THE National Human Rights Commission appears to have put up a poor show of its mandate — dealing with cases of rights violation — as it is reported to have been busy more with cases of crimes such as corruption, extortion, drug abuse, violence against women and issues related to public services delivery rather than extrajudicial killing, enforced disappearances and custodial death and torture. The 2018 annual report of the commission, published in 2019, says that the commission received 25 complaints of enforced disappearances that year, but only five of them were disposed of. Out of the 13 complaints of extrajudicial killing that it received, only four were settled. The report says that the commission received 121 complaints of violence against women and children — including cases related to murder, rape, dowry and sexual harassment — and the commission disposed of 94 of them. Out of the 42 complaints of conjugal problems that it received, 40 complaints were disposed of. It also disposed of 67 of the 72 complaints of land and property dispute. The immediate past commission, as a resolution of August 2018 shows, disposed of 2,508 complaints in its three-year tenure, leaving 295 cases pending, most of which are related to enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killing.
Most of the pending cases related to extrajudicial killing and involuntary disappearances are said to have taken place at the hands of the law enforcement agencies. Rights group Odhikar has, based on newspaper reports, recorded 546 cases of enforced disappearances in January 2009–November 2019 and whereabouts of 166 victims could still not be known. The group has also recorded 2,290 cases of extrajudicial killing, in ‘gunfight’, ‘crossfire’, or ‘encounter’, in the period. In all that has happened, rights defenders are perhaps right in thinking that the commission has often mistaken issues of crimes for issues of rights violation. The commission should, of course, have issues of rights violation involved in rape, dowry-related cases or sexual harassment, but it in no way suggests that the commission should, even at least partially, steer clear of cases of greater rights violation such as the right to life breached in the enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killing or custodial death. The commission’s inaction or poor action about serious violations of human rights, mostly alleged to have involved state actors, could plunge society in lawlessness. The commission should, therefore, get down on issues of serious rights violation in full force to prove its raison d’etre and mettle.
While the commission, in such a situation, must strive to improve on the rights situation by going tough with serious rights violation, the government must also enable an environment for the commission so that it could act on its own to stop such menaces that threaten society and the rule of law.
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