The NHRC has a dedicated focal point that prioritises complaints alleging harassment of Human Rights Defenders by or at the instance of Public Authorities. Data from the NHRC indicates that the number of such complaints have increased in the last 3 years and most complaints were received from UP, Tamil Nadu & Odisha.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), states that Human Rights are rights that Humans have, simply by the providence of existence. These are not granted by any state or authority and are universally inherent to all human beings across the world.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), adopted in 1948 by UN General Assembly stands as the foundation for all international human rights law. India is not only a signatory to UDHR , but also historically had contributed to the development & adoption of the same.
Over the 70 years of its existence, UDHR has enabled the protection & propagation of human rights across various countries. However, there have also been many instances of human right violations perpetrated by governments, groups and individuals. In spite of the efforts of various governments to take cognizance & act upon these human right violations, the incidents do occur at large. In many an instance, people suffering violations are not even aware of the rights and the due process that can secure them justice.
In such a context, Human Right Activists/Defenders (HRDs) play a key role in bringing to light Human Right Violations and fight for the respective causes. However, these actions by HRDs could potentially result in a threat from the perpetrators of the violations.
Measures are taken globally to protect the rights of such Human Rights Defenders. In India, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has taken initiatives to protect and provide justice for the Human Rights Defenders.
However, there have been growing concerns of harassment of HRDs in the country. In this context, we take a look at the measures in place in India to protect HRDs and provide them. We also look at the trend of such complaints over the last few years.
Focal Point for Human Right Defenders set up by NHRC to prioritise complaints
The UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, 1998 recognises the importance and legitimacy of the work of Human Rights defenders as well as the need for better protection. In India, the NHRC is mandated under Section 12(i) of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 to encourage the efforts of Non-governmental organizations & institutions working in the field of Human Rights.
Furthermore, in compliance with UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, NHRC has taken initiatives to promote the development of protective mechanism for Human Rights Defenders, of which even the State Human Rights Commissions are a part of.
As per one of the recommendations of Workshop on Human Rights Defenders – 2009, A Focal Point for Human Rights Defenders was set up by NHRC. The purpose is to prioritise complaints alleging harassment of Human Rights Defenders by or at the instance of Public Authorities. The Focal Point needs to ensure that the complaints of harassment of Human Rights Defenders are placed before the Commission (NHRC) and the directions are complied with on priority.
Few of the steps taken by NHRC to protect Human Rights Defenders include the following.
- Communication to Chief Secretaries of all States to create a favourable environment for functioning of Human Rights Defenders.
- Recommending prosecution against the errant public servants & compensation to the victims.
- Including a chapter on Human Right Defenders in its Annual Report as part of spreading awareness.
Uttar Pradesh followed by Tamil Nadu & Odisha account for the highest number of complaints in the past 4 years.
As per data available on the NHRC website, as on date, 62 complaints were registered in 2020 with respect to violations against Human Rights Defenders in India. The trend since 2017-18 indicates that an increasing number of complaints are registered with NHRC. As per NHRC Annual Report, 53 complaints were received for 2015-16, which nearly doubled to 98 the next year. After a fall in 2017-18, the number of cases increased year on year.
Based on the information provided in the respective annual reports, it is observed that the number of cases being disposed-off by NHRC has increased. As per the latest annual report of 2017-18, a total of 98 cases were disposed of while this was only 23 during the year 2015-16.
Responding to a question in the Lok Sabha on 20 September’2020, the government provided information about the number of complaints registered with NHRC regarding violations of Human Rights of HRDs in various states.
As per this information, Uttar Pradesh has accounted for the highest number of complaints during the period 2017-20 (till 31 August 2020) with a total of 52 such complaints. It ought to be noted that the number of complaints from U.P has increased year on year with 3, 15 & 26 in 2017-18, 2018-19 & 2019-20 respectively.
After Uttar Pradesh, highest number of complaints were received from Tamil Nadu (33 complaints) during this period, followed by Odisha with 26 complaints.
NHRC directs Chhattisgarh Government to compensate activists implicated in false cases
Monetary compensation to the victims of Human Rights Violations is one of the measures by NHRC to provide relief to the victims. Every year, the NHRC directs respective authorities to provide the required monetary compensation to victims in numerous cases. However, this has not generally been the case for complaints regarding violations against Human Rights Defenders.
In the answer provided in the Lok Sabha in September 2020, the Union Government stated that NHRC has recommended monetary relief to the tune of Rs. 13.25 lakhs in five cases involving Human Right Defenders in last three years.
A review of the various cases disposed by NHRC shows that the directions are more in the nature of closure of the cases by the authorities in the instances where the cases are false. Monetary compensation is generally recommended in case of death or severe injury to the activists.
An example is the case (Case no: 2452/22/37/2019) related to a Dalit Human Right Defender Ashok in Tirunelveli District of Tamil Nadu. As per the complaint received by NHRC on 03 September 2019, the activist was brutally murdered by a gang of Upper caste people on 12 June 2019.
The NHRC took cognizance of the complaint and as per the report submitted by the IG of Police, it was understood that the authorities have taken the necessary action and have arrested the accused. The family of the victim was given a compensation of Rs. 4.25 lakhs through the District Collector.
However, in relation to other cases like unlawful detention, false cases, arrests etc , there is not much evidence of any monetary compensation recommended by the NHRC.
In a one-of-its kind action so far, the NHRC has this year directed the government of Chhattisgarh to pay compensation to 13 activists for filing false cases against them.
The 13 activists include 6 activists of a fact-finding mission in Bastar district, to understand the living conditions of Tribals. Chhattisgarh police filed a FIR on 05 November 2016 under various sections of IPC, Arms Act, Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) for an alleged murder, based on a false complaint. Based on a Supreme Court directions, the charges were dropped in 2019 because of no substantial evidence.
Another case was filed in 2016, on a team of activists & lawyers from Telangana in Bastar, Chhattisgarh regarding an incident of burning effigies. Even they were later acquitted of all the charges.
Responding to a complaint (667/33/20/2016), the NHRC on 13 February 2020, concluded that the Chhattisgarh government ought to pay a monetary compensation to the activists & lawyers in both these cases in view of the mental trauma & agony caused due to the false implication in the cases.
However, it has been reported that the activists were not given any information from the government regarding this order till August. The NHRC taking cognizance of the mental trauma and other aspects regarding false cases on the activists is a welcome step as the earlier precedence was more about recommending compensation for loss of life or severely hurt. Recommending such compensation could dissuade the authorities from filing false cases. However, a lot of this depends on governments heeding to the directions of the NHRC.
The NHRC needs to take more proactive action in dealing with such complaints to prevent authorities from implicating HRDs in false cases. The monetary compensation for false charges could be a way forward in that direction.
Featured Image: NHRC on Human Rights Defenders