New Delhi: Citing National Human Rights Commission’s (NHRC) “continued silence” on the issue of “encounter killings targeting minorities in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana” as well as on the report he had authored on the critical question of those declared as foreigners in Assam by the Office of the State Coordinator of National Registration (NRC), civil rights activist Harsh Mander has resigned from the post of NHRC special monitor.
In a letter to NHRC chairperson Justice (Retd.) H.L. Dattu, the former Indian Administrative Service officer who took to activism to work with the homeless, street children and survivors of mass violence and hunger, recalled how he had been invited “to act as a special monitor of the NHRC on the issues of minorities.”
“Given the very difficult situation faced by minorities, and my faith in the mandate of the NHRC in a democracy, I was happy to accept your kind invitation. I believe that human rights defenders should try their best to strengthen the NHRC when the NHRC seeks such support,” he wrote explaining why he took up the offer.
Providing an insight into his past work on the issue of minorities and communal violence, Mander further wrote that “in the past, in the context of the 2002 Gujarat massacre, and for a number of human rights issues related to mental hospitals, bonded labour, right to food and others,” he had “supported the NHRC in many capacities, and therefore was happy to accept the invitation as special monitor.”
NHRC never reached out to Mander on issues of minorities and communal violence
He also referred to how during his briefing about this role along with another rights activist Maja Daruwala, he was told that the NHRC would from time to time seek his services to look into matters concerning the rights of minorities and communal violence. However, Mander lamented that “ever since my appointment, the NHRC has not reached out to me even once on these issues.”
Mander also stated that during this briefing, he and Daruwala had also stated that they would accept this responsibility only if they could also take the initiative to raise questions of concern with the NHRC within their mandate, and if the NHRC felt fit, they could look into these issues. This, he said, was accepted.
However, he said, when he wrote to the NHRC about encounter killings targeting minorities in UP and Haryana, despite his many reminders, there was no response from the NHRC about his proposal to look into these matters.
Mander raises concern around condition of persons in Assam detention camps
Mander, who is also director of the Centre for Equity Studies and a Special Commissioner to the Supreme Court of India in the Right to Food case, also raised the issue of “condition of persons deemed to be foreigners in Assam in detention camps” with Justice Dattu in his resignation letter.
“Hereafter several reminders, the NHRC was kind enough to depute me to a mission to the detention centres in Assam of persons deemed to be ‘foreigners’. Two officers of the NHRC were deputed to accompany me,” he wrote, adding that “after the visit, I asked the officers about working on a joint report with them. They replied that since I was the expert, I should write the report independently.”
Mander claims no action was taken on his report on detention camps, NHRC accepted the report by its own officers who submitted it ‘independently of him’.
However, Mander expressed shock that while he was “working on the report”, he received a letter from NHRC that the two NHRC officers had independently of him submitted a report, the NHRC had considered the report, and this was sent for action to the Central and state government.
“I still worked hard on a carefully researched report, with clear recommendations based on a careful study of national and international law about the treatment of persons deemed aliens and stateless persons. After the submission of my report, I have sent several reminders seeking details of action taken by the NHRC on my report, but I have received no answer.”
‘Extreme urgency from human rights perspective in Assam’
Reacting to these developments, Mander wrote that “in the light of the impending conclusion of the NRC process in Assam, this is a matter of extreme urgency from a human rights perspective. There is the possibility of tens of thousands, maybe even lakhs of Assam residents being declared foreigners. Their fate is a human rights concern of the highest importance at this time.”
However, in view of the continued silence of the NHRC, both in terms of approaching him for investigation or a mission on any human rights concerns of minorities and communal violence or on the report he authored on the critical question of persons declared foreigners in Assam, Mander said he is resigning so that he could with “greater freedom continue to pursue these concerns, including those that I raised with the NHRC of encounter killings targeting minorities in UP and Haryana, and of the legal treatment of persons deemed to be foreigners, in my capacity as an independent human rights defender.”