Monday, March 18, 2013

People's tribunal wants Gujarat human rights commission to acquire complete autonomy from state

By Our Representative
The Independent People’s Tribunal (IPT), inquiring into on the functioning of the Gujarat State Human Rights Commission (GHRC), has recommended that the GHRC should have its own investigative wing composed by personnel independent from the security forces and not from the same police force against which cases abound. Based on queries sent to the GHRC and the latter's reply, the report underlines, "The state of Gujarat has witnessed large number of human rights violations over the past few decades and as the protector and safeguards The GHRC has completely failed to discharge its duty towards the people, was the common echo during the meet. In the neo-liberal economic era the rights have been grossly violated and the victims have not been protected."
Part of the Delhi-based Human Rights Legal Network's (HRLN's) effort to carry out a nationwide comparative study and review of the functioning of national and state human rights commissions,  engaging lawyers, judges, legal activists, academicians, civil society groups and citizens at large, the report says, the exercise has been carried out "in the face of increasing number of human rights violations and minimal engagement with the redressal mechanism" in Gujarat. This led to the HRLN and civil society organizations to set up IPT to look into the functioning of the GHRC.
A consultation with complainants took place on March 17 in Ahmedabad before a panel comprising eminent persons Girish Patel, senior lawyer, Gujarat High Court; Justice H Suresh, retired Bombay High Court Judge; Prof J S Bandukwala, President, People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Gujarat; Meera Velayudhan, senior policy analyst, Centre for Environment and Social Concerns; and Urvish Kothari, senior journalist.
Over 35 complainants deposed and 18 complaints submitted to the jury, many of them women, tribals and dalits from several districts. "They narrated their complaints, apathy of the state police and negligence of other government officials, as well as at times systemic harassment, followed by near apathy of the GHRC", the report says, adding, "The cases were presented by victims of Dalit atrocities, violence against women and minors, displacement, police atrocities and other poor and marginalized of Gujarat where the commission has not intervened effectively to serve justice despite grave violation.
The panel, after hearing testimonies, made following observations:
1. Understandably most of the complaints to the commission are against the police both for the acts of omission and commission and it is here that the GHRC fails to meet the expectation of the people and the spirit of the Protection of Human Rights Act.
2. The human rights violation in Gujarat are not only specific to failure of state mechanism but also are socio-cultural in nature, as is in the case of its treatment of minorities and disadvantaged groups. While state government denies, manual scavenging continues, atrocities against Dalits, Muslims abound, and women face uphill task both within the family and social set up as well from the state redressal mechanism. More dismissal is the state approach, both of police as well as apathy of GHRC in addressing the issue of abuse of minors, especially in growing incidents of sexual abuse of minor girls as was as highlighted in a specific case during the IPT hearing.
3. The Protection of Human Rights Act should be modified in order to make the Gujarat Human Rights Commission an effective, autonomous, independent institution. The act should also allow for more power to the commission to prosecute alleged perpetrators and take punitive action. Members should be appointed regularly and the number of members in the commission should be increased and should not be construed only as political appointments, but one that would see representation from civil rights groups and experts known to be proficient in addressing the issues of human rights implementation.
4. The Gujarat Human Rights Commission should have its own investigative wing composed by personnel independent from the security forces and not from the same police force against which cases abound. It should have a special investigative team (SIT) for the investigation of cases pertaining to SC/ST and women.
5. Irrespective of the criminal proceedings the commission should look into the aspect of human rights violation of the victim.
6. While the district session court double up as Human Rights Court, they rarely function so and there is very little awareness about its function.
7. Victims should reapply to the GHRC if relief has not come in and take recourse to the High Courts and Supreme Court in case of human rights commission inaction.
8. GHRC can press police to enforce court orders and also to assign unbiased officials where police force itself is compromised or if members of the force are guilty of human rights violations. Victims must ask the HRC to do so.
9. GSHRC should be accessible to all the marginalized and the poor.
10. Inquiry should be speedy and reports should be in public domain.
11. The commission should hold human rights training camps and group hearings in sensitive areas thereby not being static in capital but be available to the people at the grassroots. This will serve an encouragement to the people and caution to the state forces thereby increasing the respect for the rule of law and people’s faith in the commission. As an organization that can only give direction its strength lies in peoples backing of it as a constitutional structure important to democracy.
Harsh Dobhal, director of HRLN, in his remarks explained the objective of such an exercise at a time when India was projecting its image abroad as the largest democracy committed to protection of human rights. Gagan Sethi, managing trustee of Jan Vikas and senior advocate Girish Patel, recalling that that civil rights bodies once campaigned for the formation of GHRC, adding they are now dismayed by the performance of the GHRC, calling for systemic improvements for improved functioning.
Pointing out that the IPT in Gujarat was held as a part of nationwide exercise being carried in every state, which also includes reviewing the functioning of the NHRC, the report -- prepared by Ayesha Khan of IPT secretariat, Mathew Joseph of HRLN, Delhi, and Rohit Prajapati of the Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti -- said, the scrutiny of GHRC suggests that "there is no transparency" in the appointment of its functionaries, and the "commission has become bureaucratic enclave favouring the government and no civil society members are a part of it." It adds, "The silence of the commission in grave instances of human rights emerged to forefront before the tribunal. The commission is either knowingly silent or the pleas are falling on deaf ears."

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