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Top UN body tells India: Stop political, government interference in National Human Rights Commission

Ex-chief justice, Supreme Court, current chairman
NHRC HL Dattu with Modi
By Our Representative
An authoritative report to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) by OHCHR’s affiliate, Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutes (GANHRI), has created flutter by recommending that accreditation to India’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) should be deferred till November 2017.
Prepared by GANHRI’s Sub-Committee on Accreditation (SCA), has particularly taken strong exception to politicians and government functionaries as NHRC members, even as referring to the fact that the Chairperson of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes is a Member of Parliament (MP), and “has voting rights in the full statutory commission.”
The reference here is to PL Punia, member of the Lok Sabha from 2009 to 2014 representing Barabanki Lok Sabha constituency. A Dalit leader of the Congress, as chairperson of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes he sits ex-officio on NHRC.
In November last year, a senior BJP leader, former Rajya Sabha member Avinash Rai Khanna, was selected to join as NHRC member. Following national furor over the move, Khanna re-joined BJP and took over as national vice-president, the post he had surrendered in the first week of November join NHRC.
Quoting UN documents, which require a national human rights institute to be “independent from government in its structure, composition, decision-making and method of operation”, the report notes, it must be constituted and empowered to consider and determine the strategic priorities and activities of NHRC “based solely on its determination of the human rights priorities in the country, free from political interference.”
“Government representatives and MPs should not be members of, nor participate in, the decision-making organs of an NHRI”, the report states, adding, their membership of, and participation in, the decision-making body of NHRC has “the potential to impact on the real and perceived independence”.
The report insists, NHRC’s legislation should clearly indicate that government functionaries and politicians “participate only in an advisory capacity”, adding, in order to further promote independence in decision-making, and avoid conflicts of interest, NHRC’s “rules of procedure should establish practices to ensure that such persons are unable to inappropriately influence decision-making.”
The report particularly takes exception to Section 11 of the NHRC Act, which requires that the Central Government to appoint a civil servant with the rank of secretary to take the role of Secretary General of NHRC, and a police officer of the rank of Director General of Police or above to take the post of Director (Investigations).
The report underlines, “The practice of having police officers and former police officers involved in the investigation of human rights violations, particularly in circumstances where the alleged perpetrators are the police. It noted that this practice has adverse implications for the actual and perceived independence of the NHRC.”
Insisting that there should be “broad consultation and/ or participation in the application, screening, selection and appointment process”, the report bemoans, for the last five years, the position of secretary-general of NHRC “has been held by a variety of people and has been vacant for a substantial period of time.”
"As concerns the Director General (Investigation) and the practice of using former police officers to investigate complaints”, the report says, adding, “For victims of abuses by police, there is a real or perceived conflict of interest, and this may impact the ability of such persons to access human rights justice.”
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Download full report HERE

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