Framework on HR issues to be prepared
NEW DELHI, Feb 7
The Government has constituted a committee under the joint supervision of the Home and Foreign Ministries to create a structured mechanism to oversee issues related to human rights reporting obligations to treaty bodies and the universal periodic review (UPR) done by the UN Human Rights Council.
The “inter-ministerial committee on human rights” will also deliberate on and oversee the implementation of recommendations made during the UPR and engage with local stakeholders.
The latest UPR of India’s human rights record was done on November 10 last year and India received close to 340 recommendations, though authorities in New Delhi are yet to decide how many of these will be implemented, people familiar with the matter said.
The panel, according to a gazette notification issued by the External Affairs Ministry on Friday, will function as the “national mechanism” on human rights-related issues and meet twice a year.
“The Committee shall function as the National mechanism for implementation, reporting and follow-up with the mandate to deliberate upon and oversee...all human rights reporting obligations to the treaty bodies, the universal periodic review and the special procedures; implemen- tation of their recommendations; and modalities for engagement with National stakeholders,” it said.
The Secretary (West) in the External Affairs Ministry and Special Secretary in Ministry of Home Affairs will co-chair the inter-ministerial committee, while Joint Secretaries in the Ministries of Women and Child Development, Social Justice and Empowerment, Minority Affairs, Tribal Affairs, Rural Development, Housing and Urban Affairs, Health and Family Welfare, Labour and Employment, School Education and Literacy, Legal Affairs, Corporate Affairs and NITI Aayog will be part of it.
The panel can include more members from other Ministries and departments to share inputs in the meetings if it desires.
During India’s fourth UPR – a peer-based evaluation mechanism - at the UN Human Rights Council in November 2022, several member countries expressed concerns and made recommendations on several issues related to the human rights situation in India, including tightening restrictions on civil society, cancellation of foreign funding licences of non-government organisations, broad use of anti-terrorism legislation against journalists, religious minorities, and curbs on freedom of expression.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who defended the Indian Government, said at the review meeting that India appreciates the role of human rights defenders, civil society groups and journalists, but their activities should be in conformity with the law of the land.
Mehta also said there were enough safeguards in the laws to protect individuals against any potential misuse of laws such as the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), National Security Act (NSA) and Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).
Reacting to the development, Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia Director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said: “It is very welcome that the Government has set up a committee to enforce its international treaty obligation. Hope this will include bolstering the independence of institutions like the NHRC (National Human Rights Commission), NCW (National Commission for Women), NCPCR (National Commission for Protection of Child Rights) and other Constitutional bodies, as well as robust engagement with civil society including Government critics."
The people cited above said the Home and Foreign Ministries had always worked together on human rights-related matters though the new committee will put in place a structured mechanism to handle such issues. The committee will also streamline the process of preparing for the UPR, which is conducted every four years, with the next one scheduled for 2026.
This committee, which is in line with the UN concept of a National Mechanism for Implementation and Follow-up (NMRF) for effective implementation of UPR recommendations, will also play a key role in deciding which of the more than 300 recommendations made at the UPR in November are accepted and implemented. The Indian side has the option of either accepting the recommendations or taking note of them.
The Indian side has to inform the UN Human Rights Council by March which of the recommendations have been accepted or noted, the people said. Once this is done, the implementation of accepted recommendations will begin.
During the UPR in November, Malaysia and Paraguay had recommended that India should establish a NMRF.