How is it possible that after having its membership in the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions deferred and being at the bottom of every human rights index, the National Human Rights Commission of India managed to find a collaborator in Australia-based Asia Pacific Forum to host the Biennial Conference of National Human Rights Institutions?
THE National Human Rights Commission of India (NHRCI) is set to host the Biennial Conference of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) of Asia Pacificon September 20–21, 2023.
The conference is being organised in collaboration with the Australia-based Asia Pacific Forum (APF).
The President of India is scheduled to address the conference.
“On 21st September, 2023, the Biennial Conference will mark the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UNDHR). It will also celebrate 30 years of National Human Rights Institutions and the Paris Principles, with a sub-theme on the environment and climate change,” apress release of the NHRCI states.
At present, the NHRCI surprisingly enjoys‘A’ status at the GANHRI. This, in spite of the same recommendations (of deferral on its re-accreditation) in 2017. The process of re-accreditation is done every five years.
Apart from echoing the SCA’s critique, the joint letter states, “Along with the NHRCI’s less than satisfactory composition, appointment procedure, pluralism and non-partisan representation, [there is also the issue of] its complete silence on grave issues of human rights violations in the country.
In a joint letter, several international organisations have written to the APF expressing concerns regarding the Asia–Pacific Forum Conference to be hosted by the NHRCI in September 2023.
“The silence including but not limited to— the attacks faced by religious and caste minorities, the forced evictions and demolitions undertaken with complete impunity, the consistent persecution of human rights defenders, the demonisation of critical journalists by Indian authorities and government-aligned media outlets, the repression of dissent, freedom of expression, and peaceful assembly, and the arbitrary detentions, travel restrictions and silencing faced by human rights defenders, activists and civilians in Kashmir has been deeply disappointing.
“In recent months, Manipur in the Northeast of the country has seen devastating communal violence and attacks against the state’s minority Kuki tribe.
“The lack of intervention by the NHRCI, even in the face of grave and disturbing allegations of sexual and gender-based violence against women [of] these tribes, has aided the impunity with which rampant human rights violations by the dominant Hindu Meitei community are being carried out in Manipur.
“After the Supreme Court of India took suo motu cognisance of the issue, the NHRCI reluctantly sent a notice seeking a response from the government of Manipur on 24 July 2023 after a video of two Kuki women beingparaded naked by a mob of Hindu Meitei men surfaced two and a half months after the violence began in Manipur causing public outrage.”
The letter further states, “Given these concerns regarding the functioning of India’s foremost human rights commission, we are surprised to learn that it has been chosen as the host for the prestigious Asia–Pacific conference.
“While India plays an important geopolitical role in the Asia–Pacific region, especially within South Asia, it is also crucial that the [National Human Rights Institutions] NHRIs in the region hold it accountable for its lack of action regarding violations of human rights and essential freedoms, rather than providing it an opportunity to whitewash its disregard and non-compliance with international human rights standards.”
APF secretariat reply— an exercise in dissimulation
Downplaying the importance of six major international human rights organisations, the APF mediarelease is mischievously titled, “APF response to SAHR statement”. The release is masterly obfuscation and bears quoting in full.
The release states “The APF acknowledges the statement dated September 5, 2023 by SAHR and a joint communication dated September 8 by international NGOs concerning the NHRCI hosting the 28th Annual General Meeting and Conference of the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions (APF).
“It is standard practice that APF members democratically vote on applications from our members to host the APF Annual General Meeting and Biennial Conference.
“As the Chairperson of SAHR and a number of office holders have held senior appointments in NHRIs in South Asia, they would be aware of this practice.
“On September 9, 2020, APF members voted to accept the invitation from the NHRCI to hold the 2021 APF Annual General Meeting and Conference in India.
“Due to continuing Covid restrictions, the implementation of this decision has been deferred for the last two years, which has resulted in the NHRCI hosting the annual general meeting this year.
The letter further states, “Given these concerns regarding the functioning of India’s foremost human rights commission, we are surprised to learn that it has been chosen as the host for the prestigious Asia–Pacific conference.”
“I hope you will understand these circumstances.”
It conveniently forgets to mention that the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) which has ‘A’ status in the GANHRI had also made a bid to hold the APF biennial conference in Seoul this year. There was no vote.
It is reliably learnt that the NHRCK did not press their bid in the face of the NHRCI’s insistence and the APF secretariat’s apparent tilt towards the NHRCI’s request.
Interestingly, the chairperson of the APF presently is the chair of the NHRCK. He has been a prominent human rights lawyer.
The appointment of the NHRCI chairperson Arun Mishra wasopposed by all credible human rights activists in India.
It is not clear whether the APF secretariat at this stage was aware of the deferral of the NHRCI’s ‘A’ status.
The APF also disingenuously sidesteps all the substantive human rights issues raised in the joint letter of the six international human rights organisations!
APF secretariat forgetfulness
The AFP secretariat has a lapse in memory regarding the suspension of Fiji Human Rights Commission (FHRC) from the International Co-coordinating Committee in 2007 following areview which alleged it lacked credibility and independence.
The issues regarding FHRC mirrored the SCA’s deferral of the NHRCI from ‘A’ status.
In actual fact, the then FHRC played a big role in tempering the excesses of the then military junta. In India, the NHRCI for a decade and more has bent over backwards not to ruffle any feathers in the security establishment!
Indian NGOs boycott NHRCI meet
In the meanwhile, the NHRCI, desperately seeking to drum up local human rights NGO support, invited activists and NGOs from across India to a meeting on September 5, 2023.
One is informed that a humongous number of seven individuals and NGOs attended the meeting!
Climate change? Look who’s talking
We are informed, “[T]he Biennial Conference also aims to provide an opportunity for sharing good practices to support communities to respond to human rights impacted by climate change.”
The appointment of the NHRCI chairperson Arun Mishra was opposed by all credible human rights activists in India.
It is hoped that the APF discusses the issue of the island Republic ofTuvalu that is literally being swallowed under the sea, thanks to rampant usage of fossil fuels by two big economies in the Pacific inparticular.
Hopefully, the meeting will deign to discuss thereckless coal mining in Australia by the Indian Adani conglomerate? Aided andabetted by the Australian and Indian government institutions!
Human rights of workers! In search of the holy grail!
As per the APF, “A separate session on ‘Business and Human Rights’ will also be held in partnership with the UNDP, which will be attended by representatives of business and industry, workers organisations and associations, various ministries, departments, statutory organisations, UN agencies, human rights defenders, NGOs, etc.
“In this session, issues related with the human rights of workers in various businesses and professions will be discussed.”
Perhaps they will find the time to comment on the completeerosion of labour rights in India.
Has the NHRCI done anything about the massive deforestation in the Andaman and Nicobar islands?
A statement released by the International Trade Union Confederation states, “The legal changes being pushed by the government include: Making it easier for employers to impose mass retrenchment of workers; introducing new obstacles to collective bargaining; excluding workers in smaller enterprises from vital protections, including on occupational health and safety; opening the way for privatisation of social security; and, ‘streamlining’ labour laws in a way that benefits employers at the expense of workers.”
As for the UNDP in India, it is perennially missing in action when it comes to human rights concerns.
I shall keep my powder dry for a longer article at a later date.