Discuss the structural and practical limitations that hamper the work of human rights commissions.
NHRC of India is an independent statutory body established in 1993 as per provisions of Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, later amended in 2006. The NHRC is an embodiment of India’s concern for the promotion and protection of human rights. Section 2(1)(d) of the PHRA 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.
Outright rejection of a recommendation:
Governments often ignore the recommendation completely or furnish a long bureaucratic discourse on how compliance with the recommendation is not in the public interest (read governmental interest).
An example of this is a failure to release the full amount of compensation. Another example is to take action on only one recommendation when there were actually dual recommendations, such as to pay compensation and take disciplinary action.
While recommendations usually obligate governments to take action within 4-6 weeks, compliance is rare within the stipulated time and sometimes action is so delayed that it becomes meaningless.
Time – bar:
Under the Act, human rights commissions cannot investigate an event if the complaint was made more than one year after the incident. Therefore, a large number of genuine grievances go unaddressed.
Bar on violations by Armed Forces:
State human rights commissions cannot call for information from the national government, which means that they are implicitly denied the power to investigate armed forces under national control. Even the powers of the National Human Rights Commission relating to violations of human rights by the armed forces have been restricted to simply seeking a report from the Government, (without being allowed to summons witnesses), and then issuing recommendations.
Non-filling of vacancies:
- Most human rights commissions are functioning with less than the prescribed five Members. This limits the capacity of commissions to deal promptly with complaints, especially as all are facing successive increases in the number of complaints.
Non-availability of funds:
- Scarcity of resources – or rather, resources not being used for human rights related functions – is another big problem.
- Large chunks of the budget of commissions go in office expenses and in maintaining their members, leaving disproportionately small amounts for other crucial areas such as research and rights awareness programmes.
Too many complaints:
- A common problem faced by most human rights commissions is that they are deluged with complaints. State human rights commissions too, are finding it difficult to address the increasing number of complaints.
Bureaucratic style of functioning:
- As human rights commissions primarily draw their staff from government departments – either on deputation or reemployment after retirement – the internal atmosphere is usually just like any other government office.
- Strict hierarchies are maintained, which often makes it difficult for complainants to obtain documents or information about the status of their case. The presence of security guards, armies of peons and office attendants creates barriers for ordinary people to personally meet officials in regard to their complaint.
If human rights commissions are to truly protect and promote human rights in India, changes must be made to enable them to become more effective institutions.