Human Rights Day: Time to lend teeth to SHRC

Human rights are under siege around the world. This was the terse message from António Guterres, UN Secretary-General, on the Human Rights Day being observed today across the world.

For the past nearly three decades, Jammu and Kashmir has been witnessing human rights violations on an unprecedented scale. The State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) has been far from effective in checking the violations earning it the ignominious title of ‘toothless tiger’.

In the past, 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 aggression suddenly turns into mute helplessness.

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.

Recently, SHRC Chairperson, Justice (Retd) Bilal Ahmad Nazki revealed that about five lakh applications of widows, physically challenged and destitute persons, seeking monthly pension of Rs 1000, under various schemes, are pending with the government.

“From 2009 till date, no application has been sanctioned and no pension has been granted to such persons,” Justice Nazki said at a function held at Central University of Kashmir.

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. Being only a recommending body, the commission’s hands remain tied as it has not been provided with enough powers to force implementation.

As António Guterres rightly commented, human rights are under siege around the world. There are very few countries in the world today which are clean in terms of the human rights violations. Ironically, the country which is most vocal about the rights abuses has the worst record. The hypocrisy of America and the countries endorsing its stand on human rights is quite evident from the way it has been seeking intervention to stop or probe rights abuses in some countries while there is blood of thousands of people on their own hands.

The US has a notorious record of human rights violations. The US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have caused huge civilian casualties. It is also known for overthrowing or attempting to overthrow regimes around the world who stand up to the American aggression or who unwittingly come in the way of Uncle Sam’s interests. Instead of dealing with real issues of human rights in the world, countries like US are preoccupied with their own strategic interests. At the same time, they expect their own atrocious human rights record to be ignored.

There also seems to be a tacit deal between different countries when it comes to human rights violations. Two countries remain friendly as long as they don’t talk about rights abuses in each other’s territory. Unfortunately, while the real work to help the victims is left to aid agencies, the politicians use human tragedies for political bargaining.

Back to Kashmir, strengthening of SHRC has been one of the longstanding demands of human rights organizations, which has been consistently overlooked by successive 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. 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.

Unfortunately, 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.

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