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National Human Rights Commission

Context:

The Central Government recently appointed seven people, including a former Delhi police commissioner, as ‘special monitors’ of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).

Relevance:

GS II: Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)
  2. Functions and Powers of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)

National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)

Establishment and Legal Basis:

  • NHRC is a statutory body established on October 12, 1993, under the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993.

Watchdog of Human Rights:

  • NHRC serves as the watchdog of human rights in India, overseeing the protection and promotion of human rights across the country.

Conformity with Paris Principles:

  • NHRC’s establishment aligns with the Paris Principles (1991), which were adopted at the first international workshop on national institutions for the protection of human rights.

Objectives:

NHRC has several key objectives, including:

  • Strengthening institutional arrangements for addressing human rights issues comprehensively and effectively.
  • Investigating allegations of human rights violations independently of the government, thus emphasizing the government’s commitment to safeguarding human rights.
Composition:
  • NHRC consists of a chairperson and eight other members.
  • The chairperson of NHRC is a retired Chief Justice of India.
  • Among the eight members, four are full-time members, while the other four are deemed members.
  • Full-time members include a retired Judge of the Supreme Court, a retired Chief Justice of a High Court, and two members selected for their experience and knowledge of human rights.
  • Deemed members are the chairpersons of the National Commission for Minorities, the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, and the National Commission for Women.
Appointment Process:

The chairperson and members are appointed by the President of India based on the recommendations of a six-member committee. This committee comprises:

  • Prime Minister (as the head)
  • Speaker of the Lok Sabha
  • Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha
  • Leaders of the Opposition in both the Houses of Parliament
  • Union Home Minister

Functions and Powers of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)

Functions:
  • Complaint Investigation: NHRC can inquire into complaints of human rights violations, either on its own initiative or through petitions filed by victims or their representatives. These complaints may involve violations by public servants or negligence in preventing such violations.
  • Intervention in Court Proceedings: The Commission has the authority to intervene in any legal proceedings related to human rights violations pending before a court, subject to the approval of the respective court.
  • Visitations and Recommendations: NHRC can conduct visits to correctional facilities and institutions under state government control where individuals are detained or housed for purposes of treatment, reformation, or protection. During these visits, it examines the living conditions of inmates and offers recommendations for improvement.
  • Human Rights Education: NHRC plays a role in spreading human rights literacy among various segments of society, promoting awareness and understanding of human rights principles.
  • International Treaties and Instruments: The Commission is responsible for studying international treaties and other instruments related to human rights and making recommendations for their effective implementation in India.
Powers:
  • Civil Court Powers: While investigating complaints, NHRC possesses the same powers as a civil court trying a suit under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908. This includes the authority to summon and enforce the attendance of witnesses and examine them under oath.
  • Compensation: NHRC can grant compensation to victims of police brutality or other forms of human rights violations, providing redress for the harm suffered.
  • Legal Action: When necessary, NHRC has the authority to approach the Supreme Court or the High Court to enforce human rights protections and safeguard the rights of individuals or groups.
  • Suo Motu Cognizance: NHRC can take “suo motu” cognizance of human rights violations, meaning it can initiate investigations and proceedings on its own accord, even without a formal complaint being filed.

February 2024
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