases were the perpetrators of the alleged violations. As a result, the complaints were either not taken up or the investigation, after much delay, concluded that no violations occurred. The accreditation panel said that the NHRC should take due note of the negative perception of its complaints mechanism.

The NHRC’s annual reports held up due to the government’s laxity: The UN body was surprised that the latest available annual report of the NHRC was of 2007-08. This is partly because of the stipulation that its annual reports cannot be made public till the government is ready with its action taken reports (ATRs). The accreditation panel therefore urged the NHRC to seek reforms that would allow it to report on a more timely

The accreditation recommended last month was accompanied by stringent conditions echoing the concerns raised by civil society.

Mathews Philip,Executive Director of SICHREM, is one of the convenors of AiNNI, who filed a shadow report on NHRC to the UN-ICC