India

Rights groups, civil society oppose Justice Arun Mishra’s appointment as NHRC chief of India

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New Delhi: Members of various Human Rights Organisations and concerned individuals of civil society have issued a joint statement condemning the appointment of Justice Arun Mishra (retired) as the National Human Rights Commission’s (NHRC) Chairperson, by the selection committee headed by the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi.

The Human Rights groups include People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), Poschim Bonga Khet Mazdoor Samiti, People’s Watch, National Women’s Welfare Society (NWMS), Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, Prison Aid and Action Research (PAAR) among others.

Individuals including Human Rights activist and writer Harsh Mander, academic Karen Coelho, dancer and cultural activist Malika Sarabhai, teacher and writer Apoorvanand, activist Father Cedric Prakash, Human Rights activist/lawyer Bela Bhatia, academic Uma Chakravarti, a former member of Planning Commission and writer Syeda Hameed, journalist Pamela Philipose and many others, are part of this joint statement against his appointment, terming it as “another move to subvert and destroy democratic institutions”.

The statement alleges the decision to appoint him was taken despite the objection raised by the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge, who suggested that a person representing Dalits, Adivasis, Minorities or other marginalized sections instead be appointed as Chairperson, considering that the bulk of victims of state abuse come from these communities.

This decision, as per the statement, shows open contempt for the mandate of the NHRC which places emphasis on independent functioning and autonomy. “This was an opportunity to nominate a retired CJI or retired justice, with a proven track record of concern for human rights thereby augmenting the reputation of the NHRC as an institution serious about redressing human rights violations. The public have a right to know the basis for the decision of the Selection Committee,” read the joint statement.

Sharply criticising this move, the statement says that by appointing Justice Arun Mishra, whose tenure as a former Supreme Court judge was very controversial, the Modi government has demonstrated once again, that the basis for their selection is not guided by the requirements for the Head of the NHRC or even the track record of defending human rights, but whether the person selected was close to the ruling dispensation.

The Paris Principles govern the recognition of the NHRC in International Law and mandates the international minimum standards that all National Human Rights Institutions (NHRI) have to meet – irrespective of the size of the NHRIs, if they are to be “legitimate, credible and effective in promoting and protecting human rights.” The statement claims that this appointment is against the Paris Principles of Independence, Pluralism and Accountability.

The NHRC itself has acknowledged their responsibility to comply with the Paris Principles and accreditation by Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions  (GANHRI) set up by the UN Human Rights Council. Since NHRC has declared in their website that they have complied with the above principles sufficient to be re-accredited as an “A” Level NHRI by GANHRI in 2019, the statement reads, “The appointment of Justice Mishra seriously repudiates the Paris Principles and has to be questioned.”

The statement also points out Justice Mishra’s controversial tenure involved critical right to life and livelihood issues of people from the margins of society, where he has shown “scant respect for their plight.” He was much criticised for ordering the eviction of millions of poor forest dwellers in a plea challenging the Forest Rights Act and the order was kept in abeyance only after numerous nation-wide agitations were launched by affected tribal communities. Additionally, in all politically sensitive cases he has always sided with the Central Government like the Loya case, Sahara Birla corruption case, Sanjiv Bhat case, Haren Pandya case, bail for Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha.

The statement also claims that Mallikarjun Kharge’s suggestion for greater diversity in NHRC was ignored and the Prime Minister headed Selection Committee reportedly finalised the appointments of the former Director of Intelligence Bureau, Rajiv Jain, and former Jammu and Kashmir High Court Judge, MK Mittal as members.

“It is time the voices of the silent majority are heeded and non-officials from these communities are recognised and appointed to the NHRC. It will greatly help assuage the feeling of alienation and frustration that many such communities feel today and make them feel confident about constitutional democracy in India,” said the statement.

 

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