Civil Society condemn National Human Rights Commission for hosting the 28th Biannual APF Conference on 20-21 September 2023

Oct 01, 2023
By Initiated by All India Network of NGOs and Individuals working with National and State Human Rights Institutions

We the undersigned members of Indian civil society strongly condemn the Asia Pacific Forum (APF) for acceding to  the National Human Rights Commission of India (NHRC) request to host its next conference in New Delhi on 20th and 21st September 2023. This is of particular interest to us because the Indian NHRC has just recently in March 2023 been deferred its Acceleration by the Sub Committee of Accreditation of Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI). The commission 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.

This is deeply troubling as the hosting of this prestigious conference by the NHRC will not aid the important cause of human rights protection in India but only provide the NHRC a fig leaf of international legitimacy to cover up its dismal performance. This is all the more disappointing as the NHRC is the premier human rights institution not only in India but should serve as a model to the global south.

The NHRC has been silent with respect to the situation of human rights defenders in India.  Anti-terror laws such as the UAPA have been used to target and silence human rights defenders, lawyers, activists and journalists, most prominently in case known as the Bhima Koregoan-16.  The NHRC which has paid lip service to the key role of human rights defenders with the Chairman calling them the ‘eyes and ears’ of the system, has done nothing to ensure that human rights defenders are not imprisoned for exercising their right to speech and expression.

Most recently in Manipur, the situation has involved targeting attacks against members of one ethnic community, sexual violence perpetrated against members of the same ethnic community as well as the destruction of churches by armed vigilante groups. The Manipur state government failed in performing its basic constitutional responsibility of ensuring security of life and liberty to all citizens without discrimination. 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.

The NHRC has entirely abdicated its responsibility as an independent institution which will call out human rights violations by the state. It has been silent 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. These demolitions of homes which have been carried out by state authorities (belonging to the ruling party) in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi and Haryana have degraded India’s reputation as a rule of law society Demolitions as  arbitrary actions, meant to inflict collective punishment on a community violate the mandate by which the NHRC is bound namely the ‘protection of the rights relating to life, liberty, equality and dignity of the individual guaranteed by the Constitution or embodied in the International Covenants and enforceable by courts in India’

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. It has stood silent in the face of hate speech which vilifies, intimidates, ostracizes and demeans the minority community, calls for economic boycott of the community and even calls for genocide of the community. There has not been a single statement of the NRHC regarding the sexual harassment complaints by female wrestlers against a member of parliament belonging to the ruling party. Silence when Human Rights Defender like Teesta Setalvad was incarnated when Kurram Parvesh Jammu and Kashmir has been incarnated for almost two years, when NHRC’s own former special monitor Mr. Harsh Mandar was targeted by the government the Indian NHRC has decided to remain a silent spectator not in a single case related to Journalist and Defenders which were before the High courts or supreme court did the NHRC ever in the recent past deemed pertinent to follow APFs own action plan for protection of Human rights defenders. 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 self-chosen role of silent spectator to human rights violations by the state has meant that the functions of the NHRC under the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 are sadly under utilized. The NHRC in the past has been an intervenor before the Supreme Court in key cases of human rights violations in the Gujarat riots of 2002.  However today, in any issue of human rights violations which have come before the Supreme Court with important ramifications, be it the abrogation of Article 370, marriage equality, hate speech or Manipur the NHRC has chosen to maintain an amoral and indeed unconstitutional silence.

We are concerned that the hosting of the APF conference will be an opportunity to further white wash the sins of omission of the NHRC on a global stage. It’s important that the world understand that to fulfil the G-20 rhetoric of being the ‘mother of democracy’ India has to ensure that the human rights guaranteed by the Indian Constitution and the ICCPR and the ICESCR become the patrimony of every citizen.  To do that it is of crucial importance that the NHRC take its mandate seriously as an institution which ensures accountability of the state to Part III of the Indian Constitution. 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 sole of protecting human rights in India.

Since this basic condition of fulfilling the mandate conferred by the Protection of Human Rights Act as well as the Paris principles have not been met by the NHRC, civil society organisations condemn the very holding of the APF Conference in India. We also call upon APF and all chairperson members of NHRIs to see through the politization of a APF conference by one of your own members whose track record has been extremely poor functioning even without three of its members for past almost 9 months now to prevail upon the NHRC to begin to address some of the key human rights concerns highlighted in this letter.