Human Rights Day: Can toothless tiger spare bugs, bare some teeth?

SUHAIL AHMAD

AT a time when US-based health rights group Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) raised the issue of human rights violations in Kashmir, State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) sought to probe the bed bug complaints at JK House in Delhi. It’s not that SHRC should not be looking into the complaints raised by some patients putting up at JK House, but its relative silence on the human rights abuses in the valley in the recent months raises questions on its priorities.
According to an official statement issued on Wednesday, taking cognizance of the complaints of patients and their attendants regarding the dilapidated condition of Block-C of JK House Chanakyapuri, chairman SHRC asked Member, SHRC to visit New Delhi and conduct a thorough inspection of the building and submit a report to the Commission. On the same day, wire-agency PTI quoted a report of Physicians for Human Rights expressing concern over the excessive and indiscriminate use of force against protesters by police and Central Reserve Police Force “with weapons misleadingly represented as ‘less than lethal”.
For the last nearly three decades, Jammu and Kashmir has been witnessing human rights violations on an unprecedented scale. SHRC has been far from effective in checking the violations earning it the ignominious title of ‘toothless tiger’.
The state legislative assembly has been witnessing noisy scenes with the politicians of the opposition cornering the ruling party on the role of SHRC. They shout at the top of their voices demanding end to rights abuses and more powers to SHRC. However, this concern remains limited to their tenure as opposition. Once in power, they show same apathy towards the issue. The aggressiveness suddenly turns into mute helplessness. This change of heart applies to both National Conference as well as Peoples Democratic Party during their respective tenures as the ruling party.
Under Section 12 of the Jammu and Kashmir Protection of Human Rights Act, 1997 it is mandatory for the state government to initiate action on the report of the Commission within a period of four weeks from its receipt and intimate the Commission about the action taken. The successive governments have come in for sustained criticism from the SHRC for ignoring its recommendations. In 2006, SHRC Chairman Justice (Retd) A M Mir resigned from his post citing “growing human rights violations” and “non-seriousness” of the state government on the issue as the reason behind the decision. He complained about the non-seriousness of the government about the working of the commission.
One of the impediments to SHRC’s functioning is that for executing warrants against the police officials guilty of rights violations, the commission has been dependent on police itself. The flawed enforcement mechanism renders its recommendations meaningless. The files documenting human rights violations at the hands of troopers are gathering dust. Being only a recommendatory body, the commission’s hands remain tied as it has not been provided with enough powers to force implementation.
Strengthening of SHRC has been one of the longstanding demands of human rights organizations, which has been consistently overlooked by the governments. Ideally SHRC should evoke hope among the victims seeking justice. But since in many cases the commission’s recommendations go unheeded, the victims often end up dejected thereby reducing the public trust in the body.
Though the annual reports of SHRC detailing all the cases and actions taken thereof are tabled in both the Houses of the state legislature, the legislators have failed to go beyond the blame game. The parties have used human rights issue as a mere tool to gain political mileage over their rivals. As a result, SHRC continues to be beset with impediments. If they really want to see end to human rights abuses in the state, the political parties should rise above their political interests and work towards empowering the commission.
In June earlier this year, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) chairman, Justice H L Dattu said since the Protection of Human Rights Actdoes not extend to Jammu and Kashmir, the commission has to keep its eyes closed to human rights violations in the state.
Like JK SHRC, NHRC has also earned the reputation of ‘toothless tiger’. Justice Dattu admitted that the rights watchdog needed some teeth to enforce its orders on remedial measures in cases relating to violations. “NHRC is a toothless tiger. We painstakingly investigate human rights violation cases, sometimes in remote areas, with our limited resources. The evidence collected is put to forensic judicial adjudication by its chairman and members, who are former judges. But at the end, when NHRC arrives at a finding, it can only recommend remedial measures or direct the state concerned to pay compensation,” ex-CJI Dattu told Times of India.
“We keep writing letters to the authorities concerned to implement our recommendations. But it is the sweet will of the authorities whether or not to implement NHRC recommendations. It is for Parliament to decide whether to confer NHRC with some kind of contempt powers to make authorities implement its recommendations,” he said.
Dattu’s remarks reflect the helplessness with which the human rights commissions work in India. And when it comes to Kashmir, this helplessness is only reinforced. Justice Bilal Nazki took over as head of SHRC when 1800 cases of rights violations are awaiting disposal in the Commission, which was lying defunct since 2014when its last two members completed their term. It remains to be seen if SHRC sheds its image of being a ‘toothless tiger’ under its new head. Meanwhile, SHRC is organizing a function to observe Human Rights Day today with “important dignitaries and stakeholders” expected to attend the event as per its recent press release. It would be interesting to see how the deliberations go about. suhail@risingkashmir.com

—Courtesy: RK

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