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Time to give Human Rights Commissions more teeth

By Pravin

Protest against violation of human rights in Kashmir
At a time when the rate of custodial deaths are increasing in the country, the Supreme Court raised question over role of the Human Right Commissions. According to the court, these Commissions neither have penal enforcement power nor they are able to protect rights of the people.

Lashing out at Human Rights Commissions, the apex court said they have failed to protect the people and have merely become post-retirement posts for judges. The court said the retired judges appointed to head such commissions are provided every comfort, but they are powerless to render any "real service" to human rights.

This statement came after Abhishek Manu Singhvi, the amicus curiae in the hearing of a PIL seeking a crackdown on increasing custodial death cases. He submitted a shocking report saying 15, 232 custodial death were reported in India since 2007.

What are Human Rights Commissions?

Human Rights Commission is a body which investigate, promote or protect human rights. A number of Human Rights Commission including National Human Righs Commission (NHRC) have been established for the promotion and protection of the citizens' human rights.

Do Human Rights Commissions lack teeth?

The increasing number of custodial deaths in the country show that the role of Human Rights Commissions have been confined merely on paper. Overall they have been proved ineffective as they lack enforcement and power. While hearing the PIL, the court raised a noteworthy question, |"What purpose do the Human Right Commissions serve? Though Human Right Commissions have been established in many parts of the country but it has not solved the purpose. There are number of instances of violation of human rights around the country but these Commissions have done a little in this regard.

The role of Human Rights Commissions is reduced to conducting conventional judicial proceedings. In this procedure many people including poor, spend huge amount on lawyers in the hope of getting justice. Many times the Commissions take years to act on cases and some of which are dropped by Commissions citing helplessness or inability to resolve. Speedy action on human rights violations cases and the punishment of violators has been rare.

15, 232 custodial death were reported in India since 2007

According to a report by the Institute of Correctional Administration in Punjab, up to 50% of police officers in the country have used physical or mental abuse on prisoners. Instances of torture, such as through a lack of sanitation, space, or water are prevailing everywhere but such Commisison have done nothing to improve the situation.

Singhvi also said the second-highest number of human rights cases (7,988 in 2012) were reported from Delhi still the city not have its own human rights commission.

The report presented by Singhvi also said that the State like Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Tripura and Nagaland are grappling with problems like insurgency, ethnic violence -still they did not have human rights commissions.

Human Rights Commissions and controversies

The stand of National Human Rights Commission of India (NHRC), in the Shivani murder case, opened the organisation up to questioning over the usefulness of human rights commissions set up by the Government at the national and State levels. The NHRC turned down a plea for protection made by the family of senior IPS officer R.K.Sharma, the accused in the case, saying, "there was no occasion for [it] to look into the matter since it was a case involving the family of an absconder".

In mid-2011, the chairman of the NHRC, ex-Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan came under a cloud for allegedly owning assets disproportionate to his income.

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