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UN May Downgrade NHRC Status

In April of this year, a group in India called the All India Network of NGOs and Individuals working with National and State Human Rights Institutions (AiNNI), issued a report critical of the functioning of the National Human Rights Commission. The report, addressed to the Sub Committee on Accreditation (SCA) of the International Co‐ordinating Committee (ICC) of NHRIs in Geneva, faulted the NHRC on grounds of its financial dependence on the Ministry of Home Affairs, political favoritism in appointments, lack of decentralization in operations, carelessness in the disposal of cases and failure to engage with human rights groups in India.

A press release that summarizes the report is available at this link
http://peopleswatch.org/dm-documents/AiNNI/Press%20release_AiNNI.pdf

The complete AiNNI report is available at this link:
http://peopleswatch.org/dm-documents/HRD/NGO%20Report_Paris%20Principles_NHRC_India.pdf

NHRC’s response is at this link:
http://peopleswatch.org/AiNNI/?p=150

K. Balagopal’s article, available at the link below, on the NHRC report on the Salwa Judum is a good case study of its work:
http://balagopal.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/SalwaJudum.pdf

The following news article says that, based mainly on the AiNNI report, the status of NHRC at the UN Human Rights Commission may be downgraded.

From The Times of India:

UN may downgrade NHRC status

NEW DELHI: When its accreditation before the UN comes up for renewal on Monday, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) for the first time in its 18-year history faces the prospect of being downgraded from a participant (A status) to an observer (B status). This follows the adoption of a more stringent peer review process since 2009 for granting five-year accreditation to an official watchdog body of each member nation on its compliance with the mandated standards called the Paris Principles.

Just how stringent that process has become was driven home by the setback suffered by NHRC’s counterpart in Nepal. The very body that had enjoyed A status when Nepal was a monarchy was downgraded to B status despite the reforms made by a fresh enactment under the current republican system.

In the review of 12 countries due to take place in Geneva over this week, NHRC may, like its Nepalese counterpart, be found to be falling short of the required level of diversity in its composition, transparency in its appointment process and autonomy in having its own staff for monitoring and investigating human rights cases.

NHRC’s bid for retaining its A status has been dealt a blow by, among other things, a detailed and scathing critique of its performance submitted by All India Network of NGOs and Individuals working with national and state human rights institutions (AINNI).

This civil society input is part of the material that will be considered by the accreditation panel for making its recommendation on NHRC’s application. The other inputs that will be taken into account are NHRC’s own compliance report as well as independent appraisals by the office of the UN human rights commissioner and the Asia Pacific forum of national human rights institutions. Interestingly, one of the grounds on which AINNI attacked NHRC was the corruption allegations against its chairman, former Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishnan. The report mentions that his resignation has been demanded not just by civil society but also a range of jurists including former NHRC chairman, J S Verma, who too is a former CJI.

Balakrishnan was spared the embarrassment of defending himself in Geneva as he had cut short his visit following bereavement in his family. In his absence, the NHRC delegation is led by one of the members of the commission, P C Sharma. The substitution of Balakrishnan by Sharma, a former police officer, made NHRC’s position even more precarious as it reinforced AINNI’s allegation that it is overrun by retired judges and government servants.

India will find itself on the defensive for never having appointed independent members to NHRC from among human rights defenders or academics. It is also vulnerable to the charge of compromising NHRC’s independence by making it excessively dependent on senior staff seconded from the government rather than having its own full time personnel.

AINNI alleged that the governmental control over NHRC was evident from its failure to protest the incarceration of internationally reputed human rights defender Binayak Sen in a sedition case. NHRC’s silence over the Sen case contrasted with the activism displayed by European Union, which went out of its way to observe the bail proceedings in the Chhattisgarh HC and Supreme Court.

If NHRC manages to retain its A status despite such failings and shortcomings, it will be not so much for the merits of its accreditation plea as for India’s economic and diplomatic clout. In any event, the rigorous accreditation process should prompt India to bring about much needed reforms in NHRC.

One of the grounds on which NHRC may be downgraded is the graft allegations against its chairman, former CJI KG Balakrishnan.