South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), a regional network of human rights defenders, is outraged to learn that the Asia Pacific Forum (APF) has allowed the National Human Rights Commission of India (NHRCI) to host its next conference in New Delhi on 20 and 21 September 2023. SAHR learns, furthermore, that the APF has announced that the Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi will inaugurate the APF conference in New Delhi. On behalf of the civil society members of the South Asian region committed to the promotion and protection of human rights at the national and regional level, SAHR perceives that this decision of the APF will defeat the purpose as well as the past and future achievements it has so far been working for.
SAHR learns that the NHRCI is the only such institution globally which comprises a Full Commission now comprising 6 full-time members and 6 deemed members (Ex-officio chairpersons of the National Commission for Women, National Commission for Minorities, National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, National Commission for Scheduled Castes, National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights and the National Commission for Backward Classes). SAHR believes that it has on many occasions failed to do mandated duties as an independent institution adhered to the Paris Principles. Recently, shockingly the NHRCI remained a mute spectator to the egregious violent events that unfurled in Manipur since 3 May 2023 with limited response to a statement of the Chief Justice of India on 24 July 2023 – “If law and order machinery cannot protect people what happens to citizens?’’ It is of particular alarm that the NHRI did not respond even though some of the members had received written complaints about the brutal violations happening in Manipur.
The NHRCI has not been able to be accredited with an ’A’ grade status to date. According to the most recent recommendation of the Sub-Committee on Accreditation (SCA) of Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI) of March 2023, re-accreditation application of the NHRC will be deferred for 12 months (or two sessions). Although the SCA welcomes the amendment of the Protection of the Human Rights Act of 1993 to include the requirement under Section 3 (2) (d) that three members of the NHRC have knowledge of or practical experience in human rights, at least of one of whom must be a woman, it notes that these amendments do not adequately address its recommendations from the November 2017 accreditation review. So far, in the NHRCI, a member of the Intelligence Bureau (Former director of IB) serves as a member and there is no woman member.
In view of the above SAHR queries whether the NHRCI is the suitable institution to host the next APF conference. Further, SAHR raises concern of whether the task of NHRIs will inevitably be politicized through this decision of the APF – the regional coalition of the NHRIs and accelerate the backsliding of such human rights institutions overall. SAHR strongly calls upon the APF to reconsider this decision of allowing the NHRCI to host this event, which is significant to upholding human rights in the regions of Asia and the Pacific.
On behalf of the members of South Asians for Human Rights
Dr. P. Saravanamuttu