India: The National Human Rights Commission not upholding its mandate or protecting the constitution

Statement at the 45th Session of the UN Human Rights Council 

Over the last two years, we have seen in India an alarming deterioration of civic freedoms. The government is using a variety of restrictive laws - including national security and counter terrorism legislation - to attack, arrest and imprison human rights defenders, peaceful protesters and critics. The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) – brought in in December 2019 and described by the the High Commissioner as “fundamentally discriminatory in nature” – is in violation of international human rights law.

Despite this, National Human Rights Commission of India (NHRCI) has, to date, taken no concrete steps nor offered more than token rhetoric to safeguard the constitution and publicly condemn the actions of the government to curb fundamental rights.

The NHRC was initially granted an “A” status on the basis of proposed amendments at the time of its accreditation which, since passed, do not fully meet the requirements of the Paris Principles. Of the criteria to which an NHRI must adhere to in order to attain A-status, the NHRCI falls short in several. Its lack of diverse representation is of serious concern. Its appointment process is flawed and opaque. The NHRCI has yet to use its power to review recent restrictive laws, including the FCRA and CCA, and recommend amendments to the government. Despite the appointment of a focal point on HRDs, this appears to be a token gesture rather than a genuine attempt at protecting HRDs, and the position has since been downgraded still further.

The post of Director General of Investigation and staff in its investigation division are drawn solely from the police forces. This is of serious concern when police officers are the alleged perpetrators of numerous rights violations – during the outbreak of violence in the midst of protests in Delhi of January this year, Delhi police abdicated in its duty to endi the violence, and used torture and excessive force against peaceful protesters. After an investigation, the NHRC released a report which partially blamed student protestors and argued that since the students were violent, right to freedom of assembly would not apply to them.

With the amendments to the FCRA, the Indian government appears to be targeting any dissent and oversight of their draconian laws. Amnesty International India’s enforced closure this week means that India has lost one more vital voice in protecting its people from rights violations. More than ever, the NHRC must step up. We call for its immediate reform in order to adequately fulfil its mandate to protect human rights in India. We furthermore call on GANHRI’s Sub-Committee on Accreditation to consider the possibility of a Special Review of the NHRCI with a view to reassessing its A-status.

Civic space in India is rated as Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor

New report: Punished for speaking up: The ongoing use of restrictive laws to silence dissent in India