Protection of Human Rights Amendment Act 2019

The Parliament had passed the Protection of Human Rights (Amendment) Bill, 2019 on July this year. Human rights and fundamental freedoms are vital parts of our everyday life as they allow us to fully develop our potential as human beings. Therefore, the National Human Rights Commission is a vital part of our democracy. However, 13 out of 15 positions of the chairpersons of SHRCs were vacant and the post of chairperson of NHRC also remained vacant for a long time. Therefore, this amended Act seeks to prevent the problem of vacancies of these essential posts.

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What is the Protection of Human Rights (Amendment) Act, 2019?

  • This act amends the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993.
  • The Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 provided for the establishment of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), State Human Rights Commissions (SHRCs) and the Human Rights Courts.
  • This amendment seeks to hasten the appointment process of the Chairpersons and the members of the National Human Rights Commission and State Human Rights Commissions.

What are the key changes made in this act?

The key changes in the amended act are as follows:

  • Chairperson of NHRC: According to the 1993 Act, the chairperson of the NHRC must have been the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. As per the amended act, the chairperson can either be the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court or a judge from the Supreme Court.
  • Chairperson of SHRC: The previous act stated that the chairperson of the SHRC should be the chief justice of the HC. Under the amended act, the chairperson of the SHRC may have been a chief justice or a judge of the HC.
  • Human Rights in Union Territories: As per the current act, the Union government may confer the SHRC on the human rights functions that are discharged by the UTs. Functions related to human rights in New Dew Delhi will be dealt with by the NHRC.
  • Mandatory inclusion of women member: Under the 1993 Act, two persons with the knowledge on human rights can be the members of the NHRC. The current act calls for the inclusion of three members, of which there must be at least one member who is a woman.
  • Other members: As per the previous act, the members of the NHRC include the chairpersons of various other commissions like National Commission for Scheduled Castes, National Commission for Women and National Commission for Scheduled Tribes. The current act includes the chairpersons of the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights, National Commission for Backward Classes and the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities.
  • Term in office: According to the 1993 act, the Chairperson and members of the NHRC and SHRC may hold office up to 5 years or till the age of 70 – whichever comes first. Under the current act, the tenure is reduced to 3 years or till the age of 70. Furthermore, the previous act provided for the reappointment of the members of the NHRC and SHRC for a period of five years. The 2019 amendment act did away with is provision.
  • Secretary-General and Secretary of SHRC: Under the previous act, the Secretary-General of NHRC and the Secretary of the SHRC were to exercise their power that will be delegated to them. Under the current amendment, they are allowed to exercise the administrative and financial powers under the authority of the respective chairpersons. However, they are not allowed to undertake judicial functions.

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What are the advantages of this act?

  • The amendment will make National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) more complaint with the Paris Principle with respect to its autonomy, independence, pluralism and various functions for effective protection and promotion of human rights. Paris principles are related to the National Human Rights Institutions
  • The amended law will be in line with the agreed global standards and benchmarks for ensuring the rights regarding life, liberty, equality, and dignity of the individual in the country.
  • The inclusion of women member in the commission would make it gender sensitive organisation.
  • The amendment will strengthen human rights which give people the right to live with freedom, dignity and satisfy their basic needs such as food, housing, and education.
  • The amendment re-establishes the fact that not only the government is responsible for ensuring human rights but also businesses, civil society and individuals are responsible for promoting and respecting human rights.
  • It addresses the problem of lack of expertise in NHRC by proposing eligibility norms for the chairperson and members

What are the arguments against this act?

  • The opposition have questioned the rationale behind the reduction of the tenure of the chairpersons from five years to three years. There is a possibility of inefficiency due to the reduction of the tenure.
  • Even though the bill addresses some of the issues of NHRC, there are still many problems that NHRC face which needs to be addressed as follows.
  • National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) recommendations are not binding leading to lack of or delayed implementation by enforcing authorities.
  • NHRC don’t have contempt powers to penalise authorities who don’t timely implement its recommendations.
  • Lack of sufficient resources such as human, financial and material leads to ineffective functioning.
  • NHRC cannot investigate a case if the complaint was made more than 1 year after the incident happened.
  • NHRC’s powers to investigate human rights abuses by armed forces are limited.
  • NHRC does not have powers to investigate human rights violations by private parties.

Way Forward

Considering the growing human rights abuses in the country, the amendment to the age-old human rights act is a welcome move. However, there is still much room left for reforms in order to make the NHRC more effective and efficient in the investigation and in addressing the human rights violations in the country.

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