The Role of National Human Rights Commission in upholding justice

Abstract

The National Human Rights Commision (herein referred to as NHRC) is an independent, autonomous and a sovereign body which stands for the people and society whose human rights are being violated which are enshrined in our constitution through Article 14, 19, 21[1] etc. This paper talks about the NHRC in India as to how it upholds justice and helps each and every person to get justice and the right to be treated fairly and with dignity. Lately National Human Rights Commissions (NHRCs) have been counted as an important factor in the national, regional and international human rights area. The international community supports as it thinks that the growth of NHRCs is a positive step of the government which shows its willingness to abide by international human rights norms such as the “Universal declaration of human rights, International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights etc.”[2]

Keywords– Human Right, Watchdog, Sovereign body, Inhumane act, Paris Principle

Introduction

“India was one of the early countries to establish an NHRC on 12th October 1993 under the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993. The NHRC is an independent body that aims to safeguard and promote human rights in the country, the NHRC acts as a requisite bridge between the citizens and the government. It has the sovereignty to inquire about any complaint on human right violations, conduct investigations, and recommend actions to the government to address any issues which ensures that justice is accessible to all and everyone is treated fairly and with dignity.”[3]

Section 2(1)(d) defines Human Rights as “the rights relating to life, liberty, equality and dignity of the individual guaranteed by the Constitution or embodied in the International Covenants and enforceable by courts in India”.[4]

NHRC acts as a watchdog of fundamental human rights it helps hold the government accountable for their actions

What is NHRC?

The NHRC was established on 12th October 1993, under the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 which was amended in 2006[5]. It is a Sovereign statutory body which upholds the “human rights that are related to life, dignity, liberty and equality of the individual that is defined in Section 2(1)(d) of the PHR Act.”[6] They are guaranteed by our constitution of India through various Article such as Ar 14, 19, 21[7] etc, also embodied in the international covenants like “Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) etc.

NHRC was established in conformity with the Paris Principles of Human Rights, 1991 which were adopted at the first international workshop on national institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights held in Paris in October 1991, and endorsed by the General Assembly of the United Nations by its Regulations 48/134 of 20 December, 1993.”[8]

Review of Literature 

The literature review highlights the different aspects of the NHRC’s role in upholding justice by studying the matter with the help of research papers, books, reports and other academic works. Apart from the theories this paper also talks about a few cases which show how NHRC upholds the lamp of justice in the darkness of inhumane and horrifying acts by the people or organization or a state. The current research has extensively used literature that is available in the public domain which includes the portal of NHRC, articles, Journals, and other secondary sources

NHRC History

After witnessing the brutality and inhumane acts of human beings in World War II, there was a dire need of protecting human rights. “In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the UDHR (Universal Declaration of Human Rights), which is the first official document which talks about protecting the rights of humans globally.”[9]

“In 1991, Paris Principles were introduced by the National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs).

On 12th October 1993, India established NHRC under the statute named the Protection of Human Rights Act (PHRA), 1993. It is in conformity with the Paris Principles, adopted at the first international workshop on national institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights held in Paris in October 1991, and endorsed by the General Assembly of the United Nations by its Regulations 48/134 of 20 December, 1993. The Protection of Human Rights Act also allowed state governments to establish the State Human Rights Commission”.[10]

Role of NHRC

Being an independent body it has the sovereignty to conduct investigation, verify the evidence and also recommend its report for the violation of human rights at any parameter. Its aim is to make justice accessible to each and every human being who gets some rights by virtue of being a human. Filing a complaint to NHRC is quite easy as it has already mentioned on its website about the process along with the guidelines[11]user manual[12] and also the format[13] of registering complaints which makes the task much easier and simple for the common man to file it who does not know much about the law and its implications.

NHRC has the power to recommend both the central and State government to prevent such acts where human rights are being violated. NHRC submits its annual report[14] of every financial year to the President of India which is laid before both the Houses of the Parliament.

Laws followed by NHRC

The NHRC in India operates within the legal guidelines of various statutes and legislations. Following are the few statutes and Covenants followed by the NHRC

  1. The Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993

“This act established the NHRC which determines its power and functions along with the definition of human rights, also aims to protect and promote human rights by establishing NHRC and procedures for inquiring into complaints of human rights violation. To cope with the dynamic society and to expand its jurisdiction it has been amended in 2006 and 2019”[15]

  1. NHRC (Procedure) Amendment Regulations, 1997[16]

NHRC derives its power and authority to scrutinize or sort any complaints, publication of list of cases on the website of the NHRC, review and record of the order passed by the commission and many more functions are enshrined in this Act towards the NHRC.

  1. “Declaration and Covenants

States do not deny the existence of international law, every state who is a party to it does follow the law but it is binding on any state per se.

  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights
    • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Ratification date for India – 10 Apr 1979)
    • International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
    • Convention on the Rights of the Child
    • Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women(CEDAW)”[17]
  1. Judicial Pronouncement and Precedents

The NHRC relies on various judgements and precedents set by the courts regarding the violation of human rights. It considers the decisions of both the Supreme Court and High Courts.

Involvement of NHRC can be determined by its report and surveys and also by conducting training

Cases filed by NHRC

As we know the functions and responsibilities of NHRC, it is embedded in its roots to raise its voice wherever human rights are being violated. Lets us analyze NHRC role in different cases by analyzing the facts and circumstances of the case and what were the steps taken by NHRC in order to uphold the justice

  1. Batla House Encounter[18]

“On 19th Sept 2008, two suspected terrorists namely Md.Atif Ameen and Md.Sajid were killed in a shootout by the Delhi Special Police cell at L-18 Batla house, Jamia Nagar, Delhi while two others, Shahzad Ahmed and Ariz Khan managed to escape, who according to the sources and research of the special police cell were involved in the serial blast which had occurred in different parts of Delhi on 13th September, 2008 killing 26 persons and causing injury to 133 others. The Police claims that they fired on them in self defense as they had the reasonable cause to apprehend danger to the life of any member of the police team. The encounter was controversial, with allegations of a fake encounter”[19]

The NHRC thereafter took cognizance of the Batla House encounter and conducted a thorough inquiry by examining evidence, eyewitness accounts, and the statements made by the police regarding the encounter to determine whether human rights were violated during the operation or not. NHRC also held a public hearing where the affected individuals, witnesses, and concerned parties could present their perspective related to the encounter.

At the end of the day after a judicial inquiry Delhi High Court upheld the batla house encounter was not fake and the police has acted in self defense upholding the black letters of law i.eSec 100 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 which enumerates the circumstances in which a person can voluntarily cause the death of a person in exercise of the Right of Private Defence.

  1. Gujarat Orders[20]

The Gujarat riots of 2002 was a dreadful and horrifying incident that had occurred in the form of communal violence in Gujarat after the burning of the Sabarmati Express train near Godhra on 27th February,2002 in which many hindu pilgrims were traveling who died at the spot. This incident resulted in brutal and horrifying communal violence between Hindus and Muslms, wherein many people be it a Hindu or Muslim died, injured, looted, sexually harassed etc. More than thousands of people died that day which is on record but many went unrecorded. State government led by Chief Minister Narendra Modi was criticized for its failure to control the violence and protect the minority community. This riot sparked national and international denunciation, which led to inquiries, legal proceedings and justice provided to the victims or the survivor of the riot.

The NHRC took cognizance into the incident of violence, aiming to dig deeper into the facts and find a reasonable reason for this massacre and also assess the violation of human rights and catch hold of those who are responsible for it. The NHRC also held public hearings where the affected individuals, victims and witnesses can share the instances of the event. The NHRC made some recommendations for legal actions against individuals or entities who are found responsible for human rights violations based on its investigation including cases of the killings, sexual violence and also destruction of property. NHRC advocated for compensation and rehabilitation for the victims of the violence and also monitored the legal proceedings to ensure that the justice was duly served.

“NHRC decides to move the Supreme Court in Best Bakery case Transfer application also moved in respect of 4 other serious cases the National Human Rights Commission, on consideration of the report of its team which  was sent to Vadodara, has today filed a Special Leave Petition under Article 136 of the Constitution of India in the  Supreme Court with a prayer to set aside the impugned judgement of the Trial Court in the Best Bakery case and  sought directions for further investigation by an independent agency and retrial of the case in a competent court  located outside the State of Gujarat. The NHRC has, inter-alia, contended in the SLP that The concept of fair trial is a constitutional imperative and is explicitly recognized as such in the specific  provisions of the Constitution including Articles 14, 19, 21, 22 and 39A of the Constitution as well as the various  provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure 1973 (Cr.P.C). The right to fair trial is also explicitly recognized as a human right in terms of Article 14 of the International  Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which has been ratified by India and which now forms part of the  statutory legal regime explicitly recognized as such under Section 2(1)(d) of the Protection of Human Rights Act,  1993.  · Violation of a right to fair trial is not only a violation of fundamental right under our Constitution but also  violative of the internationally recognized human rights as spelt out in the ICCPR to which India is a party. It is, therefore, imperative in the interests of justice for the Hon’ble Supreme Court, in exercise of its powers  under Article 142 of the Constitution, to lay down guidelines and directions in relation to protection of witnesses  and victims of crime in criminal trials which can be adhered to both by the prosecuting and law enforcement  agencies as well as the subordinate judiciary. The Commission has also filed a separate application under Section 406 Cr.P.C. before the Supreme Court for  transfer of four other serious cases, namely, the Godhra incident, Chamanpura (Gulburga society) incident,  Naroda Patiya incident and the Sadarpura case in Mehsana district, for their trial outside the State of Gujarat”.[21]

“There are n number of cases where NHRC takes Suo moto cases to tackle the violation of human rights occurring every day. We can see the dedicated effort of NHRC through its website where the list of Suo Moto cases is listed every financial year.”[22]

  1. Punjab Mass Cremation Order

“Two writ petitions were filed before the Supreme Court of India containing serious allegations about large-scale cremations resorted to by the Punjab Police of persons allegedly killed in what were termed as “encounters”. The main thrust of the Writ Petitions was that there were extra-judicial executions and hasty and secret cremations rendering the State liable for action. These petitions were largely based on a press note of 16th January 1995 by the Human Rights Wing of the Shiromani Akali Dal under the caption “Disappeared” “cremation ground”. The note alleged that the Punjab Police had cremated a large number of human bodies after labeling them as unidentified. The Supreme Court after examining the report submitted to the Court by Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), relating to cremation of dead bodies, observed that the report indicates many casualties which discloses flagrant violation of human rights on a large scale.”[23]

On 12 December 1996 the Court requested the Commission examine the whole matter and determine all the issues related with the case. Though the matter is still pending before the Commission for final consideration, however, the Commission granted in some cases compensation amounting Rupees Two Lakh Fifty thousand (Rs. 2,50,000/-) to the next of kin of the 89 deceased persons.

“The Commission observed, it is now a well accepted proposition in most of the jurisdictions, that monetary or pecuniary compensation is an appropriate and indeed an effective and sometimes perhaps the only suitable remedy for redressal of the established infringement of the fundamental right of life of a citizen by the public servants and the State. The claim of the citizen is based on the principle of strict liability to which the defense of sovereign immunity is not available and the citizen must receive the amount of compensation.”[24]

Limitations of NHRC

Since NHRC is an autonomous body it has its own limitations which affects its effectiveness and scope which are as follows

  1. The recommendations made by the NHRC are not binding on any body of government. It just has an advisory capacity and it is upon the government to consider it or not.
  2. The jurisdiction of NHRC cant be extended to the wrongful acts of the private parties. For eg issues related to the armed forces.
  3. It does lack an enforcement power to impose its directions and guidelines on the governmental bodies. It does not have the power to penalize anyone who doesn’t follow its recommendation.
  4. NHRC faces several miscellaneous issues like lack of funds and staff, excess cases, not able to conduct a thorough investigation due to lack of resources.
  5. Overall, reducing the speed of justice delivery makes it time consuming.
  6. “The NHRC does not consider the following cases:
  • Cases that are older than one year.
    • Cases that are anonymous, pseudonymous or vague.
    • Frivolous cases.
    • Cases pertaining to service matters.”[25]

Research Methodology

The research methodology used is analytical and qualitative. The researcher referred to primary sources of statutes as well as secondary sources of the website of NHRC, journal articles, research papers, and books to understand the subject better and analyze the topic. Relevant case laws and judgments have been referred to by the author in the course of writing this paper.

Conclusion and Suggestions

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) serves as a vital guardian of justice by independently investigating, addressing human rights violations, and advocating for the protection of fundamental rights. Its efforts contribute significantly to fostering a society built on fairness, accountability, and the preservation of basic human rights.

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) acts as a watchdog of violation of human rights. And it is an autonomous body who is sovereign enough to investigate and recommend both the Central and State Government. For the welfare of the society and to cater the growth of this dynamic society NHRC should be given some powers to handle the case with some authority like giving the proper room to investigate along with sufficient funds and staff and its recommendation should also have some enforceability in law. Witnessing the pendency of cases in Indian judiciary it is often seen or felt that the violations of only human rights are not getting that priority or attention by the higher courts. So in such a situation NHRC could do the investigation and submit a report to the higher authority which will take actions according to that report by assuming it is more than just an advisory report. NHRC should be made as potential and bonafide guardian of the human rights with some reasonable limitation

Written by

Suphia Haque

Jamia Hamdard University, New Delhi


[1] INDIA CONST. art. 14, art. 19, art, 21.

[2] https://nhrc.nic.in/acts-&-rules/declarationcovenants-1.

[3] https://nhrc.nic.in/about-us/about-the-Organisation.

[4] The Protection of Human Rights Act, 1933.

[5] https://nhrc.nic.in/about-us/about-the-Organisation.

[6] The Protection of Human Rights Act, 1933.

[7] INDIA CONST. art. 14, art. 19, art, 21.

[8] https://nhrc.nic.in/acts-&-rules/declarationcovenants-1.

[9]https://www.un.org/en/about-us/udhr/history-of-the-declaration#:~:text=The%20Universal%20Declaration%20of%20Human,of%20the%20Second%20World%20War.

[10]https://nhrc.nic.in/about-us/about-the-Organisation#:~:text=The%20National%20Human%20Rights%20Commission,(Amendment)%20Act%2C%202006.

[11] https://hrcnet.nic.in/HRCNet/help/Guidelines_for_complaint_registration.pdf.

[12] https://hrcnet.nic.in/HRCNet/help/UserManual_English.pdf.

[13] https://nhrc.nic.in/complaints/complaints/formate-for-complaint-registration.

[14] https://nhrc.nic.in/publications/annual-reports.

[15] https://nhrc.nic.in/acts-&-rules/protection-human-rights-act-1993.

[16] https://nhrc.nic.in/acts-&-rules/nhrc-procedure-amendment-regulations-1997-1.

[17] https://nhrc.nic.in/acts-&-rules/declarationcovenants-1. 

[18] https://nhrc.nic.in/complaints/proceedings-on-batla-house-encounter.

[19] https://nhrc.nic.in/complaints/proceedings-on-batla-house-encounter.

[20] https://nhrc.nic.in/complaints/gujrat-order.

[21] https://nhrc.nic.in/complaints/gujrat-order.

[22] https://hrcnet.nic.in/HRCNet/public/NHRCStatisticsList.aspx?Statistics=SUOMOTU.

[23] Writ Petition (Crl.) No. 497\95, Paramjit Kaur v. State of Punjab and others and Writ Petition (Crl.) No. 447\95, Committee for Information and Initiative on Punjab v. State of Punjab.

[24] SSRN-id1681512.pdf.

[25] https://byjus.com/free-ias-prep/national-human-rights-commission/.

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