India’s human rights monitor hamstrung by rules: NHRC chief (Interview)

October 11th, 2008 - 11:41 am ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Oct 11 (IANS) As rights violations and anti-Christian attacks spread across the country, many turn to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) for redressal. But the statutory body to address the issues is hamstrung by rules that severely limit its role, admits its chairperson S. Rajendra Babu on the eve of the commission’s 15th birthday.The NHRC, which has often been reduced to a spectator as rights violations take place, cannot, for instance, act till a matter is formally brought to its notice, or if another statutory body is already looking into an issue.

“The NHRC works under various challenges. For instance, if any statutory body in a state takes note of a human rights violation there, we can’t do anything. Therefore, we haven’t been able to do anything about the anti-Christian violence in Karnataka,” Babu told IANS in an interview.

The National Commission for Minorities (NCM) and the state human rights commission have already been looking into cases of violence in Karnataka. However, the NHRC has issued a notice to the Karnataka chief secretary after an Ahmedabad-based NGO alleged that the local administration seemed to be colluding with the attackers.

In Orissa, where thousands of Christians were rendered homeless, churches attacked and at least 35 people killed after the murder of a Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader in August, the NHRC sent a team to probe the matter only after a petition by the Catholic Bishops Conference of India.

“In Madhya Pradesh where there have been similar cases of violence, the NHRC has not intervened because no one has approached us, which is necessary for us to take action,” Babu said.

The NHRC, he said, doesn’t know quite how to deal with honour killing, in which families kill children or other members for bringing dishonour.

“It is very difficult to deal with cases of honour deaths, despite them being human rights violations. That’s because the NHRC Act prescribes inquiry only of public servants,” Babu said.

Despite the inbuilt limitations, the commission, which completes 15 years of its existence Sunday, is gradually expanding its ambit and sensitising officials and the average citizen to the sanctity of human rights.

“It is my endeavour to include within the commission’s jurisdiction an inquiry into violations by public servants as well as those individuals or group of individuals who, in some way, are a public authority.”

The commission has grown manifold over the years. From 400 petitions being filed annually when it just came into being, to 100,000 now, the NHRC is doing its best to fulfil its role of upholding human rights.

Stating that there were far more incidents of rights violations in the north than in the south, Babu said the NHRC was concentrating on a project aiming at helping people benefit from government sponsored awareness programmes in the most backward districts of the country.

“Places like Chamba district in Himachal Pradesh and Ambala in Haryana have already been covered under the programme. In all the project aims to cover 28 most backward districts in the country, and we hope cover them all by March next year,” he said.

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