New Delhi: Close to 2,000 civil society organisations and individuals have signed a statement condemning the fact that the Asia Pacific Forum has granted the National Human Rights Commission of India permission to host its next conference in Delhi despite the fact that a global alliance of human rights organisations has deferred its accreditation.
In May, reports had noted that the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions had deferred the NHRC’s accreditation for the second time since it was first recognised by the international body in 1999, citing lack of diversity in staff and leadership, political interference in appointments, police officers’ involvement in investigations of human rights violations, and other reasons.
“The NHRC India after March 2023, did not have the courage to call for a meeting with civil society members to drawn up strategies in partnership with us and has instead used the APF conference to politicise the issue on the sidelines,” the note by the 1,877 civil society organisations and individuals says.
Hosting the 28th bi-annual APF conference at New Delhi on September 20-21 will give the NHRC a fig leaf of international legitimacy to cover up its dismal performance, the organisations said.
In their detailed press release the organisations cite the fact that anti-terror laws such as the Unlawful Activities (Protection) Act have been used to target and silence human rights defenders, lawyers, activists and journalists, most prominently in the Elgar Parishad case.
The release also noted the NHRC’s role in Manipur.
“Inspite of this shocking state of affairs which threatened human rights, it was bound to protect, the NHRC was silent. The NHRC was roused from its slumber to issue notice to the state of Manipur, only after the Supreme Court initiated suo motu action on the complaint of sexual violence against members of the Kuki Zo community. In one of the most serious human rights challenges in recent years which has dimensions of ethnic cleansing, sexual crimes and even possibly crimes against humanity, the response of the NHRC (belated and weak) has been nothing short of an abdication of its constitutional and legal responsibility.”
Among other situations when it has been silent are when “the state has deployed bulldozers to destroy the homes of Muslim minorities as well as dissenters in total violation of the rule of law” in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi and Haryana, they said.
The NHRC has also been silent with respect to the rise in vigilante crimes against the Muslim minority happening with “a sickening regularity throughout India,” the organisations further said, noting also its silence when human rights defenders like Teesta Setalvad and journalists like Khurram Parvez were arrested.
“When NHRC’s own former Special Monitor Mr. Harsh Mandar was targeted by the government, the NHRC has decided to remain a silent spectator,” it said.
Damningly, it added, “Not in a single case related to journalists which were before the High Courts or the Supreme Court did the NHRC ever in the recent past deemed it pertinent to follow APF’s own action plan for protection of Human Rights Defenders of March 2022. The instances can be multiplied, but the simple point is that the NHRC is a silent spectator to the wilful destruction of both human rights and the rule of law in India today.”
The APF conference will be an opportunity to further whitewash the sins of omission of the NHRC on a global stage, the organisation said.
“India is the only country globally which has over 170 national and state thematic human rights institutions and we in civil society are deeply concerned that the hosting of this conference will provide legitimacy to an institution which sees itself as wanting to be a show piece to the external world rather than being the soul of protecting human rights in India,” they observed.
They added that the NHRC should meet the mandate conferred by the Protection of Human Rights Act as well as the Paris principles. “We also call upon APF and all chairperson members of NHRIs to see through the politicization of this APF conference by one of your own members whose track record has been extremely poor,” it said, adding that an indicator of its poor track record is the fact that the NHRC has functioned without filling in three key positions for the past nine months.
The release is signed by Henri Tiphagne, National Working Secretary of the All India Network of NGOs and Individuals working with National and State Human Rights Institutions (AiNNI).